Create a workplace where employees want to stay

By Samiha Khanna

As demand for accounting and finance professionals increases, firms of all types are facing competition not only to court top talent, but also to keep it.

This can be especially challenging considering what we know about the rising generation of Millennial workers. According to a 2016 Gallup report, less than a third of the more than 50 million Millennials in the workforce say they feel engaged at work, and Millennials are less willing to stay in their current jobs than workers from previous generations. That turnover costs the U.S. economy an estimated $30 billion annually.

A lack of engagement is a major contributor to turnover, said Tamera Loerzel of ConvergenceCoaching LLC. Loerzel, a partner with the firm who has coached executives for more than 15 years, provided insights for an audience Wednesday at the AICPA ENGAGE conference in Las Vegas. In an interview prior to her presentation, she offered suggestions for managers to cultivate engagement and keep employees motivated.

Consider the strengths of the Millennial generation. Millennials have become known for a willingness to hop from gig to gig seeking better opportunities. But in many cases, these are driven and motivated individuals, and that motivation holds powerful potential, Loerzel said.

“Our young people have a lot of courage, and they’re willing to take risks,” she said. “That’s what you want to figure out how to harness and capitalize on.”

Yes, Millennials tend to want to ascend in their careers fast, she said. But with a predicted talent shortage in the coming years, firms need to support the development of young workers. As technology frees CPAs to spend less time on traditional compliance services and more time evolving into clients’ trusted analysts and advisers, this is an opportune time for young workers to focus on rising faster, Loerzel said.

“In this new age of technology, we need them to progress faster and take on more meaningful work,” she said. “We have to give them the experience—and—they want it. That’s the good news.”

Give frequent feedback. Workers—those texting and Skyping Millennials, especially—are accustomed to having information at their fingertips, and value frequent feedback. According to the Gallup report, 44% of Millennials who say their managers meet with them regularly describe themselves as engaged. Among those who don’t regularly meet with their bosses, just 20% describe themselves as being engaged in their work.

Gallup found that just 21% of Millennials and 18% of non-Millennials meet with their bosses weekly. It can be difficult to make time to meet, but these conversations can be concise, Loerzel said.

“You can do it at the end of a meeting, while riding in the car, et cetera,” she said. The sessions don’t have to be formal. Loerzel suggested the “keep-stop-start” framework—something the staffer is doing well and should keep up, something he or she should try to let go (sometimes this is a task that should be delegated to another team member), and a suggestion for something the staffer could start doing.

“The item to start could be developmental, from a performance improvement perspective, or something they could do to progress to the next level,” Loerzel said. The key is to be specific—feedback that is vague or uses phrases such as “you’re not ready yet,” or “you need to improve your technical ability” may be ambiguous and can be demotivating, she said.

“If we could do a better job setting specific expectations, people will know what to do and will step up to the challenge,” Loerzel said.

Don’t ignore your non-Millennials. Many firms have successful onboarding programs that start on college campuses and engage students and prospective job applicants from the very first recruiting encounter.

But when it comes to onboarding and training midlevel hires, firms might not do as good a job, and it can become difficult for that more experienced hire to find his or her niche.

Organizations need to be mindful of how they prepare and empower new employees at every level to help them feel connected and feel a sense of belonging in the organization, Loerzel said.

Allow workers to learn by doing. Many leaders instinctively step on the brakes when a less experienced associate wants to step up his or her role in serving a big client. But Loerzel said that there are strategies to maintain quality and oversight while giving associates a chance to learn the ropes, such as the gradual release of responsibility model, a four-step technique often used in teaching. It sounds a bit like this:

Step 1: Focused lesson—“I’ll complete the task while you observe.”

Step 2: Guided instruction—“I’ll lead us through the steps, but I’ll need your help.”

Step 3: Collaboration—“Please lead us through the task. I’m here if you get stuck.”

Step 4: Independence—“Why don’t you take over? We’ll check in halfway through to see how things are going.”

Establish a clear sense of purpose. Your best and brightest employees need to feel that their work is meaningful, Loerzel said.

Firms traditionally have focused on serving clients. And although day-to-day operations still should cater to client needs, many younger employees also value social responsibility, she advised.

“They want to know, ‘What’s our commitment to our community and how does our organization contribute to that,’” Loerzel said. “To truly engage people, they have to have a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose aligned with the organization’s mission.”

That mission should go beyond just a tagline on a strategic plan—it should result in tangible actions, both inside the workplace and in the community, such as offering volunteer hours for a beautification project or a food drive, or helping build a home for a family in need.

Purpose, belonging, and empowerment—they’re all intertwined,” Loerzel said. “You have to make them feel like they have meaningful work and that they can see a path for themselves where they and their organization are making a difference.”

Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-2112.

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