5 Key Elements Influencing the Accounting and Finance Hiring Environment in 2021

In my first 19 years of recruiting Accounting and Finance Talent, the number 1 job benefit Professionals wanted was the flexibility to work from home- at least partially.  This was always desired more than it was available.  Employers cited security, teamwork, synergy, oversight, systems limitations, and a whole host of reasons for resisting the coveted work from home arrangement.

Enter the most significant Public Health Crisis of many of our lifetimes: COVID-19. Suddenly, many people were forcefully shoved into remote working due to Shelter in Place orders.  This dramatic shift has given many people the opportunity to fully live the work-from-home life and has offered us many new gifts, including terms like “Suit Mullet” referring to professional attire on top for Zoom meetings and pajama pants and slippers on the bottom.  Some people love it, and some people can’t wait to return to the office.  Most people are somewhere in between.

Despite a nosedive in employment rates in March, April and May of 2020, Accounting and Finance professionals generally maintained their positions and salaries with the exception of industries tied closely with hospitality, travel, or other government shut down businesses.  With vaccines being more widely available and economic recovery underway, we find ourselves stepping into a changed work force and way of operating as business owners, managers, and employees.  The way we work has changed, the way we hire and onboard has changed.

The entire job market that is emerging out of 2020 is different from before.  These are the Top 5 Key Elements Influencing the Accounting and Finance Hiring Environment today.

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Resignations are abundant.

The most recent JOLTS Report (Job Opening and Labor Turn over Summary Report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) Shows that there were 3.3 Million Voluntary Resignations compared with 1.8 Million Layoffs and Discharges.

There are 4 main reasons why resignations are outpacing terminations and layoffs at nearly a 2 to 1 ratio.

  1. The first being economic drivers. For many years now Professionals stand to earn a larger pay increase by taking on a new role at another company rather than getting promoted at their current firm. Studies show that a change in Employer offers an average pay increase of 14% versus the average Promotion offering an 11% increase in compensation.
  2. Secondly, remote work makes it much easier to look for and interview for new positions. Gone are the days of making up a fake Doctor’s Appointment in order to meet with a potential employer. Zoom interviews and lack of oversight create a ripe environment for job seeking!
  3. Thirdly, with the demands of working from home and in many cases homeschooling, parenting or caring for other family members, many people are bowing out of the workforce to have more balance and support their families where hired support may be unavailable or unsafe.
  4. Finally, the Baby Boomer Generation has reached retirement age, and with the Stock Market’s strong performance, many people have financially recovered enough to retire.

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There is a rub between Remote Work expectations and Post Pandemic Plans.

Some people can’t wait to get back into the office. Some people never want to go back. There is a rainbow in between. Whatever your position is, does it match that of your Employer or employees? Many people have changed their view on how often they desire to commute to work even when it is totally safe to do so. The trend seems to be that employees wish to continue working from home 3-4 days a week or entirely, where employers remain hopeful that a more regular in office working style will return. This poses challenges in employee retention as well as gaining long-term commitment from potential new hires.

Pent Up Demand.

According to a recent staffing industry survey, 45% of CFOs plan on bringing back laid-off or furloughed employees. 42% plan on hiring for new roles that they didn’t have on staff before the pandemic hit. This combined with the increased demand for Accounting support and financial analysis to navigate new market conditions, Paycheck Protection applications and forgiveness, and compensating for the resignations; there is Pent Up Demand for hiring. In short, COVID threw us all for a loop! We had to adjust to working from home. For many people this was for the very first time and meant many organizations needed to learn how to onboard staff remotely. It took us awhile to get this down, while emotionally managing fear, uncertainty, and in some cases personal stress and loss as a result of COVID and the resulting life changes. Now we have mostly adjusted, and although “#zoomlife” is not perfectly smooth, hiring managers feel ready to hire and confident enough or short-staffed enough to give it a go.

Compensation Divide.

Never before have I seen such a swing in compensation from company to company. I’ve seen industry Salary insights that quote the Bay Area as offering Salaries at 25%, 28%, and even 40% above the national average. What is true?! The truth is there are absolutely people working in downtown San Francisco using the same skills working for roughly the same size company making salaries that differ by more than $40,000/year.

Why is this? There has always been a variance between what different employers offer to attract and retain employees. However, today the divide is greater for several reasons. One, the Paycheck Protection Program stepped in and protected the compensation of many employees, but not all. Additionally, with some companies embracing remote and hiring workers in less expensive areas and others limiting their hires to their local region, pay rates have SWUNG! Another ingredient in the new comp divide is we are no longer asking candidates what they earned in their previous jobs. It’s been illegal since 2017 according to California Labor Code 432.3! Based on candidates’ pay desires, positions that have changed employee seats may have had to move up in comp faster than those roles that had retained talent since before before that employment law changed.

Burn Out.

Hiring Managers and Jobseekers alike have all just survived 2020, and it was a trying time for most people. Burnout is rampant! Many Accounting and Finance professionals that I have spoken with have cited that they have worked more consecutive hours thru the pandemic than ever before. With no natural coming and going flow of life, lack of commute, lunch breaks and water cooler conversations, the constant screen and zoom time- people are fried. Who would ever think we would look back on our commute time with nostalgia?? The other huge element contributing to burnout is the lack of novelty in our lives. Vacations to look forward to, parties, concerts, hugs from a loved one, going to the spa or salon, or a sporting event- even coaching your kid’s soccer team are all things that tend to offer a re-charge to many people, and those are all activities that in many areas have not yet returned. This is affecting the hiring environment in the way of diminished optimism and confidence in searching, hiring and overall zest for and zeal in our business lives and certainly for taking on new opportunities.

In summary, employers who can express to potential hires and existing staff how they help their employees conquer burnout, maintain a flexible working arrangement, and receive highly competitive compensation are winning the battle on talent. It truly is a battle out there, and with more Accounting and Finance professionals leaving the job market every day than entering, the companies who win this battle will also win the war.