Employee Benefits When Times Are Tough

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By Alexandra DeFelice

Heath care continues to grow increasingly expensive. So does the rent. So do the coffee and creamer you offer your staff.
While some of these may only seem like pennies, pennies add up after a while. Yet your employees are working harder than ever and feel they deserve some kind of additional compensation for doing so.
If you can't offer a better medical package or give across-the-board salary bumps, what can you do so that your staff believes they're benefiting from working for you?
Start with the stars. In "good" times, across-the-board raises were the norm. Now, several accounting firms are either offering a lower percentage to all staff and substantially higher increases to their stellar staff, or in some cases, only offering raises or bonuses to the best performers. 
When rewards can't come in the form of actual dollars, some companies opt for additional vacation days or other forms of paid time off outside the office. This doesn't just mean volunteer days (although those tend to boost morale and make for some important community outreach), but actual "personal time" that doesn't have to be deducted from the traditional two- to three-week annual allotment. Some offer birthdays off, for example, or allow folks to depart early for "summer Fridays."
While more firms are moving to an environment that allows staff to work remotely, make this a privilege, especially during busy season.
Partner with local vendors to obtain discounts that the employees can use during their leisure time.
Younger staff looking to pass the CPA exam could benefit from "study days" devoted to exam preparation. If they pass, instead of just reimbursing them for the cost of prep work and sitting for the exam, offer a bonus and pay for their fees to join the local state society and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Granted, those cost money, but it could be earmarked outside of salary. 
More senior staff may be looking to acquire additional degrees; give them time off to attend classes. 
Many people are postponing retirement as a result of the economy. Have you looked at your firm's retirement plan and discussed how you can modify it to accommodate your employees who fall into that category?
Firms may want to look at what their colleagues across the country are doing in terms of employee benefits. One way to do this is by participating in the 2012 National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey. The biennial survey is conducted by the AICPA's Private Companies Practice Section and the Texas Society of CPAs.
It's free to participate, and those firms that do will receive results in October. Results include a roughly ten-page summary report with graphs and tables. The data is benchmarked against comparison groups that include firm size and region/state. More detailed reports are available for a fee.
Additional information, including links to FAQs, a PDF of the survey to review prior to entering the information and other details, is available on the AICPA's website
The deadline has been extended to August 17.
Details about changes to the survey and some findings from the last MAP survey are available in AccountingWEB's article entitled "AICPA Calling for Firms to Participate in 2012 National MAP Survey."
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About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America and a regional member of Moore Stephens International, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in almost 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at [email protected]


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