Updated: May 31
There has been a lot of discussion about what a successful “return to work” means in 2022. While there are pros and cons to being in office everyday as well as to working hybrid and remotely, deciding what works best for your organization may also require a look at what is happening at the companies around you as you compete for talent. We are currently in one of the tightest talent markets in recent years and you are not only competing with local companies when you look to hire, you are also competing with organizations across the United States.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall unemployment rate for August of 2022 in the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett markets was 3.1%. That number is significantly lower when looking at accounting and finance professionals.
This article will speak to the feedback I received during direct conversations with leaders within the accounting and finance space in the greater Seattle area. I asked 4 specific questions (bolded below) with the purpose of helping to paint a realistic picture of what's happening in our own backyard related to the “return to work”. My goal was to be a resource and provide a glimpse into what companies are doing locally within the greater Seattle region.
What decisions has your business made regarding the ongoing work environment specific to accounting and finance team members?
Of the 63 conversations I had with senior leaders within finance and accounting, 69% stated that they have either a hybrid schedule with specific set days in the office or a hybrid schedule that is flexible and allows employees to work from home or in the office, depending on their preference or task on the days that work best for them. 19% of companies are set up 100% remote allowing employees to work from anywhere they want. 12% remain in the office full-time, meaning employees must be present in the office, every day during working hours.
The benefits of a hybrid or flexible working environment are that it can lead to increased productivity, creativity, and decreased stress levels. It can also help by providing a better work-life balance for employees; especially if the role can be approached by measuring success not by the hours worked in a week, but by deliverables and work produced. However, it is essential to note that not all companies can implement a successful hybrid or a flexible working environment. Several factors must be considered including company culture, the type of work being done, and employee’s individual needs. Not everyone has the space, or want, to work from home so a one size fits all approach can be challenging, especially for large teams with varied demographics.
Have the return-to-work decisions made impacted your staff retention?
Although some companies have experienced mass resignations in recent months, most have been able to avoid this issue, even for in-office employees. The main themes behind this success appear to be staff loyalty, leadership that listens, providing flexible options based on individual needs, and for a couple moving to a four-day work week for a better work-life balance.
As for the companies that did experience a loss of staff, one respondent stated:
"We did lose some people as they did not want to come back into the office as many days as the Senior Leadership Team wanted. Each team made a decision and some teams wanted people in 4 days a week minimum and the people leaving wanted to be in half that."
It's worth mentioning that the reasons behind resignations aren’t always predictable. For example, one contact highlighted the turnover they experienced was due to specific employees wanting 100% remote opportunities and they were set up to return hybrid with set days in the office. Another stated they had someone leave as they were getting rid of office space as their lease ended, were taking their teams 100% remote and this person only wanted to work in an office.
Again, there is a vital need for leaders who listen to the needs of their employees and can create solutions that work for individuals as opposed to the same requirements for everyone across the board.
Has your company been able to adapt its hiring and on boarding methods?
More companies were successfully adjusting to new hybrid and remote hiring/on boarding methods. One respondent mentioned:
"Yes, we have been able to hire people across the state for skillsets we may not have found locally. Being able to hire outside of the core Seattle area we typically hired within has helped up to compete and fill positions with talent we otherwise couldn’t have hired."
However, remote hiring doesn't come without its challenges. One leader stated that they found it difficult to get people through interview loops as they felt the hiring process had become somewhat unstructured and there wasn’t a great process for feedback after interviews. Another mentioned, " It is absolutely taking longer to get people up and running. It's easier and faster to reach out to people if you can walk by a desk or hear the chatter in the background so the expectations of how quick they will get up to speed is not the same as when we had in person training.”
Another leader was challenged when she was trying to hire as her company wants the team to be in office every day. For her,” Hiring was a lot harder. I finally found someone who wanted to be in office, but it limited my options as most of the people I talked to were not open to it.”
What are the biggest challenges right now when it comes to retention and hiring?
Most leaders in the finance and accounting space were facing challenges in at least one of these areas. For retention, the consistent difficulties facing companies were pay and competition.
One leader said, "With the cost of all talent, that is main issue. Consulting costs are going up as talent is harder to find. Audit fees are going up, salaries are going up, and you are competing against other companies that have bigger pockets."
Another said, "We have been good with retention so far, but the demand for accounting and finance professionals is worrying. Competition is competitive, but we are also smaller so that is a challenge as we can’t compete with a massive salary."
Turning to the challenges faced when hiring new talent, many companies highlighted the small talent pool and pay. "The labor pool is so small, and you think you have someone and then they turn around at the last minute and take something else. It’s frustrating."
As we all know, the finance and accounting sector has undergone many changes in the past few years, with more complex challenges on the horizon. However, businesses can thrive in this competitive industry by understanding their employees' needs and developing strategic plans to overcome these difficulties.
A special thank you to everyone who took the time to provide some insight for this post! Feel free to get in touch with me directly if we can help you with any challenges at your organization.