7 strategies for employee retention

minute read

Last Updated September 29, 2023


Here’s a number for you: 300,000. According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s the number of US accountants and auditors who have left their jobs in the last two years. And in 2020, only 52,500 students in the US graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. That’s a decrease of 9% since 2012.

Staggering and anxiety-inducing numbers, aren’t they?

While larger accounting firms (think the Big 4) are losing the largest chunk of valuable employees, small and mid-sized firms aren’t immune. So many accountants and firm staff dread tax season so much that they have trouble enjoying the holiday season—the one usually filled with joy, cheer, thankfulness and gratitude.

Why are staff members leaving? There are many reasons, actually: extremely long hours during busy season, lack of work-life balance, toxic work environment, subpar pay, no room to grow…and the list could go on.

So, what can firms do to attract and retain the best staff? We have seven strategies for employee retention that you can implement now to keep your best employees around for the long haul.

Recruit the right employees

The first employee retention initiative you can take is hiring the right employees. This goes much further than qualifications and education—it also includes hiring the right culture fit. Include current team members in interviews to see how potential candidates vibe with your team.

Make sure that your hiring process is built to attract and retain high performers and entice qualified employees with more than competitive pay. If possible, offer stellar perks and benefits, like flexible schedules or working from home, career development training, employee wellness initiatives, or paid time off for volunteering.

Cultivate an engaging environment

Our second strategy for employee retention focuses on employee engagement. Employees who are disengaged can be culture killers. When they’re unhappy in their position, their work suffers, they lose interest in their tasks and they tend to bring down morale.

Employees who have a voice and can share candid feedback feel more empowered and engaged with their team. When you give your staff a safe place to provide constructive feedback or make suggestions, you include them and show them that they are a valuable part of your team. Truly listen to what your staff members have to say—it will create the engaging environment your firm needs.

Set clear expectations

Another way to increase employee retention rates is to ensure everyone on your team knows what’s expected of them. This means that you need to set firm and clear expectations from the very beginning…even starting with the hiring process.

Setting clear expectations starts with your business model and knowing your WHO, WHAT and HOW.

  • WHO are your ideal clients? They’re the ones you love to serve and are good at serving.
  • WHAT products and services do you want to sell? These are the services you want to provide—and are good at providing.
  • HOW do you want to deliver your products? These are the tools and applications your firm uses to provide services to your clients.

Knowing WHO you want to serve, WHAT you want to sell and HOW you want to deliver your services sets clear expectations for your team. They understand who the ideal client is (and isn’t); they know the products and services available for them to sell to clients; and they know what applications to use to deliver services.

When your team knows exactly what you expect from them, employee performance increases, and employees feel that they’re a valuable part of your firm.

Implement an exceptional onboarding experience

A staff member’s onboarding can make or break their experience with your firm. If you bring on a new hire with no plan of action to get them onboarded into your business model, they’re already starting with no clear path.

Get prepared for a new onboarding by creating a streamlined process. Here are some things to think about when creating an onboarding process:

  • What are the job responsibilities?
  • What applications will they need to access?
  • Which staff members should they meet?
  • What will make them successful in their new role?

Next, consider creating a 90-day plan that has scheduled goals and check-ins every 30 days. This plan provides a clear focus for the new employee and acts as a way to keep them engaged throughout their onboarding. (Rootworks members: Access our 30-60-90 day plan here.)

Consistently touch base with your new hires, preferably on a weekly basis, to gauge how they’re feeling about their new role, answer questions they may have and listen to any feedback they can provide that may help improve onboarding in the future.

Build a people-driven culture

You’ve probably heard us talk about this before, but your firm’s two most valuable assets are your client list and your staff. And one of our most recommended strategies for employee retention is to ensure your company culture is all about the people. It’s people who matter the most in your firm.

Creating a healthy culture doesn’t happen overnight—it takes time, and you have to be intentional about it. Promote someone in your firm who has the desire to bring staff together and help build a healthy work environment. Prioritize the health of your firm with the Four Cs:

  • Clarity: The awareness of the “what, who, how and why” of your firm.
  • Candor: Allowing space for employees to offer honest perspectives without fear of backlash for negative feedback.
  • Connection: When team members feel seen, heard and valued.
  • Consistency: Taking persistent and steady action to ensure you’ve created clarity, built candor and established connections in your firm.

You need to allocate time, money and resources toward creating an irresistible firm culture in order to prioritize your people. Doing this gives them a sense that what they’re doing for you and your clients really matters.

Reward employees often

Rewarding employees for performance—and rewarding them often—is a sure way to help increase staff retention. Not only do you boost self-esteem and confidence, but you also help boost employee morale.

Outside of offering a competitive salary, be sure to acknowledge your team when they’ve done good work. You can do this with a shout-out during a meeting or send them a handwritten note of gratitude. Small gestures like these help retain employees because they feel validated and important.

Other ways you can reward your employees could be gift cards to local establishments for meeting goals or providing employee wellness initiatives that focus on prioritizing mental and physical health. No gesture or reward is too small.

Encourage professional development

Staff members tend to leave when they feel like they’ve done all they can in their current role. To prevent this from happening, help create a path for career development. This could include tuition reimbursement for classes or certifications, or even a subscription to an online education service like LinkedIn Learning.

Talk to your team and see what interests them and whether you’re able to help them along in their career. When an intentional path is established for your team members, and you provide the tools they need to advance in their careers, you’re making an investment in them—and your firm.

Retain your team

There’s no guarantee that your staff will always stick around; it isn’t practical to think no one would leave. But there are ways that you can attract the right people and give them reasons to stay with your firm.

Learn how you can prioritize your firm’s most valuable assets by watching our on-demand webinar, and get started on these strategies for employee retention.

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