The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting every aspect of our personal and professional lives. But that doesn’t mean that hiring, firing, performance reviews, and raises have stopped. Highly-skilled professionals are still seeking advancement, and accounting firms and small businesses often face big challenges when competing for talent against larger firms.
For young accounting professionals, the allure of the Big 4 or living in the largest metro areas can outweigh the better quality of life that smaller firms in the suburbs or small towns offer. So, how can a small or mid-sized accounting firm level the playing field?
8 Important Employee Benefits to Attract Top Talent
To attract top talent, small businesses and accounting firms need to look at what employee benefits they can offer to help them stand out.
- Salary – The Tip of the Iceberg
- Keep Compensation Competitive
- Internal Advancement
- Flex-Time is Money
- Unlimited Time Off?
- Even Small Firms Can Offer 401(k)s
- Health and Well-Being
1. Salary – The Tip of the Iceberg
Although it’s only part of the total compensation picture, salary is the most tangible and the most measurable employee benefit. When evaluating potential employers, new professionals or those being lured from another practice will immediately focus on the starting salary. However, more experienced professionals will add increasing weight to other benefits, particularly flexibility in working location, paid time off, and family insurance options.
2. Keep Compensation Competitive
While you may have been paid in dirt and rocks when you started your career 25-plus years ago, these days people like cash. To keep your firm’s salaries up-to-date, you need to periodically review staff pay and other perks, benchmarking what you offer against other firms. This is especially important for the most skilled and experienced staff.
The Robert Half Salary Guide and Calculator offers a comprehensive resource for finding salary information for financial professionals across the country and by geographic area. If you increase salaries, make sure you include raises for your current staff. They are also aware of the salary options available in your area.
3. Internal Advancement
Money is almost everything, but not quite. Smaller firms don’t have unlimited resources, of course, so if your firm cannot directly compete with the monetary compensation of larger practices, there are alternatives that can still help draw top talent.
One of the most desired non-financial benefits a firm can offer, according to the staffing firm Accountemps, is the opportunity for advancement. In other words: when might a staff member get a promotion? A vital part of your firm’s overall strategic plan should include the development of staff. When employees know that management and, eventually, partnership roles will be available for motivated and skilled staff, their enthusiasm for their employer grows.
4. Flex-Time is Money
There are many ways that firms can use time management as a benefit to attract and keep professional staff. And in many cases, large firms like the Big 4 just aren’t as flexible as small and mid-sized firms, especially when it comes to allowing staff to work from home or alternate locations.
While many more people are working from home currently, in normal times, it was a perk generally reserved for experienced staff. These individuals know the culture of the firm, have an established role in the workflow, and have earned the respect and trust of their supervisors or firm management. However, even younger staff can be rewarded with occasional flex days or half-days, as long as their productivity and work product are not negatively affected.
Whether new or seasoned, it’s important to treat these staff members as the professionals they are. Don’t require them to punch a clock to determine if they are meeting or exceeding work and client relationship expectations. Their supervisors shouldn’t be concerned with the exact number of minutes they spend at their desk.
Vacation time is one of the most prized benefits, with some workers saying they would even trade some of their other benefits for more time off. Professional staff generally start their careers with two weeks of vacation and some amount of sick leave, or a similar amount of combined paid time off (PTO). Savvy employers increase this time as a professional has been with the firm for an extended period, and offer experienced new staff more than just the basic starting level. A curious note, however: even when they get more time off, most Americans don’t use it all.
It’s important for employers to realize that vacation time isn’t just a perk for workers, but has benefits to the business too. Employees who use vacation are more productive and have better concentration, according to a study. Even short breaks can have positive benefits.
6. Unlimited Time Off?
A recent trend receiving attention has been the concept of “unlimited vacation.” Is it sane? Is it possible? Can it work? Those are questions best left to the individual employer and their staff, but IBM, Netflix, and other companies are using it to recruit highly-skilled staff. The companies say they evaluate workers based on their performance, not on the time they spend in the office. That makes sense, but what’s to stop employees from taking advantage of it?
Well, as noted above, most Americans don’t even take all of the vacation time they are allotted, often due to anxiety over their perceived value at work. These same workers would likely retain that anxiety, and know when their workflow is amenable to a vacation, taking steps to help smooth their time away from the office. Side benefits for the company are reduced HR and administrative tracking and higher staff morale. This concept is a better fit for salaried, exempt staff.
7. Even Small Firms Can Offer 401(k)s
Would you rather your company added more money in each paycheck, or that it matched your tax-deferred retirement savings? That’s a question that few employees are asked, but often faces business managers and HR directors. When it comes to offering more competitive salaries or offering 401(k) matching, offering higher salaries generally wins out, since they are used to attract talent in the first place.
For smaller firms, the ability to offer a 401(k) plan, with or without matching, might seem too burdensome. However, there are many online options that make them easy to manage, such as solutions from Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, and ADP. And employers can deduct contributions as business expenses.
Small businesses and firms may also qualify for a tax credit on the administrative costs of the plan. According to a MetLife study, 81 percent of workers who are satisfied with their benefits are also satisfied with their overall employment. That’s good motivation for employers to get the benefits right. The U.S. Department of Labor offers guidance on 401(k) plans for small businesses.
8. Health and Well-Being
In addition to offering health benefits such as insurance, a health savings account, and/or flexible spending accounts, firms that actively encourage their staff to be active often see greater productivity, lower sick days, and higher morale. Employers can promote healthy behavior in a number of ways, including having healthy options in the break room or fridge, offering company-paid gym memberships, starting a work-based intramural team (such as softball), encouraging walking during lunch breaks, and covering the costs of smoking cessation programs.