How to attract employees and retain them

A guide for accountancy practices


Anyone who is responsible for hiring staff for their firm will tell you. It’s tough out there.

It always has been, in fact. With skilled, qualified, individuals leaving practice to work in industry. Where inadequate hiring of trainees in past years has meant a gap in skilled people at the right level for the sector.

Donna Mills, our accountancy recruitment specialist, conducted a recent survey, collating opinions from skilled practice candidates. Some very happy in their work and others who could easily be tempted to work elsewhere. We communicate with enough people as a business to be able to talk about the industry confidently but, nonetheless it’s too easy to talk to a jobseeker about specific positions and how they fit and not take a step back to get a more general picture.

Just showing interest in these people’s views was really well received. Candidates in this sector do feel like commodities, sadly. Their skills simply being traded for money. Being pounced on by recruiters on LinkedIn so frequently that many feel that the platform has become intrusive. Where relationships are not built, problems heard and solutions found. But where InMail’s are sent expressly to trade.

Hirers frequently consider that their ‘brand’ is sufficient to attract high calibre people. And being a small business owner myself I understand that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the business you’re proud of, the culture you feel you’ve created. But, sadly, no-one really cares. In practice, unless you’re Top Ten, you might as well be ranked 2000th as 30th.

So, here are the top four reasons job-seekers are attracted to your accountancy practice and the reasons people gave.


  • Flexible working. ‘I really don’t enjoy working for clock-watchers and people who believe if you are in the office from 9 to 5 means you’re doing you job’. ‘I am a parent as well so flexibility is highly important to me’. ‘Flexi-time is definitely a good benefit. Also if they offer working from home.’ ‘If not flexi-time, then flexible working hours are an absolute minimum’.

  • Study support. Because ‘it’s quite expensive to fund yourself’. ‘I would personally be looking for study support’. ‘If they offer days off for study so that you wouldn’t have to use your own holiday, that would be good as well’.

  • The ability to learn and advance on the job. ‘The priorities for me are what I will learn and add to my knowledge’. ‘I would look for a firm that has a vast range of client’s in different businesses, ideally with higher turnover clients’. ‘What would most attract me are study packages and career advancement opportunities’. ‘For somebody younger, the study support’.

  • Salary. Whilst we know from multiple surveys in recent years that money is not the top priority for people leaving jobs (in fact it’s bad bosses), this came up multiple times as a deciding factor when ready to make the move. ‘Salary … is a deciding factor. But what’s more attractive is the opportunity for higher pay scale as I progress’. ‘The higher salary will be attractive’. ‘The priorities for me …higher salary’. ‘In terms of what would attract me to change positions, ultimately this would come down to salary and progression opportunities’. ‘When looking at a new position a higher salary is what I look for, definitely.’


Honestly, we were surprised by the frequency with which salary came up.

And if I was running my own accountancy firm, and I hadn’t reviewed salaries in the past 18 months, I’d be doing so now. Along with the value of the study package on offer. Not everyone wants to study, but those that do need to be accommodated in some way. If not financially, you can do this but offering extra study days. I’d use this exercise to show the people that worked for me that I value them. And ultimately, to keep them for as long as possible. Because replacing them is not only difficult but expensive.

I’d also be looking at how I could create a career path for those that wanted one. I know from my own business that this isn't always easy in a small firm but talk to an HR professional if you want help to create a structure that enables your team to progress if they desire it. Progression means different things to different people but creating a pathway for ambitious people will mean you’ll likely keep your talented people for longer. Are your team incentivised to bring on new business or manage other team members, for example?

And lastly, by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to retain and attract good people is to become more flexible about working hours. In this digital age it has never been easier to enable people to flex their work, picking up tasks at home, for example. Yet many business owners have simply used the technology to encourage (or at least, not discourage) employees to pick up calls and emails out of work time, available at all times of day, without rewarding that flexibility with the ability to claim back some of that time elsewhere in the working week.

I’m not a parent myself, but I have employed several in my business and the guilt that parents have about working when they have small children, is sometimes overwhelming. Letting an employee leave early to pick their child up from school a couple of times a week, for example, can go a really long way. Does everyone need to be in between 9 am and 5 pm? That great team member that has a long journey to the office will likely prefer to start at 8 am and leave at 4 pm. And if your business can accommodate this, why not?

In my experience, it’s rarely taken for granted. In fact, I would go as far as to say that your flexibility will likely be rewarded with even greater commitment.

People are not complicated, no matter how they appear at times. We all just want to be valued. Whether that be with money or a greater understanding of our personal and professional needs.

Indeed many of the people we surveyed were genuinely thrilled to be asked for their opinion. They simply wanted to be heard.

And to be able to attract and keep talented individuals you need to promote a healthy, enjoyable and rewarding place to work.


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