insight magazine

CFO Cents | Spring 2024

Healthier Bottom Lines Start With Lowering Turnover

If we want to create lasting value for our organizations, we’ll need to embrace new mindsets and models.
Claire Burke, CPA CFO and Treasurer, Dearborn Group

I was recently interviewing a candidate for a staff-level accounting position. During the interview, he mentioned his accounting career interest stemmed from enjoying the accounting courses he took in his MBA program. With that response, my mind quickly jumped ahead a few years and wondered: If I hired him, would he still be around? Would the accounting and finance field provide the career he was looking for? Would my organization be a place he would want to stay?

As these flooding questions suggest, finding ways to retain talent continues to be top of mind for most corporate finance leaders, including myself. We know what high employee turnover costs our bottom lines. Not to mention the fact that open positions place an extreme burden on existing staff and management as work gets temporarily shifted until the position is filled.

Ultimately, if we want to create lasting value for our organizations, and also help our bottom lines, a great place to start is by lowering our turnover rates. Fortunately, thanks to some leads from recent survey findings, there are a couple of areas where we can start now to make that happen—pay and flexibility.


Based on the Illinois CPA Society’s survey findings featured in the Insight Special Feature, “Righting Retention,” salaries are cited as the leading driver of accounting and finance professionals voluntarily leaving an employer. Pay is top of mind for almost everyone, and it’s no secret that accounting salaries remain lower than technology and financial analyst-type positions—but why?

Thanks to technology advancements, our industry has changed considerably over the past 10 years, allowing accountants to gain a variety of new skill sets applicable to our data-driven world. For example, certain fundamental accounting and finance processes are being automated, with some tasks completely replaced by robotic process automation or artificial intelligence. Tasks that would’ve taken hours or days to complete, can now be accomplished in a fraction of the time. Fortunately, this has shifted the type of work many staff accountants perform to become more analytical and technological. So, why wouldn’t this translate to salaries that are commensurate with technology and other finance positions? It’s a shift we should all consider across the industry.

Of course, solid accounting knowledge is still a fundamental requirement, but being able to adapt with the changing landscape is also imperative. When I’m interviewing potential candidates, I now look for candidates that have technical skills (e.g., Power BI, building reports in Tableau, advanced Excel skills, etc.). I also look for candidates with analytical aptitude—I need more thinkers, people who can analyze and explain drivers of outcomes. One of the biggest values my team provides our organization is insight into key drivers of our financial results and opportunities to improve earnings.


Other leading causes of turnover cited in “Righting Retention” were too many hours/burnout and lack of work-life balance.

At times, accounting professionals are held hostage by cycles, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually. The traditional mindset is you either accept this seasonality of multiple busy seasons or consider pursuing another career—the mentality of “it is what it is.” But is there a better model?

While we can’t get away from the cyclical nature of our profession, we can find opportunities to make up for this by offering better work-life balance. The pandemic provided a great revelation: Employees can work remotely and still be productive. In my experience, I’ve found that employees aren’t only more productive when you allow them to do so, but happier. I also found that some employees became more innovative in finding ways to make their work easier to do remotely. With the advancements in technology that make a virtual office work well, why not find a balance between in-office and remote work that allows for better work-life balance for all?

For example, my organization has adopted a hybrid approach that promotes in-person collaboration by requiring employees to be in the office part of the week, while offering the flexibility to work from home the other days.

Simply put, if we want to create a better balance for employees choosing this profession, we’re going to have to change how we manage and how our teams work together.

There are tools available to make flexible work arrangements a success for everyone, while maintaining (even enhancing) productivity, collaboration, teamwork, and engagement. Video, instant messaging, and virtual collaborative workspaces can promote a team environment and allow you to effectively manage when employees are remote. You can also schedule in-person team building activities periodically to make it more enjoyable to come into the office. These can be as simple as team meetings or team lunch days.

Of course, with flexible work arrangements, sufficient guardrails in the form of policies and procedures need to be clearly communicated—it shouldn’t be a free for all. For example, I require anyone working remotely to have an “online presence” during our core business hours, which means their online status needs to reflect where they’re at throughout that time. If they’re “away,” they need to include a message, such as, “At lunch until 1 p.m.” Clear communication is critical, so it feels no different than if everyone is in the office together.

While flexible work arrangements will never eliminate our crunch times, providing employees with the opportunity to complete their work when, where, and how is best for them can help offset the effects of long hours and offer a better work-life balance. We just need to be willing to change how we manage, change how our teams work together, and have effective policies and procedures in place.

If you’re currently operating under the traditional mindsets and models that have stereotyped the accounting profession for decades, I encourage you to pause and reconsider how a new way of thinking could work for you and your recruiting and retention efforts. By doing so, you might just find that you add some downstream value to your organization.

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