Study Finds CPA Firms Need to Change Benefits

To address the current staffing crisis, what should CPA firms do to keep their people happy?

The first place to look may be the benefits package, according to a survey released this week at the AICPA Staffing Forum in Broomfield, Colorado. The study found that bonus programs and comp time rank among the most valued benefits among highly valued employees, yet only 58% of firms currently offer them.

The AICPA's PCPS division, which is an alliance of firms across the United States, asked managing partners of member firms to give the survey forms to their top one or two most highly valued non-partner employees. The 558 survey respondents come from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Conducted in the fourth quarter of 2000, the survey aimed to determine what motivates top professionals to join a firm and what benefits encourage them to remain with their current firm.

"Because staffing is the number one practice management concern among our members, PCPS decided to provide them with the research they need to make effective decisions," said Bill Balhoff, PCPS Chairman and partner at Postlethwaite & Netterville. "Even with the softer economy in 2001, we see the shortage of talented people as a challenge that will face local and regional firms for some time."

Among other key findings:

  • 88% of employees polled ranked respect for work/life balance issues as critical for remaining with a firm.
  • Respondents also deem feedback, access and recognition as key motivators.
  • Of the respondents, 92% are happy being a part of an accounting firm; 69% would make this career choice again.
  • 45% of respondents have a mentor within the firm.

The survey also uncovered a gap between management's hopes and non-partner aspirations. While 75% of the respondents believe management is encouraging them to pursue owner status at the firm, only 37% say they are very interested in ever being an owner, and another 39% say they are somewhat interested.

"I believe that this is a generational shift," said Ellen Feaver, Chairman of the PCPS Staffing Task Force. "The future generation of CPA firm partners may just not be interested or willing to play that role. We need to find other motivators that are more relevant to our best people today, and perhaps create non-traditional succession plans."

"Luckily, PCPS firms are taking action to overcome staffing hurdles," said Mr. Balhoff. According to the PCPS Member Survey, conducted late in 2000, 87% of the firms surveyed have taken or are planning to take one or more steps, including changing the pay scale, implementing flex-time or creating other new incentives.

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