How to make the most of your junior accountants

Junior accountants – fresh out of university, £50,000 in debt, and wanting to impress. 

So why does the profession seem to slowly crush the life and the enthusiasm out of them so quickly? 

If they join a big firm, they tend to specialise in one or two niche areas becoming experts in their field eventually but their desire to have a much wider and deeper understanding of the profession is left unfulfilled. 

If they join a smaller firm, it’s generally not as well organised, there are too many clients on the books (who are normally angry or upset at something the rare times they speak with clients), the pressure on them is intense and unrelenting, they often don’t really feel like part of a bigger team, and the hours are crushing. 

What unites junior accountants working for big firms and for smaller firms is the feeling that they’re not making a difference, they’re not learning fast enough, and they’re not getting the chance of promotion they feel they deserve. 

To millennials and Gen Zers, company culture is important as is working with the latest technology. 

Many want personal development programs in place for them at the start and nearly all of them want personalised feedback at least once every six months. 

They want to move around the businesses they work for to find the position that suits them the best to help them decide on their eventual career path – 70% of millennials join in the hope that you will create a job rotation program for them. 

This is quite a tick list for any small accountancy firm. 

However your junior accountants are the future of your practice and, in many cases, they’ll have extra energy and vitality to develop the practice that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers just don’t have anymore because they’ve got mortgages, kids, responsibilities, and so on. 

Accounting: the next generation 

To many Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, the attitude of younger members of staff can be summed up by a line delivered by an anonymous millennial member of staff to a PWC researcher in a survey of that generation’s attitude towards work: 

“My career will be one of choice, not one chosen out of desperation. It will align who I am with what I do.” 

Through a combination of watching their own parent’s experiences and from years of exposure to the news, they believe that being loyal to a company doesn’t bring any rewards or long term security to them. 

They may have a very valid point. 

Therefore what might appear to older generations to be an unreasonable and self-centred attitude makes sense with the way in which they perceive the world and how it works. 

So, what can a small accountancy practice do to first keep the junior members of staff they manage to attract and then encourage them to focus on adding value to your business and what you deliver to your clients? 

1. Give them the widest variety of tasks and be there to support them 

This is true for all of your staff but less so for more senior members of staff who statistically are more likely to be contented on further honing their expertise in areas they’re already very familiar with. 

Junior accountants are taken on by many practices to fill immediate gaps in capacity and they often tend to get stuck doing the same thing again and again. 

In addition to their general responsibilities, try to set aside a day or more every week to give them hands-on experience of, for example: 

  • preparing client accounts part way through their financial reporting period,  
  • analysing clients financial performance to look for warning signs, 
  • examining opportunities to reduce costs and increase profits for individual clients which they could then present to the client as a report, and 
  • trickier bank reconciliations to give them an appreciation of why it’s important to encourage clients to keep their financial records up to date. 

Give your junior accountants an opportunity to demonstrate their level of knowledge across particular disciplines. Congratulate and reward them when they do well and be generous with your advice, time, and support when their work doesn’t meet the required standard. 

If you have the time, show your junior accountant how you do it first with one client and ask them to do the same with other clients bringing what they’ve done back to you for feedback. 

2. Explain the importance of each function they perform to a business 

“Millennials work for a purpose and not for a pay cheque”, according to Forbes Magazine – dozens of surveys in the UK and around the world have confirmed the same. 

The best run businesses survive and prosper because their management teams work off accurate and up-to-date information. Those businesses provide their employees with jobs and they pay for the services we all rely on like the NHS, the education system, and more. 

There is a wider and greater purpose to accounting and demonstrating the value of their work to clients and to society at large will contribute to a junior employee’s sense of self-worth and increase the level of satisfaction they have working for you. 

Accounting ensures that companies compete on a level playing field and, for businesses with the potential to generate significant revenues in the future, the work done by accountants can be used to secure finance to bring forward to creation of new jobs and new opportunities. 

Accounting is a profession to be proud of. 

3. You’re their boss – take time every day to interact with junior accountants 

Three of the main reasons for unhappiness among accountants are: 

  • Expectation to work long or extended hours 
  • Lack of recognition of the work done  
  • Lack of support from managers 

Employees of all ages need to be told that they’re doing well at work – they need you to recognise the contribution they make to the practice. 

If a junior accountant feels that you, the boss, sees them every day at work and you take time out of your day to find out more about them and what they’re interested in learning, that interest and support together with the recognition for the work they’re doing will mean that, although they may not like it, they’ll work longer and harder for you because you see their quality. 

