Leveling the playing field

In an article on WebCPA.com, there is an assertion that the workers in Generation Y (born 1978-1990) are gaining traction in the workforce due to increased demand for workers to replace those retiring baby boomers. The things that these Generation Y employees are looking for are career development and increased work/life balance (generally less work and more of a life). However, when you run a CPA firm that is dominated by the billable hour, how do you empower the employees and give them what they want while keeping up the hours/employee to remain profitable?

The simple truth, you either have to rethink your business model or somebody is going to not be happy with the outcome: more hours worked or less top-line revenue per employee. When there is a conflict of interest between partner desires (increased revenue) and employee desires (more life outside of work), who wins? In the past, partners would win this hands down because new accountants were plentiful, so if someone quit because of this issue, they were easily replaced. Now it appears the balance of power may be shifting to the employee as article after article in the accounting realm comes out touting ways to improve employee retention and attract top talent in an increasingly tight job market.

I don’t think we are near mutiny, as there is always a certain respect due to the one who signs your paycheck, but we are at a point where there is an opportunity for younger staff to have some input on the way firms are run going forward into the future. The partners and administrative staff in charge of recruiting are looking more to the recently hired staff to determine what it was that attracted them and what it takes to keep them happy and get them to stay.

I think it is in the best interest of public firms in this tight job market to keep pay very close to private sector pay and manage the workload as much as possible to avoid constant retraining due to increased lack of retention. Public accounting is great experience, but public practices need to work harder now more than ever to see the benefits of that experience within the firm, rather than letting private clients reap the benefits of the public accounting training.