By: AJ Johnson, executive director, Americas Region, BKR International
More accounting firms are promoting flexibility as a benefit when creating job descriptions and recruitment materials. However, the concept of flexibility can mean different things to different candidates, as BKR International discovered when surveying its current Leadership Institute participants at a recent training event in Las Vegas.
Flexibility is not just one thing – such as a flexible schedule. We found that it has a broader definition to young professionals, who view it as an important part of the firm culture.
According to the survey, here are five ways that accounting firms can promote flexibility and communicate it to candidates and their current professionals:
- Flexibility in scheduling
Young professionals have led the trend in flexible workdays that allow them to schedule appointments or run errands or handle a family issue without missing deadlines. This kind of outcome-based management provides autonomy for the employee and leverages technology in ways that the strict 9-to-5 mandate never could.
It’s a two-way street, of course, and professionals need to demonstrate respect for firm goals and client needs within a more agile schedule. That means sometimes working late and on weekends or attending unexpected meetings to handle workloads.
- Flexibility in approach
We’re not talking about the strict protocols and procedures in some areas of public accounting. It’s more about what young professionals contribute to efficiency, tools and ideas. Employees who believe that their ideas are taken into account, and even adopted, have a greater sense of ownership and purpose in the firm.
Even if your firm has tried something in the past, don’t be quick to dismiss the input from new or younger employees. They may surprise you with their logic and ability to fill in knowledge gaps you didn’t even know you had.
- Flexibility in dress
This isn’t a new area of flexibility, but firms may need to stretch a bit from “blue jeans Saturdays” to “dress for your day” options. Employees appreciate choosing dress that matches their responsibilities from day to day. For example, if they are visiting a construction site, it makes sense to dress for the client environment.
In addition, on days when employees are working behind a desk all day with zero client contact, comfort is a nice perk. It’s easier to transition to the gym or pick up young children for appointments after work. Keep the dress code, but define how people can flex it.
- Flexibility in self-expression
The most enlightening definition of flexibility I heard was flexibility in self-expression. It means that their opinions matter to firm leaders. It also means that they aren’t marginalized for their interests or personal values, which will help to maintain talent.
Whether a person is devoted to a faith tradition or has a beloved pet instead of a child, the firm environment should feel welcoming and equal in its opportunities. There is a difference between written employment policies and how the culture truly demonstrates openness to differences. Keeping in mind that personal values don’t interfere with the mission and integrity of the firm, differences can also be great for business.
- Flexibility in career trajectory
As firms hunt for talent and work to keep great people, they are exploring ways to remain flexible to change. Remote work arrangements, job sharing and part-time work are evolving from options to a permanent career choice in some cases. Examples include retaining a professional who moves to another state or providing the option for a formerly full-time employee to transition to part time (and back to full time later).
It’s important to discuss flexible career paths case by case. Clarify how the change in position ties to promotions or career growth at the firm, and make sure the rest of the team understands the role change too. What I’ve noticed in my interactions with members is that flexibility has a different meaning to each employee. As a result, firms are challenged with meeting a diverse set of employee needs while establishing and maintaining systems that make sound business sense.
Overall, young professionals view flexibility as a cultural must. Second only to enjoying the people and clients they work with, it’s a primary reason that they love and stay with their firms.
AJ Johnson is executive director of the Americas Region of BKR International, which represents more than 160 independent accounting and business advisory firms in over 500 offices and 80 countries. The BKR Leadership Institute has graduated more than 300 leaders of member firms.