Retaining new accounting talent

Ungrateful or what? You take people fresh from university, invest all that time and money training them, and minutes later they’re off – just as they’re starting to be useful. Retaining new accounting talent is hard – so what can you do?

The brain drain

The struggle to retain accounting staff affects most practices – one survey found that over 60% of qualified accountants in the UK expect to change jobs within two years, and another found that a third of all accounting and finance professionals are actively looking for a new job at any one time.

With younger people it’s even worse – about 70 percent of Generation Y employees leave their first job within two years of joining.

Why is that?

That’s one for the sociologists of the future to decide, but employees are becoming less loyal. Whether the collapse of pension funds and a loss of certainty is to blame, a reluctance to tolerate 20th-century management culture, the delay to adulthood or an enhanced sense of entitlement, the end result is a certain restlessness.

One HR manager described her tribe of young developers as ‘browsing’ from job to job, doing the rounds of the media companies in their city, constantly looking for something that might be better, without having a fixed idea what that might be or why it would be an improvement.

Whether that is right or not, Gen Y seem to want responsibility and autonomy early, and they are happy to move on if they don’t get it.

Management is key

As ever the key to solving this problem is good management, particularly listening to young staff and understanding the world as they see it. Knowing how engaged they are is vital. (This is nothing new, by the way – we have known since the 1920s that employee attitudes sit behind almost every aspect of their performance, from productivity to sick rates and retention, it’s just the word engagement that is a newcomer.)

Yet the high churn rates continue despite the plethora of ‘engagement’ surveys in use today, so it seems that the engagement survey, while well-meaning, is not achieving direct results in the sense of improving how employees feel about their workplace.

If something isn’t working it’s time to do something else – here’s how one company tackled the retention problem head-on:

Retention can be transformed

A certain leading UK company had trouble retaining its trainees. Of the whole 2016 cohort, 30% had gone by August and by the year end just 11% were still in post.

Radical action was needed, and they decided to use WeThrive as the core of a programme to find out, for the first time, what the new recruits liked about their job and what was missing – what did they feel about their working lives that the firm did not get?

The results can be dramatic

According to their head of HR, WeThrive has helped managers have better conversations with their people, allowing them to deal with issues they weren’t previously aware of, in areas where they had assumed everything was fine. This has also acted as a great development tool for line managers and helped the staff to feel they are being listened to. They say the WeThrive question set does a great job of asking employees to ‘tell me exactly how you are feeling’.

This inside view of employee attitudes is vital information, because those attitudes drive performance, marginal sickness rates and retention. When the obvious requirements are in place but staff are still leaving, this is what you need to know.

So, now the company knows precisely what each employee is feeling about multiple aspects of their work: what’s working for them, what isn’t, why, and what to do about it. WeThrive feeds this information to the line managers so they have the inside story on each team member when they sit down to hold 1:1 meetings or reviews, or when they ‘check in’ as they pass. The result is that everyone feels ‘heard’, and the management are ahead of developing problems rather than trying to react.

And the numbers…

The improvement is remarkable: of this year’s trainees 95% are still in post as of August 21. We wait with bated breath to see what the end-of-year picture is, but if current trends continue 75% should still at the desk – a 700% improvement. Next year could be even better, now the method is established.

Not just retention

As you might expect, this attention to employee experience has had dividends in other areas. Daily production per sales team member is up 10%, and the high performing staff have improved their sales figures by over 15%. This is a particularly interesting statistic for anyone who is struggling with the problem of how to motivate a sales team without throwing ever-increasing amounts of money at commission and benefits.

WeThrive is not the only ingredient in the new management approach, but it is the core, providing the data that drives every intervention they make, and showing what has worked and what needs further attention.

Work in progress

You can’t just do this work once and assume it will go on working. The world changes, new people come in, new rules are imposed by regulators, new clients have their own special challenges. But using WeThrive you will always know who is happy and able to work well, and who is not. You’ll know why, and what to do. If that adds up, contact us on or 01273 921788.

Posted by Piers Bishop on August 24, 2017

Piers Bishop, Co-Founder and organisational psychologist at WeThrive has contributed his expertise to over a hundred WeThrive blogs, webinars and whitepapers. Piers is passionate about using psychology to understand what really motivates employees. You can reach out and connect with Piers on LinkedIn.

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