Accounting firms and departments understand the importance of modernizing the tools, policies and procedures that are used to serve clients and stakeholders in the digital age and the future of work. Yet, just as nonprofits don’t always deliver the improved quality of life for employees that organizations deliver to the communities they serve, the accounting profession hasn’t fully adapted modernization. employment policies for employee well-being and retention.
As an accountant who has worn many hats, a first-generation American, an Afro-Latina who has worked with nonprofits in various capacities, I have seen how people value culture, community, tradition, leadership and philanthropy. Nonprofit organizations are not perfect. Organizations provide a space where people can come alive, come together, come as they are. Accounting firms and departments often adhere to strict rules, policies, and work schedules that don’t allow enough time for employees to engage in anything outside of work, or strictly prohibit it.
I follow several lawyers and HR specialists on LinkedIn and how they describe restrictions on outside work and social media activity, abusive non-competition agreements, etc. is of concern. In different cultures and religious communities, people are expected to actively participate in non-work activities in the evenings, on weekends, etc. .
Although some accounting firms and departments have good systems in place to outsource and delegate work, employee retention, diversity and satisfaction can still be challenges. Improving the work of employees is a win-win situation. Yes, companies must protect the reputation of the company and the department, especially since the United States is a litigious society and social media posts can lead to “cancel culture” and harm the image. Yet leaders and managers shouldn’t be afraid to lose sight of opportunities to leverage the creativity of their employees, which would hamper employees’ ability to create wealth and build a strong personal brand.
What can I suggest companies do to modernize their policies for employee wellbeing and retention and organizational success? I could write a book to answer this question. Instead, I’m going to share some ideas.
Replace a general ban on outside work with a ban on only specific tasks performed by employees for the company and the company’s primary service or product, and for the company’s target audience and direct competitors in wherever possible. Someone who prepares individual tax returns for people in his fellowship or religious group for money in his spare time using his own PTIN, software and equipment should not be banned. Selling coaching packages to repeat clients of the employer should be a prohibited event.
Provide financial wellness and coaching to employees through consultants or employee assistance resource programs, and improve employee benefits. Not everyone has the same financial literacy training or the same financial situation. Some people need help figuring out how to repay their student loans. Student loans and plans to buy a new home may be reasons people want to take on additional jobs. If your company can afford it, it should consider offering some form of student loan repayment to help employees eliminate debt and build wealth. As companies hire employees from different backgrounds, companies should keep in mind that while compensation may be generous and at market rates, everyone’s overall financial situation and personal financial obligations are different. For example, while employees who are married or come from affluent or middle-class families may have other sources of income and passive income available to their household, first-generation Americans and/or college students, single or people in transition can currently build or rebuild their personal finances and can rely on side gigs to manage their finances well.
Technology, especially social media, has allowed people to connect with others, build community and monetize it. Some employees may be full of ideas and personality and create podcasts, blogs, merchandise, online products that create passive income, sponsorship opportunities, etc. If an employee starts a book club with membership fees and affiliate marketing in their spare time, it shouldn’t be a prohibited activity. If an employee wishes to use company resources to create social media campaigns that are not approved by the marketing department, this should be a prohibited activity.
Employers should also update their ethics, conflict of interest policies and communication policies. It is one thing for an employee to stand up for the rights of stakeholders and defend themselves. It’s another for employees to share trade secrets that aren’t standard practice or public information. For example, sharing on social media that a company is holding fake interviews for diversity hires in order to meet the job search quota for diversity hires, knowing that the position has already been promised and scheduled for internal candidates may result in retaliation and termination for an employee. Reporting such incidents internally may result in the termination of an employee. External networking to help others overcome systemic issues and connect with leaders can have more favorable outcomes. Companies need to be transparent in their hiring practices and ethical, to say the least.
Employees who are thought leaders need to be aware of the tips and tools they share. For example, suggesting a single tax preparation software on social media when their employer has dedicated software used to serve customers and work internally can be considered an informative post for industry peers or as contrary to company policy.
Although employees are individuals and their career is more than a job, they should be aware that they represent the company and that they must be clear when communicating so as not to harm their business.
Companies should experiment with ways to leverage the personal brand of their employees to build community beyond customers. For example, having employees appear on company podcasts or be featured in blog posts, or featured in a “day in the life” type video series interacting with customers or peers who are part of programs training and development can help add more value to the profession and give professionals insight into the modernity and ingenuity of a business or service.
Employers, employees and members of the profession must work together to improve work. At a time when the CPA exam is evolving, businesses need accounting professionals to be advisors. Technology is changing at a rapid pace. We all need to work not only to attract, retain and advance accounting professionals, but also to help them present themselves in their best light. To be well as we excel, we must have spaces, energy, time and support to decompress, create, and have freedom and flexibility. The work has to be done, but the old patterns of work and mundane tasks in an archaic way and life outside of work no longer work. Some would say it never worked.
Don’t be the reason a professional leaves the profession. Be the reason a professional can afford to live well holistically.