Happy Employees Make Happy Clients

 

By Liz Gold
 
Melissa Brogan is hesitant to call the benefits offered at Barnes Dennig "perks." For her, it's just a reflection of her firm's culture.
 
As one of the largest accounting firm in Cincinnati, with nearly 100 employees and fifteen directors, Barnes Dennig has been named a Top Workplace by Enquirer Media and one of seventeen companies that ranked all three years the program has been running. 
 
The firm began business in 1965, and since that time Brogan, the firm's marketing director, said Barnes Dennig has been an employee- and client-centric culture. It boasts a staff-retention average of more than 94 percent over the past ten years.
 
"Having a culture that's going to help us hire and retain the very best is how we navigate through," Brogan said. "We have an environment that supports work-life balance."
 
The firm's goal is empowering individuals and organizations to achieve financial success, and Brogan said they're able to do that by making sure the firm hires people who are on board with that mission.
 

Are You Inspired?

Results from MetLife’s "Tenth Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends” revealed that employee satisfaction with their benefits strongly impacts their feelings of loyalty toward their employer. 

Unfortunately, the survey also showed that employers:
  • Continue to be out of step when it comes to recognizing which benefits create feelings of loyalty in their employees.
  • Undervalue the significance of such benefits as life, dental, disability, and vision insurance.
 
With a consistent staff-retention average of more than 94 percent, Barnes Dennig appears to have some excellent ideas and programs in place that other firms might find inspiring.   
 
One of the biggest draws in Brogan's mind is flexible scheduling. And while most firms have jumped on the bandwagon these days in terms of this offering, it's been alive and kicking since Brogan joined the firm ten years ago. She notes that each arrangement is individualized to a particular situation.
 
"I don't think it's viewed as something we rolled out, it's something that we organically came to through good communication," Brogan said. "It's not a blanket policy; it's the dialogue that happens between the manager and the employee and figuring out how it's going to be beneficial for the employee, the team, and the firm."
 
It's the people-centered culture that attracted Scott Bagley, the firm's new HR director. For him, being part of an organization that champions a collegial work culture makes his job much easier.
 
"The leaders of the firm understand that we're only as good as the people we hire, train, nurture, and develop," Bagley said. "Being part of an organization that 'gets this' is critically important. Otherwise, you're always fighting an uphill battle."
 
They're doing something right: the firm has received the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility - one of only five recipients in the Greater Cincinnati area. 
 
The firm also offers a plethora of other benefits to keep employees happy and dedicated. There's the four-day week in the summer as a way to provide "a light at the end of the tunnel" after tax season and another measure of work-life balance, an annual summer picnic, a chili cook off/competition every fall, and an end-of-year holiday party.
 
There's support for those studying for the CPA exam as well as a bonus to those who pass. The firm's mentoring program gives young employees the ability to choose a mentor on their work team or in a different area of interest. 
 
The firm also offers:
  • Tuition reimbursement for staff who want to further their education.
  • Internal and external CPE.
  • Payment for membership in professional organizations.
  • An annual contribution to employee 401(k)s based on the firm's profitability for the year.
 
One exciting development for those in the firm who are health conscious occurred when the firm moved into the Federal Reserve Bank building in downtown Cincinnati. The building houses an on-site gym, with elliptical and stair-climbing machines as well as free weights. They've built on this good fortune by offering yoga classes at lunchtime and creating a team-oriented wellness program in an effort to motivate each other toward an overall healthy lifestyle (not just at tax time). Also in the building is a café with healthy options on the menu.
 
But more than the perks, the firm also invests in its people on a deeper level, such as its successful Women's Growth & Development Initiative, which was bestowed a Marketing Achievement Award by the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) as an outstanding internal firm program in 2010. The Women's Growth & Development Initiative was spearheaded by Cindy Padilla when the firm's management recognized a need to cultivate and support women in leadership roles (approximately half the staff are women, yet there are two women directors). 
 
"Firm leadership came to the conclusion that we did need something special to identify the needs of our women, to give them specific events to network with other women, and to address the topics that hit home for us," Brogan explained, adding that some of the programs were open to everyone in the firm. They brought in a nutritionist during tax season, a business etiquette consultant, and this year after tax season they held a spa day event inviting clients as well. 
 
Another affinity group within the firm is the Emerging Professionals Group, this time spearheaded by Brogan. "Having the Women's Initiative in place made it really easy to follow a successful model with a different set of objectives," Brogan said. Geared toward the forty and under set (which is approximately a third of the firm), the group kicked off a trivia game show night where members of different teams were given the chance to intermingle and compete against each other. Networking events were then planned, with the opportunity to facilitate and grow relationships with peers from banks, law firms, and insurance companies.
 
"The goal was to connect the younger professionals who are going through their careers together, so their relationships are stronger as they progress to their more senior positions," Brogan said. "We do have a lot of really talented, outgoing accountants."
 
Brogan said that while her group was already attending networking events and volunteering on their own, this gave them more structure and helped them to decipher which events would make the most impact. 
 
The group eventually started organizing a giving tree around the holidays and a Community Outreach Day, which received an award from AAM this year for its internal program in the Corporate Social Responsibility category (the firm has won six awards from AAM in the last six years). This event has the entire firm working at up to four community organizations the last Friday in October. 
 
"For us, it's all about client service and making decisions that are going to serve the client best," Brogan said. "In terms of our culture and benefits, happy employees make happy clients."
 
Related articles:
 
About the author:
Liz Gold owns Rhino Girl Media, offering writing and editing services to companies of all sizes. A published journalist for sixteen years, Liz writes about business and culture. She can be reached at rhinogirlmedia@gmail.com.
 

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