insight magazine

Minding Your Mid-Careerists: Slowing the Exodus of Experienced Talent

What can CPA firms do to prevent their more experienced, mid-career professionals from making a grand exit? Firm leaders, human resources professionals, and executive consultants agree that putting employees first is a necessary step to keep them in the leadership pipeline. By Teri Saylor | Spring 2023

The CPA shortage has been bubbling up in recent years as baby boomers retire and the remnants of the pandemic linger. Today, the exodus of accounting professionals is reaching its boiling point as mid-career CPAs—those at the peak of their productive years—are following retirees out the door, leaving firms short-staffed and without a pipeline of experienced talent to take over.

This loss of talent is especially damaging, as mid-career employees are often responsible for leading implementation of their firms’ strategies and goals and fostering office cultures that are supportive, visionary, and purpose driven for all staff. However, add in today’s societal pressures and lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s no surprise these employees have been left drained, stressed, and reevaluating their life priorities like so many others.

In fact, a recent report from the Hinge Research Institute, “The Great Resignation: Navigating the Mid-Career Crisis,” revealed that nearly a third of mid-career professionals between the ages of 30 and 45 years old had quit their jobs over the past year, many without another job lined up. Further, less than half of mid-career employees are satisfied with their jobs.

Dave Levine, CPA, managing partner at Topel Forman in Chicago, has witnessed firsthand the exits of many mid-career CPAs at this firm. Specifically, he recalls two key managers who left to pursue careers that offered more flexible lifestyles: One went into financial planning, essentially to avoid long hours, and the other left the profession altogether. “Public accounting has always seen people leave for private accounting or other fields, but ever since the pandemic hit, we’ve been seeing some real career changes,” he says.

The Illinois CPA Society’s 2022 Firm Staffing and Benefits Survey backs up Levine. Since 2020, acquiring experienced staff has been the leading management challenge Illinois CPA firms have faced, followed by retaining existing staff, and the number of firms struggling to acquire new staff jumped significantly in the wake of COVID-19.

The AICPA’s 2022 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey commentary reflects the same: hiring and retaining qualified staff is among the top concerns for most CPA firms.

While many firms have found ways to tackle some of this business upheaval, including offering remote work benefits, the mid-career exit boom continues to keep most firm leaders up at night.

To battle this troubling trend, experts say now’s the perfect time for firms to create lasting retention strategies. Here are six ways CPA firms can build employee-centric organizations that mind the wants and needs of their mid-career talent.


At Topel Forman, firm leadership has tried to reinvent what public accounting looks like. Levine recalls his early career experiences some 20 years ago when working seven days a week during busy season was the norm and putting in 12-hour days was mandatory.

“The only choice we had was deciding if we wanted to work from 8-to-8 or 9-to-9. Today, people won’t do it, and I don’t blame them because it’s a terrible lifestyle. Topel Forman has become increasingly flexible over the years. Today, the firm is largely remote and offers employees an accommodating work schedule,” he explains. “We don’t require anyone to work in the office and almost everyone is taking us up on that. We probably have 30% of our firm in the office three days a week.”

In addition to work-at-home opportunities, employees can schedule their workdays around their personal needs, such as child care, pet care, or self-care.

“We’re just figuring out every possible way to be flexible and continue to run a profitable business,” Levine says.

Of course, some managers are concerned that offering employees a completely flexible schedule could discourage teamwork and collaboration. For those managers, a model that incorporates core hours with flexibility could offer the best of both worlds.

Amanda Lilley, CPA, SHRM-CP, PHR, a human resources consultant with Rosenberg Associates in Portland, Ore., advises her clients to assign specific times of the day when employees must be available for internal meetings, client consultations, and phone calls. According to Lilley, this ensures employees are accessible for collaboration and that business functions are still getting done.

“Many firms are implementing core hours when employees need to be online while allowing them to be flexible the rest of the day,” she says. “We all have obligations outside the workday and flexibility is something that all generations, including mid-career professionals, want from their employers.”

Flexibility can also extend to job descriptions and work product. Mary Fuller, CPA, managing partner of Citrin Cooperman Advisors LLC’s Chicago office and immediate past chairperson of the Illinois CPA Society Board of Directors, says she’s seen more mid-career professionals leave their jobs because they feel like they’re stuck in a rut, doing the same tasks, and filling the same roles with clients year after year.

“Firm leaders need to be mindful of giving individuals tasks that are varied, interesting, and challenging,” she says. “This includes special projects and exciting work that makes them feel valued for their ability to take on important assignments. Employees, especially those in their mid-career, want to feel like they’re making a difference.”


While flexibility remains a top want for many mid-career CPAs, so is a positive work culture. Jay Scherer, president of Chicago-based Scherer Executive Advisors, says there are three concepts that firm leaders should embrace to create a welcoming culture: caring, learning, and delivering results.

“I view workplace culture as an effective and reasonable balance of those three elements,” Scherer says. “When you demonstrate you care about your employees, they’ll go the extra mile for the firm. When you engage your team to learn new things, they’ll stay motivated. And when you involve your team in getting results, it allows them to share in the firm’s success.”

A culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) also opens the door to an office culture where employees from all walks of life feel welcome, says Sandra Wiley, shareholder and president of Boomer Consulting Inc.

“Leaders need to pay attention to DEI because it’s of growing importance in the workplace,” Wiley stresses. “Many cities and towns, especially those with universities, are seeing their populations become more diverse. When professionals are recruited to work in firms where there’s little to no diversity of races, cultures, identities, and abilities, it can be a problem.”

A strong DEI strategy can help make individuals feel like part of the greater good and give them a stronger sense of purpose.

“DEI creates a place where employees can see themselves staying and contributing,” Wiley says. “It improves culture and communication and creates a healthier and more positive workplace overall by giving everyone a chance to fully take part.”


No matter what level a professional is at in their firm, Wiley says most are keen to grow—they want and need continuing education and career coaching.

“Mid-career CPAs absolutely want to continue their career paths, whether that means going into a higher level of tax, audit, consulting, or taking on an advisory role, and they want someone to coach them on how to continue to grow and improve,” she says. “The day they feel like they’ve learned everything at their workplace is the day they may leave. You have to encourage them to keep learning—offering career coaching and professional development is key to that.”

Levine agrees, noting that Topel Forman has created an education curriculum for people at different stages of their careers, including mentoring and coaching: “Providing continuing education is just a given in the accounting profession at this point, and if you’re not doing it, you’re behind the curve.”

Tuition reimbursements and stipends for accessing education, pursuing advanced degrees, and earning certifications—and the CPA credential—are value propositions for employees and benefits that could help.


According to Hinge’s report, one of the top reasons mid-career professionals leave their jobs is to seek better compensation packages, which extends beyond salaries.

“We’ve become a lot more generous with our benefits,” Levine says. “For example, a new employee right out of college gets five weeks of vacation.”

Levine’s firm also contributes more money to health insurance, paying for almost all of it, and offers additional perks, like covering health club fees and planning special events to build camaraderie. “Employees often volunteer together for charity projects, such as packing boxes at a local food pantry and socializing together, all during work hours.”

Levine adds that his firm set up all 120 employees with home office equipment, including laptops, monitors, and a Wi-Fi subsidy. “Yes, it’s expensive, but we look at the cost as an investment in their happiness and their quality of life.”

Lilley considers competitive compensation packages as one of the most important aspects of employee retention and says her firm is seeing clients offering higher salaries than ever. She recommends establishing a competitive base salary and adding on a bonus or incentive structure for staff, partners, and other firm leaders so they can reap the rewards from meeting the firm’s goals.

“If you’re falling behind, your chances of retaining talent or hiring new talent will be challenged because somebody could easily jump ship and go elsewhere for more money, especially if that salary increase is coupled with a better work-life balance,” she cautions.


When it comes to enhanced perks at the workplace, it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. While management may offer generous benefits, it won’t impact retention if employees don’t see the value in them.

“The accounting profession is super competitive for talent, so we do a pulse survey twice a year to learn what our people are thinking to help us stay competitive,” Levine shares.

Gauging what individuals want out of their careers can save time and money and encourage longevity. Lilley recommends conducting “stay interviews” during normal performance evaluation cycles or anytime throughout the year.

“You could just sit down with employees in an informal setting and ask them for feedback on workplace aspects they appreciate, what frustrates them, and how the firm can retain them as employees,” she adds.

Establishing open-door policies and establishing a system of touch points throughout the year can also help keep communication flowing between employees and managers and create as a safe space where individuals feel they can express their true feelings and concerns.

“Ask employees what they want out of their careers, the professional development they need, their compensation goals, and where they hope to be in three years,” Fuller encourages. “These touch points give employees a chance to be in the driver’s seat of their careers, which helps them feel more comfortable about being open and honest. Sometimes employees are quiet and never speak up, and then suddenly they announce they’ve decided to take a new position. I always feel bad when someone does that because I would’ve wanted them to at least talk to me before they pulled the trigger and left.”


“In the CPA profession, you’re likely working for a corporation where you have the monthly grind of closing, which never goes away, or in public accounting, where you have busy seasons, and they take a toll on people,” Scherer says. Though, he adds there seems to be a noticeable culture shift, moving the profession in the right direction.

“In the past, people felt that they didn’t have a choice, but it’s not like that anymore,” he says. “The way to win today is to drive your culture to be more focused on employee empowerment and well-being.”

Scherer recommends that firms work on building healthy relationships with their employees by understanding their needs and educating them on the needs of the organization for mutual benefit.

“To be successful today, management must treat employees like colleagues or even friends,” he says. “The firms that understand this will thrive.”

Teri Saylor is a Raleigh, N.C.-based writer with experience covering a range of topics from business to lifestyles. She’s also a frequent contributor to AICPA’s FM Magazine and Journal of Accountancy.


Related Content:

  • Why Investing in Your Staff Is More Important Than Ever: A comprehensive, professional development strategy might be the boost your firm or company needs to keep your CPAs and other professional staff from running out the door.
  • The Big Quit: Now that COVID-19 has receded just enough for the economy to rebound, an interesting trend is emerging: record resignations.

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