Rules of engagement

In recent years, the biggest accountancy firms have continued to recruit more
and more graduates. This has resulted in increased diversity not just in terms
of gender, ethnicity and cultural differences, but also in terms of
personalities, goals and aspirations.

At junior levels, in particular, firms are populated by individuals who do
not necessarily think or act in a way that conforms to the traditional
stereotype of the accountant. Yet an implicit assumption remains that everyone
wants to become a partner. Those wishing to remain at manager or senior manager
level are seen as lacking in motivation, ability or even commitment.

This diversification of the workforce is demanding real alternatives to
traditional career structures and working patterns. But high staff attrition
rates across the Accountancy Age Top 50 suggest that the needs of this workforce
are not being met.

This is precisely why firms need to listen to their staff. For example, exit
interviews should be treated as an opportunity to gather intelligence on why
people leave. When a firm starts to see high attrition rates as inevitable, then
it becomes a pattern that is set to continue.

To address recruitment issues, firms need to focus on how they engage with
prospective employees. The first element of engagement is attraction, but
engagement also involves communicating a realistic picture of the business.

It may be tempting to positively promote your corporate brand, but research
shows that employees’ expectations of an organisation are an important predictor
job satisfaction, performance and retention.

Candidates with realistic expectations become satisfied employees. In
contrast, unrealistic expectations lead to demotivation and poor retention. By
providing a realistic picture of rewards and challenges, firms will encourage
appropriate self-selection and are most likely to fill vacancies with staff who
will thrive and prosper.

James Meachin is a psychologist at Pearn Kandola

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