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Retaining CPAs Is As Easy As Letting Them Work in PJs and Attend Boring Meetings, Says Guy

Before I begin, note that this article posted on CPA Insider specifically asks for your input. So please, once you have finished reading, reach out and let them know what you think. And copy me on your response if you're so inclined.

Anyhoo, How to stop young CPAs from leaving public accounting is – as most of these types of articles are – well-intentioned but just begging to be mocked. So let's get right to it.

Partner: “You’re leaving! A couple of weeks ago we were talking about the big future you have here at the firm. What changed?”
Soon-to-be-former manager: “I got an offer I just couldn’t refuse. Not only are the pay and benefits great, but I’ll also weigh in on decision-making. The company develops lifesaving malaria therapies, and it will be rewarding to be part of an organization that helps save lives. Plus, I’ll actually be able to take my wife out to dinner on Valentine’s Day and attend some of my son’s ice hockey games this winter. It’s been a great ride, and I appreciate everything I have learned here at the firm, but it’s time to move on.”

Does this sound familiar? The public accounting world has always been a demanding one. Today we see leadership at public accounting firms confronting the challenge of top talent leaving for greener pastures just as Baby Boomers are preparing for retirement. The challenge is made even more difficult by the fact that there are more Baby Boomers in the workforce than Generation Xers. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in 2012 show there are nearly 60 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. labor force compared with fewer than 50 million Generation Xers. Who is going to lead the profession in the coming decades? Who is going to fund partner retirements?

WHO IS GOING TO FUND PARTNER RETIREMENTS?! I can't believe this guy asked that out loud.

First, many younger professionals place significant value on personal time and flexible work arrangements. Do we even need an office? At the AICPA Practitioners Symposium and Tech+ Conference in June, it was stated that 8% of CPA firms are virtual, up from just 4% the prior year. This is a trend to watch. While the lack of physical office space comes with a set of challenges, it also creates opportunity.

For example, do we want to allow or even encourage part-time or flexible-time arrangements with staff? Would that be easier with a virtual office or partially virtual office? How many staff have we lost because they had a baby or some other life event where they chose to focus on other priorities? How much money, in training dollars alone, walked out the door when they left? Even for our full-time staff, how many of them would see virtual office options as a major perk?

Show of hands, how many of you who just had a baby would looooove to spend more time at home being pestered about spreadsheets with a howling infant stuck to your hip? Yeah, that's what I thought. Working virtually has its perks but a 70 hour workweek is still a 70 hour workweek whether you do it at home or the office. Moving on…

Second, where’s the meaning? Younger professionals are hungry for it. When we hand them a compliance project and tell them to put their head down and get their work done, they can be left feeling that there isn’t much meaning in our profession. We have a tremendous opportunity to anchor young CPAs to the values of our profession. We need to help them see how their work and their profession make a real difference in the world. 

How do we do this when compliance happens to be a big part of what we do? When handing off standard compliance projects to staff, take a moment to tell them a little about who the client is. Why do they need this work done, and how will this help them? Why is this client relationship important to the firm? It may sound silly, but this can make a big difference in the way that staff approaches their work.

Where possible, look for ways to involve younger CPAs on noncompliance projects where they will have opportunities to see the impact of their work. Invite them to client meetings. Where that isn’t practical, take a few minutes to share what happened at those meetings and to express appreciation for their part in maintaining an important client relationship.

Who the hell wants to sit in a client meeting?! This guy writes as though young CPAs are too stupid to see the value in their work without someone sitting down and explaining it to them. Trust me, young professionals know the difference between helping clients and doing busy work. But go ahead and let them know when you're handing off the important task of licking stamps on mailed confirmations that their work is really making a difference in the world. Let us know how that works out.

Many seasoned members of the profession might think that suggestions like this amount to hand holding. “Why should I have to baby these kids? Can’t they just do their work and pay their dues the way that I did?”

Well maybe if you're expecting them to fund your retirement, the least you could do is take a few minutes to "baby" these "kids" since they are so clearly lost without your guidance. News flash: they have paid their dues, just not as many as the seasoned professionals. Most complete 4 if not 5 years of college, did their internships and passed the CPA exam. And they aren't kids, they're adult professionals who haven't had the luxury of slaving away for 20 or 30 years yet. Maybe a little respect is in order?

This guy makes it sound like letting CPAs work in their footie jammies is the secret to retaining talent. I hate to break this to him but it's going to take a lot more than that, especially as long as guys keep writing articles like this. Perhaps cookies and milk with a recess break at 2pm?