Retaining stellar tax professionals

By Scott Cheslowitz, CPA; Amy V. Hollander, CPA; and Stephen Valenti, CPA

Over the years, the challenges of attracting and retaining a quality team of professionals have intensified the day-to-day management of practices. The profession has embraced numerous projects to evaluate and enhance the undergraduate- and graduate-level tax curricula, with the goal to prepare staff for service in the field. When those students look to then enter the workforce, the competition is intense among the applicants and those doing the hiring.

Once a firm has brought a candidate on board, the retention of that employee takes center stage. Many firms provide interesting and challenging learning experiences in an employee's early years in the profession. Employees are often eager to be given a broad spectrum of work assignments and responsibilities, leading them to take on challenges and exercises in judgment much earlier in their careers.

Candidates are pursuing many professional goals in today's environment, but one aim is constant — they are looking beyond the money. The firm bears responsibility to provide new hires with more than just dollars to deposit into their bank account; it must provide them with the abilities and accomplishments they need to deposit into their careers. Supporting staff with opportunities for technical training and professional development reminds them that the firm values their development into well-rounded, thoughtful individuals who can represent the firm in a positive light.

Providing staff with practical experience demonstrates that the firm's support of their learning experience — e.g., learning the client base, learning how to work with particular supervisors, etc. — goes well beyond drilling them on the textbook aspects of debits and credits. The on-the-job experiences a firm provides to its staff will make them want to remain a part of the team.

Energizing and engaging staff is a critical component of retaining them. Below are a few strategies the authors' firms have used to retain staff:

  • Communicate — early, directly, and often: Do not wait until evaluation time to let an employee know that he or she is performing satisfactorily (or unsatisfactorily). Constant communication can make for a positive environment in which the employee feels comfortable.
  • Provide appropriate training and education: In the ever-changing tax world, it is imperative to keep staff educated. Small firms should especially evaluate how well their training curriculum reinforces skills of decision-making, communication, and deductive reasoning.
  • Be flexible: In today's environment, firms must be flexible. Yes, clients' demands must be met, and firm owners are responsible for ensuring their staff are appropriately scheduled to meet those duties. However, the firm must be able to bend a bit if need be. Technology allows for greater mobility in today's workforce.
  • Provide the perks: Yes, the perks! Provide them for your staff. This could be a commitment to a partial workday every Friday — not just during holidays or the summer, and irrespective of tax season. It could mean treating staff to lunch on busy weekends and actually sitting down with them to have a conversation about something other than the stress of the season at hand. The little things matter; seek to make a difference in the lives of your staff, as they are making a difference in yours.

For a detailed discussion of the issues in this area, see "Tax Practice Management: Stellar Tax Professionals: How to Recruit, Retain, and Develop Them" in the June 2018 issue of The Tax Adviser.

Scott Cheslowitz, CPA; Amy V. Hollander, CPA; and Stephen Valenti, CPA

The Tax Adviser is the AICPA's monthly journal of tax planning, trends, and techniques.

Also in the June issue:

  • An analysis of how the recent tax overhaul affects compensation rules.
  • A discussion of challenges facing noncorporate taxpayers with foreign operations.
  • A look at personal financial planning following the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

AICPA members can subscribe to The Tax Adviser for a discounted price of $85 per year. Tax Section members can subscribe for a discounted price of $30 per year.

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