Why your best employees are quitting

minute read

Last Updated September 29, 2023

Category Culture


The following situation has likely happened to you, especially in the last few years…

Out of the blue, your best employee hands in their two-week notice.

But there’s no time to let that sick feeling of dread hit your stomach—although it’s doing its best to burrow its way in there. So, you begin to scramble, trying desperately to figure out a way to keep your employee from leaving. And then…

BAM! It happens again, with another great employee….and then, it happens again.

And you find yourself wondering, “Why are my best employees quitting?”

They’re your go-to for nearly all situations. They go above and beyond. They’re the first to volunteer to come in early or stay late. Simply put, they’re power performers. And they’re your best employees…so, why are they leaving?

In all honesty, there could be several reasons why your best employees are quitting. So, let’s dive into what those could be and how you can reduce employee turnover.

Lack of clarity around your business model

When it comes to your clients, you can’t be all things to all people. And what we mean by that is you can’t take on any and every client or offer every accounting and tax service available. If this is your current model, chances are it’s a big reason why your best employees are quitting.

You must have a clear business model. That means knowing:

  • WHO you want to serve.
  • WHAT products and services you want to provide.
  • HOW you want to deliver those products and services.

Yes, we realize we talk about defining a clear business model quite a bit. But it’s one of the most important things you can do for your firm—especially for your employees. Creating clarity around your business model helps set clear expectations for your team.

When your business model is well defined, your team understands who fits your ideal client profile, what services they can provide to clients and what applications your firm uses to deliver services. If you employ a willy-nilly business model, the lack of clarity can create high levels of stress…and lead to employee burnout.

Barely surviving tax season

For many accounting firms, tax season is the bread and butter that sustains the business throughout the year. But it can also be a reason why your best employees are quitting. Relying on tax season revenue alone puts a lot of stress on your team for close to 12 weeks a year, if you include extension season.

In some firms, employees work upwards of 80 hours per week during busy season. Unfortunately, this not only makes work-life balance impossible, but it can also create a toxic work environment. And while many accountants entered the profession knowing what a bear tax season can be, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few ways you can lessen the burden:

  • Determine your tax client capacity. Help your team—and your firm—by reducing the volume of tax returns you’re doing. Follow our formula outlined here.
  • Define tax return levels. Not every tax return is the same; many don’t require managers or partners to review. Elevate your team by setting tax return levels, and make plans to outsource ones outside your firm’s scope. (Rootworks members: Check out our guide on leveling tax returns here.)
  • Lean on recurring revenue. When your firm has multiple income streams, you rely less on tax season revenue. (Hint: This means you can take on fewer tax clients.) If they’re a good fit, turn tax-only clients into year-round clients by offering advisory services, such as payroll, retirement planning or cash flow advisory services.

Don’t rely on the decades-old approach of relying solely on tax season revenue. Lessening the load during the busiest time of year helps create a healthy work environment and improves your firm’s culture. And it helps you take significant strides in retaining your best employees.

Not prioritizing a healthy firm culture

Many businesses—accounting firms included—do a great job of telling employees that they have a great culture. They’re good at “talking the talk.” But when it comes to actually walking the walk…well, that’s where some businesses fail. And that may be why your best employees are quitting.

Let’s consider a few examples:

  • Promoting work-life balance…but expecting your staff to respond to emails, messages or phone calls outside office hours.
  • Advertising flexible work schedules…but requiring staff to be in the office four to five days a week or not allowing them to make up time for necessary appointments.
  • Offering unlimited PTO (paid time off)…but instituting restrictions or making it difficult for staff to take time off.

Ping-pong and foosball tables in the office may have screamed, “We have a great company culture here!” several years ago, but this doesn’t hold true today. With the increase in remote work, creating a healthy culture takes a little more time and effort these days—and it starts with firm leaders.

A healthy culture doesn’t only benefit your firm financially, but it helps you retain employees and increase their job satisfaction. It can also help you attract great talent, save time and money in recruiting, increase employee engagement, and maintain ideal clients.

Inefficient tech stack and workflow processes

Another reason why your best employees are quitting can be linked to your tech stack and workflow processes. If you’re reluctant to invest in technologies that can help automate your firm’s processes, you’re not only doing your employees a disservice but your firm as well.

We know that automation can sound scary. And contrary to popular opinion, implementing automation doesn’t make your team nonexistent—it actually elevates them. It reduces the number of manual tasks, like data entry or filing paperwork, and helps your firm become digitized. When your team spends less time doing manual, repetitive tasks, it allows them to focus on more beneficial work, such as offering advisory services.

Invest in a tech stack that will help your firm automate time-consuming tasks, such as invoicing, expense reports, online payments, document sharing, e-filing, payroll and financial reports. Implementing the right technologies to automate tasks like these helps save time and reduce errors, giving your team more time to focus on what matters most—advising and assisting your clients.

Don’t be the reason why your best employees are quitting

We’ve only scratched the surface of why your best employees are quitting. Much of it has to do with the stress of the accounting profession. Take some time right now to get a pulse on your team. Ask them how they feel about their workloads, where they see themselves in the next few years and if they have suggestions for improvement.

Sure, it can be scary to ask for honesty, but you’ll never know unless you ask. Once you hear their feedback, sit with it and focus on improving your staff’s experience with your firm. At the end of the day, it’s a choice for your employees to stay or leave your firm. Help them love their jobs so much that they’ll stick around.

Learn how to create a stellar accounting firm culture with Smart Team Management.

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