Four evidence-based tips on how to improve your tax staff retention.

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Many tax practitioners will be finding themselves with more thinking time during the current lockdown, especially if they are also saving commuting time by WFM. This time to think and plan was often at a premium whilst you were caught up in the hurly-burly of “normal” office life. So, what areas can you focus on to ensure that your tax practice / team prospers once the Covid 19 pandemic is under control and some sort of normality returns? Many will think of new client services, marketing initiatives or operational efficiency savings. One other key area I would suggest is worthy of serious consideration is how to better understand your tax staff’s motivations, ensuring you optimise the relationship with your team and enhance staff retention.

At Longman Tax Recruitment we have carried out an annual staff career satisfaction survey for many years, the most recent in January / February of this year.  Our focus is on tax professionals in the North of England and we attracted 137 responses from a wide spectrum of tax professionals (including many who work in-house as well as those in practice in firms of all sizes and also some tax lawyers). We are advised that the survey results carry a high degree of statistical significance as being representative of the population of tax professionals across our region, and we see no reason why the results would be different in other parts of the UK. So, what lessons can be learned re staff motivation and retention? Here are our four top tips.

Tip 1 - Value and respect your staff

We asked the participants for the three most important aspects in general terms regarding their job. The weighted average of the responses identified that the most important aspect is feeling valued and respected (which came just ahead of feeling well remunerated). This may not come as a surprise to readers, but it shows the crucial importance of leaders and managers ensuring that they get the basics of man-management right. People like to feel that they are part of a team, that they understand how their responsibilities fit into the operational plan and strategy of the business and that this is consistent with the organisational culture. They need to know that their role, whatever it might be, is clearly understood by them and their line managers and that it is important to the organisation meeting its goals. Most  importantly, they like to feel that when they do their job well, it is recognised and rewarded by colleagues and managers alike. They also like to know that if they have good ideas about how things may be done differently, that these will be valued and taken seriously. Although the book may seem a little dated now, many of the simple techniques outlined in the management classic “The one-minute manager” are perhaps worth revisiting. In particular, I am a fan of the concept of the one-minute “praisings”.

Tip 2 - Let them work flexibly

The table below shows that another very important factor for job satisfaction is the ability to work flexibly. Year on year this this has become increasingly important to our respondents and, in our recent survey, 62% stated that the ability to work from home was either extremely or very important to them, whilst less than 10% said it was not so important. This is certainly borne out by our own experiences when speaking to candidates who are looking to move to a new job. Yet there appears to be a lag between what employees want and what employers offer. Our survey revealed that whilst 53% can work from home at least one or two days per week a large minority (35%) state that is either not possible, other than exceptional circumstances, or can be agreed occasionally but is not really encouraged. Our advice to clients who find it difficult to recruit in what is very frequently a difficult candidate-driven market for high-calibre tax staff is to offer as much flexibility as your modus operandi will permit.

This article has been written whilst I, and I suspect most readers, are working from home in accordance with government regulations. There is presently much speculation in the press as to whether this period of enforced homeworking will lead to employers believing this is the way forward so that the practice becomes even more common and perhaps the norm. There have even been recent press reports that Germany may introduce a law to allow all employees the legal right to work from home if it is practicable, and maybe the UK might have similar plans. However, it will be interesting to see whether people become less keen on the concept after they have been forced to do it, and in the difficult circumstances of perhaps having partners and children also at home. Watch this space!

Tip 3 - Respect their work-life balance

A short point but an important one. When asked what the prime motive behind their next career would be, the most popular answer was to improve their work / life balance ( from 28% of respondents). This came ahead of achieving a promotion (19%) and getting a pay-rise (17%).

Tip 4 - Offer them the benefits they want

Our final tip focuses around the benefits that are most popular with those staff who can choose the benefits they want. The top three were:-

  • Enhanced pension contributions
  • Private health insurance
  • The ability to buy and sell days’ holiday.

We suggest you try to avoid a “one size fits all” benefit package and wherever possible try to accommodate the benefits that appeal to specific employees.

If you would like to receive a copy of the survey report please email Mike Longman mike@taxrecruit.co.uk