How to Avoid Losing Staff


Since hiring in today’s market is requiring more skill and investment of time and money by CPAs and tax firms, many are turning their attention to staff retention strategies. All of the work that goes into recruiting is of little value if one or more of your existing staff decide to move on. For that reason, just as much attention needs to be given to retention as to hiring.

From my experience working with tax firms over many years, you are likely facing turnover sooner or later, if any of the following issues exist in your practice:

  1. Unresolved ongoing conflicts/disagreements between two or more staff;
  2. Unresolved ongoing conflicts/disagreements between a staff member and the owner;
  3. Lack of communication in general. This is very common in CPA practices, i.e. few staff meetings, lack of feedback for staff, so they have uncertainty as to whether or not they are progressing etc.;
  4. Favoritism or perceived favoritism, i.e. the owner is seen by staff as favoring one or more of the team;
  5. Lack of any kind of mission statement that staff can buy into, that provides them with a sense of purpose for what they are spending usually 40 hours a week, engaged in. Many CPAs have no training on how to create a staff culture that breeds longevity.

The above are predictions/early signs of turnover and practice owners who ignore them, do so at their peril; Some owners have come up with management “solutions” to these staff issues e.g.

Golden handcuffs – they believe that by paying staff better than the competition, they will have no reason to leave. Unfortunately, I have not seen this be a winning strategy, at least longterm. Even if staff say they are leaving for more pay, there is usually another reason why they are actually leaving, that they don’t reveal. All this strategy does is result in unresolved issues which decrease overall morale and result in a less than fun environment to work in. 

Surrendering to staff demands – such as providing them with whatever they want “to keep them happy,” allowing them to have final say on decisions, for fear they might leave if not in agreement etc. This just ensures that the owner is no longer running the show, and longterm, that’s never a success.

So, presuming you have a decent group of staff, that does not include anyone that the practice would be better off without – the key to staff retention, is communication, communication, communication.

However, staff communication is a very different skill than client communication. Many CPA practice owners score very high on client relations – but when it comes to staff relations, find it way more challenging.

A good exercise is to ask yourself this question – if one of your best staff were to hand in their notice tomorrow, what would you regret not having done sooner, to prevent this from occurring?

Author Bio: Having worked with accounting practices since 1998, and prior to that working as an attorney in a set-up, very similar to a CPA practice, Ciara MacMahon, CEO of Phase Two Management Consulting, has successfully boosted revenues of accounting practices by 3 – 4X, while allowing the owner to take more time out of the practice. Accounting practice owners are faced with endless deadlines and the challenges of managing workflow, finding the right staff, staff training as well as securing the acquisition of quality new clients! They are also often tasked with the not too pleasant responsibility of imparting bad news regarding taxes due, that the unprepared client is unhappy enough about, to oftentimes ‘shoot the messenger’!

As no two practices are the same and each owner has his own vision for what he/she wants, the first step is a Planning Session to work out the owner’s goals and a strategy to obtain them, in the fastest time period, and for the highest return. To schedule your one on one complimentary practice analysis and consultation, email Ciara MacMahon at today.

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