Most accounting firm owners and managers will have spotted quite a bit of chatter in various media regarding something called “the great resignation”. So what is it, is it real and should accounting firms be worried?
What is it and is it real?
The term has its origins in the USA. In March 2021 the Microsoft Workforce Trend Index Microsoft Workplace Trend Index reported 41% of employees were considering leaving their current employer this year and 45% were likely to move because they could work remotely. In the period since April the US employment statistics show an unprecedented level of people leaving their jobs. So it would seem at least in the USA, the prediction from the Microsoft survey is playing out and there is a large volume of employee movement. I watched an interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who says he prefers the term “the great reshuffle”.
Various surveys have been completed in Australia, including by Employment Hero, PwC, Culture Amp and Hays Recruitment, and do tend to support the notion that there could be a higher than normal level of movement. That begs the question of why this is. The answer not surprisingly is the pandemic. What has happened in this time, when we have seen quite different patterns of work for many people, is that employees in some cases are rethinking what is important to them and the relationship they have with work.
I have said for some time that even prior to COVID it felt like there was a trend emerging, led I believe by the younger generations. These people are looking at those who have gone before them and how they work and are saying “I don’t want to be like that”. COVID has accelerated this trend and there are many, including Microsoft, based on their research, who believe flexibility and hybrid work are now permanent features of employment.
Should accounting firms be worried?
The answer to that might reasonably be yes, if firms are not prepared to adjust their thinking in terms of the way work is done. My own view is that there are many accounting firms in Australia who provide an excellent experience for their employees. But it is natural that expectations change over time. We don’t work in the same way our ancestors did and future generations will most likely not work the same way we have been. It’s just the natural evolution of all things. This is also playing out at a time when there seem to be more vacancies in firms than there are suitable candidates to fill them. So in a candidate friendly market it is quite natural also that candidates may be more easily able to find what they are looking for. My proposition to you is that they are looking for things that keep them engaged.
There is a significant body of research on engagement, and I have for many years held the view that some of the things identified that lead to engagement and ultimately retention are:
- Autonomy – some sense of control
- Mastery – a sense of being good at something – often this means playing to a person’s strengths
- Purpose – a sense that what I am doing is worthwhile
- Belonging – that notwithstanding the desire of autonomy the sense that I belong
- Progression – a sense of growing personally and professionally
It’s the autonomy piece that I think we are seeing play out more during COVID. The ability to have more say over when and where work is done seems to have increased in importance to many people as a result of their COVID experience. For example, workers in Sydney or Melbourne, who may have daily commutes each way of an hour or more, in some cases are saying I don’t want to do that, or at least not every day.
COVID has challenged the sense of belonging because part of that sense of belonging comes from the multi-faceted, face to face interaction that normally goes on in the office. So there is a danger that this sense of belonging will be diminished by an increased proportion of workers spending and increased proportion of their time working from home or other location away from the office. This is something to watch out for.
One final thing to remember is this. Apparently Seek have reported that the volume of searches on their website is at its highest in the first week of January each year. It has been a pattern for some years that people take some time over the Christmas break to reflect on their working life and how it has been during the year. This results in some deciding to make a change in the new year. Whether we see a big increase in movement in 2022 remains to be seen. Given the impact of COVID I think it is reasonable to imagine there could be more movement in 2022.
My suggested action for firms is to have a chat with each of your team members prior to Christmas and weave into that chat discussion about the things that tie into engagement – autonomy, mastery, purpose, belonging and progression. My view is this enhances your ability to retain your people.