We’re excited to present the results from the ConvergenceCoaching 2016 Anytime, Anywhere Work Survey, celebrating our third year studying public accounting firm flexible work initiatives. In this first blog in our series, we’ll share the highlights of this year’s survey with responses from 160 unique CPA firms.  In future blogs, we’ll dive deeper into some of the specific questions asked and the depth of advice and insights shared by our respondents.
This year, this initial survey post also includes unique insights on how workplace flexibility fits as a critical piece of public accounting’s retention puzzle, based on our collaborative research study with INSIDE Public Accounting entitled “The Road to Retention:  Motivators and Drivers for Young Public Accounting Professionals. With professional staff turnover at its highest rate in a decade and one of six IPA 100 firms losing over 20% of their team members in the last year, solving the retention puzzle has never been more important.
But first, how does the subject of flexibility fit? 
In the Road to Retention study, we asked 723 young professionals which factors were most important in influencing their decision to stay working with their current firms. The No. 1 stay factor was work/life balance. Flexible work practices ranked fourth overall and No. 2 for women surveyed. Connect this with the overwhelmingly number – 60% – of the young professionals who listed their least enjoyable employment element as the hours they work. If work/life balance and flex are very important and the hours we’re asking young professionals to work are making them unhappy, isn’t an investment in a flexible work culture a strategic imperative?
We sure think so.
When we asked our Road to Retention young professionals how they would change the typical workday schedule, their top three answers were to offer:

  • Work-from-home options
  • Improved flexibility related to hours, and
  • A four-day work week option.

Road to Retention respondents with 2 to 5 years of experience, in particular, cited work flexibility as a weakness at the firms, suggesting leaders could do a better job of allowing them to work in a way they feel is most productive, even if it’s outside the office or in a group.
What are other firms doing in these areas?
Of the firms surveyed in the 2016 ConvergenceCoaching Anytime, Anywhere Work survey:

  • 68% allow their team members to flex their hours, and 29% do some of this, but on a case-by-case basis
  • 51% offer some sort of Fridays off benefit during the summer, 22% of whom close their offices for part of or all day every Friday in summer
  • 45% of firms allow their team members to choose their place of work, with another 49% allowing ‘flex of place’ occasionally or on a case-by-case basis
  • 44% believe that their leadership sees flex as a strategic advantage and that leadership buy-in is high
  • 42% employ a team member who moved to another geography and continued working for their firm
  • 40% have a written flex policy in place that is updated annually
  • 39% no longer mandate work on Saturdays (even during busy season!) and of those who still mandate them during busy season, half allow their team members to work the Saturday hours from home
  • 15% have hired an employee in another geography other than where they have an office
  • 12%, or 18 innovative firms, close their offices or keep a skeletal crew between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays
  • 5%, or eight leading-edge firms, offer an unlimited PTO benefits and another 19 firms, or 13%, are thinking about offering this benefit

How can you make flexibility a genuine cultural element? 
Those included in our Anytime, Anywhere Survey said the steps they have taken to improve overall firm buy-in, support and positivity around their flexible work programs include:

  • Leaders supporting flex arrangements (38 firms)
  • Continually improving cloud-based options, remote technologies and use of video (13 firms)
  • Leaders participating in the program like any other employee and serving as a positive role model for flex (13 firms)
  • Fostering constant, open and clear communication (9 firms)
  • Rolling out new programs or making adjustments, piloting programs and measuring success with a goal of finding a way to say YES rather than NO (9 firms)
  • Demonstrating the improved retention of good employees (7 firms)
  • Creating a written remote work policy that supports both the firm's goals as well as the employee's goals (5 firms)
  • Improving their positive verbal promotion about flex programs in orientations and staff meetings (5 firms)
  • Repeating stories regarding positive examples of flexible work, sharing how they use flex successfully and reviewing work performed out of office (5 firms)

Why should you invest in flex and further your firm’s programs and make workplace flexibility a cultural standard?
Because 89% of the firms surveyed felt it allowed members of their teams to experience better work/life balance or integration – remember, this is the No. 1 stay factor for the young professionals surveyed in the IPA/Convergence Road to Retention survey!
And, because 62% of the firms in the ConvergenceCoaching 2016 Anytime, Anywhere Survey indicated that a positive result their firms experienced from their flexible work programs is “retaining staff we could not retain otherwise,” and 55% indicated their flexible work programs enabled them to retain an employee who moved outside of their geography.
Wow! It is so clear that to sustain next-generation talent for the long term, firm leaders must shift from outdated concepts of “time” and “place” and fit anytime, anywhere work into their firms’ employee retention and engagement puzzle – the sooner, the better!
Special thanks to the 160 firms who shared their own forays into flexible work practices. Stay tuned for an entire blog series where we’ll “go deep” with detailed survey feedback in many areas.
And, for more information on the Road to Retention report, click here.