How firms are managing increasing workloads with fewer staff

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As the industry struggles to recruit, how are firms avoiding overworking current employees?

Some accountancy firms are facing a double whammy when it comes to staffing and workload. With many firms struggling to recruit, they’re also juggling increased workloads with fewer staff on their books.

Research last year by accountancy wellbeing charity CABA showed that over half (55%) of UK accountants are suffering from work-related stress and burnout, in comparison to 41% of staff in other industries.

Workloads have increased considerably in recent years, partly due to increasingly complex tax and financial legislation as well as pressures placed on accountants around compliance, reporting and stricter due diligence and economic sanction laws. Widespread investment in technology and automation also reduced appetites to train apprentices and entry-level starters as a way to cut costs after the 2008 financial crisis. But this, along with an ageing population and large numbers of people entering retirement and leaving the workforce, has created significant skills gaps and both ends.

Brexit-related legislation along with the fall-out from Covid-19 and current economic instability have added their own pressures.

All this is on top of an industry-wide recruitment crisis.

We recently asked accountants if they could compete with larger firms on salary, thereby ensuring equal access to talent pools which would ease some of these issues. It was a mixed bag, with some firms saying they could offer competitive salaries due to micro teams, small overheads and competitive clients fees, while others needed to look at the wider remuneration proposition to attract talent.

This time, we’ve asked accountants about the practicalities of managing an accountancy firm with fewer staff while maintaining workload.

Outsourcing frees up permanent staff to respond to client demand and better manage workflow

Jonathan Bregman, Director, Primera Accountants Ltd

I’ve been in practice for over 26 years and have never experienced recruitment issues as in this current market. We’re facing a perfect storm of a lack of talent and lack of supply across all levels, as people assess their lifestyles and look for increasing opportunities to re-skill or change direction in their lives. 

As a firm, we coped exceptionally well during COVID because we could harness cloud-based software. And whilst we do have a hybrid working approach, collaboration and communication in the office is invaluable.

We are incredibly fortunate the practice continues to grow organically, but we are sensitive to not overstretching ourselves at the risk of diminishing attention to detail and our client-led focus.

We have a dedicated and loyal team with a low turnover of staff. This continuity and familiarity helps with the planning, allocation and implementation of workloads. We also utilise the right technology, such as IRIS Practice Management. 

We also work with outsourcing companies and we’ve spent significant time training and developing these teams. This has allowed the UK team to spend more time managing the job flows and dealing with client queries.

Previously, we could not cope with the level of work and the outsourced team became an integral part of our operations. We did not, and still do not, look at this as a way of increasing profitability. Our sole focus has been and always will be ensuring we can service our workloads and not sacrifice quality. 

Verdict: Outsourcing frees up permanent staff to respond to client demand and better manage workflow.

Being nimble and process-driven improves workload management

Steve Aston, FCCA, Director, AGS Accountants and Business Advisors Ltd

For many years, we’ve been successfully bringing through junior employees via the training academy model and training and supporting them as they move up the career ladder, so it’s actually unusual for us to need to recruit at a senior level.

As a firm, we’re ‘process driven’ which makes workload management a lot easier. We are nimble in being able to re-work processes when we need to. For example, we recently restructured the onboarding processes to ensure greater efficiency by resourcing up the admin function rather than using fee earning capacity to onboard a new client. We constantly review processes and adopt the “lean efficiency” model to our working practices.  Where appropriate, we can segment workflow into relevant departments and teams which smooths out the workload really effectively.

Verdict: Being nimble and process-driven improves workload management.

Software choice is key to minimising workloads

Fozia Muddassir BSc., FCCA, FCA, Partner, Reddy Siddiqui LLP

The accountancy sector has had a lot to deal with in recent years and this has increased existing workloads. We are a training firm so we are regularly approached by accountancy students and have therefore not struggled to recruit. Holding a sponsor license has also meant we have been able to recruit students from further afield, plus we’ve also recruited via the apprenticeship scheme.

Automation and efficiency are key to managing and minimising workloads, so we’re constantly reviewing processes and software for both internal and external use. With increasing AI and RPA integrations, it is possible to reduce time on manual tasks, making things work more seamlessly. Our software choice has to manage all the different facets of running a practice, whether it’s dealing with compliance work, managing workflows, practice management, document management, getting practice KPIs and reporting or an integrated client portal.

Verdict: Software choice is key to minimising workloads.

Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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