Sincere praise and congratulations are natural highs you should not deprive any of your staff of. 

Unlike more senior accountants joining your firm, junior accountants are a blank canvass. In any practice, experienced team members are needed but remember that experience also means that a member of staff is burdened by the expectations and working practices of previous employers. 

Your junior employees are, with work experience excepted, yours to mould. Your working practices will be “normal” working practices to them and you set the expectations you require from them. Take advantage of this. 

4. Partner them with senior members of staff 

To some degree, there has always been intergenerational conflict at work and today is no different. And, as in the past, it’s an overblown fear most of the time. 

The greatest gain for any small accounting practice in partnering junior and senior accountants together is the creation of camaraderie between staff members leading to the feeling that everyone belongs to the same team. 

Junior accountants benefit from knowing that senior and more experienced members of staff are approachable if they need help. And senior accountants know that, as their junior counterparts gain more experience and better insights, they’ll have their back if their workload experiences a temporary spike. 

A happy team stays together and, as long as they believe that they’re being led in the right way by you, your practice’s productivity and organisational resilience will be very strong. 

5. Encourage them to interact with clients directly 

Some people are more outgoing and gregarious than others – this is true for accountants too. 

For some junior accountants, the idea of phoning a client to speak with them is daunting, particularly if they’re ringing up to tell a client some bad news or they’re gently encouraging them to start uploading their invoices and receipts more regularly to their online bookkeeping platform. 

For your practice to be as durable, strong, and flexible as possible, clients must not feel that, if someone other than you within the firm gets in touch with them, they’re somehow being fobbed off because they’re not speaking to the main man or woman. 

Building individual relationships with clients is a learning opportunity for junior accountants and it takes the pressure of you as the head of the business to be there for every eventuality. 

And these conversations give newer team members a much better feel for the people and businesses they’re serving than analysing financial records on a computer screen ever could. 

Make sure that you’re there in the early days – practice calls with your junior colleagues prior to them picking up the phone. When they are speaking with clients for the first few times, make sure that you or a senior colleague (preferably you) are sitting next to them in case they need to ask a question. 

Following the phone call, get them to follow up with an email thanking the client for their time so that the client knows that there is more than one person looking after their account. 

As time goes on, assign more and more clients to your junior accountants to build their confidence and their portfolio making sure that there is a summary of every phone call and email so that you can make sure the relationship is progressing as it should. 

And, when it’s time to visit a client’s premises, make sure to take the junior accountant assigned to them along with you on an appointment so that your new colleagues can appreciate the business they’re working for and the jobs they’re supporting. 

6. Review their performance and ask for their opinions 

Try to review your junior accountant’s progress every six months at a maximum – let them know which areas they’re doing well in and which areas you feel they need further support in. 

But make sure that your performance reviews are just as much about listening to their opinions as sharing your own. 

In particular, ask them what the practice needs to do to make their work easier and more enjoyable – it must be the goal of every practice owner and every business owner to remove as many obstacles as possible stopping their employees from doing the best work they can do. 

Working with you, they’ll have an opportunity they won’t have working for a big firm or a large company’s internal accounting team to broaden their knowledge and their range of skills.  

At the performance meeting, ask your junior accountants which assignments they’d like to work on to both widen and deepen their general knowledge and to provide additional experience in those areas where you feel that they have not excelled yet. 

Getting your practice ready for junior accountants 

Above is a large tick-list and you might be wondering just how you can fit so many activities into your practice’s overcrowded schedule. 

We developed Hindsight over 18 months to make the business of running a small accounting firm easier by: 

  • automating many of the tasks you and your colleagues already do, 
  • allowing you to see which clients need additional training and prompting to keep their financial records up to date on Xero, and 
  • providing notifications to you and your team when a client may require help together with guidance on the type of help which you could offer. 

Hindsight has been designed to free up much more of your and your colleague’s time by making sure that the bulk of the work needed to complete a period end, year end, or Self Assessment is borne by the client over the year. 

You can use the time you’ve gained with Hindsight to make colleagues’ workloads more manageable, to delegate more of your responsibilities to colleagues, to create a better team atmosphere, and to free your practice’s dependence on you. 

You and your colleagues will have the time and the mind space to improve your relationships with your clients, offer advisory services with the support of Hindsight’s tips, and to charge a fair rate for the value you deliver. 

To find out more, please click here.  

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