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During this skills shortage, what do accountants really want?


Money, for sure, and perks but also autonomy and a positive work culture.

By David Francis 13 minute read

Achieving sustainable, long-term growth has long been the holy grail for organisations in the accounting industry. Profits matter, but they aren’t necessarily the only key to growth. Considerations like how a business impacts and engages with its employees, broader society and the environment need to form part of the plan — and this is perhaps truer in our post-COVID world than ever before.

It’s no secret that the accounting industry is experiencing a skills shortage. The impact of the pandemic on education means there are now fewer accounting graduates available, with practices turning to outsourcing overseas as a result. And in the era of burnout, retaining existing talent is equally a challenge.

Many employees have reassessed what is truly important to them and reimagined their approach to work, alongside their expectations of employers. The result is increasing pressure on businesses to focus not just on profits, but on their people — their best asset and the key to success.


Within the context of this during a time of global volatility and local uncertainty the Access Group undertook some research on Australian workplaces that resulted in the Powering Profits and Prosperity report. It revealed that less than one-third (29 per cent) of the professional services industry feel engaged in their work while a concerning 10 per cent admit they are disengaged. Just over a third (34 per cent) are willing to go above and beyond, while fewer than half (47 per cent) believe their organisation is able to deliver successfully on talent retention.

So, what can accounting firms do to engage and retain their staff at a time when financial concerns are top of mind and the talent market is tight?

People want more than just money

When it comes to what drives people to go that extra mile, the good news for accounting firms is it’s not all about money. While economic factors understandably remain top of employees’ concerns, societal and psychological factors are also important considerations for those working in the accounting industry, across every generation.

The research highlighted three areas that would encourage accounting employees to go above and beyond: additional workplace perks (70 per cent), a more positive work culture (64 per cent) and the ability to choose how and where to work (60 per cent).

Additionally, 61 per cent felt that “a fair and transparent employment process, providing opportunities for all” was an important consideration for their workplace.

Having employees who don’t feel empowered to make a difference is a recipe for disengagement and should be considered a warning to look beyond the balance sheets.

Autonomous organisations perform best 

Within the professional services industry, 34 per cent operate within a command and control management style, but 40 per cent of those surveyed presented a strong desire to shift towards more autonomous ways of working.

By moving towards a more autonomous working style, organisations can enable people to shape their work and work environment to achieve their goals and create deeper and more enduring value.

Here, the research showed that businesses that support greater autonomy deliver on average 13 per cent better across critical outcomes like customer loyalty, financial performance, retaining talent, strong reputation among the community, and a thriving partner network, versus command and control-style organisations.

Autonomous workers are also more likely to be engaged (45 per cent against  31 per cent), willing to go above and beyond at work (45 per cent v 30 per cent) and stay at their organisation longer (54 per cent v 38 per cent).

An essential part of moving towards the autonomy accountants want is of course through effective processes and technology, which enable teams and give individuals the freedom to do more, work remotely and outsource work.

This is how we unlock true passion and discretionary effort, and ensures that our people are engaged and working with a sense of purpose that is required to deliver the long-term prosperity every organisation strives to achieve.

As a new generation of accountants emerges, autonomy, societal responsibility and personal wellbeing are fast becoming top priorities.

The research showed organisations that deliver here will clearly benefit from a more connected and engaged workforce and this is what drives not only profits, but true prosperity in the long run.

David Francis is general manager at the Access Group.

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