Employee benefits lessons from the big four accounting firms

When it comes to insight on staff engagement trends, the big four accountancy firms (PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte) are a wealth of knowledge. Having been fortunate enough to work with a broad range of accountancy firms over the years – including all of the big four – we thought it would be interesting to share a few employee benefits insights of our own from partnering with these professional services behemoths.

Employee recognition needn’t be about cash
Our experience of working with large accountancy firms has reinforced our long-held view that employee recognition should not be about supplementing salary and financial reward, but be seen as something totally separate, saying ‘thank you’. The majority of those working in large accountancy firms tend to be above average earners, which raises some interesting questions about employee rewards. We often get asked: “Will a ÂŁ10 bottle of wine be an effective award for a partner earning ÂŁ200,000 a year?” For us the answer is most certainly yes. We’ve had feedback from countless clients in this sector that it’s the message that matters, especially if the award is personal to the recipient in question. So, don’t worry about monetary value, it’s the thought that counts.

Working cultures can be extremely diverse within a single business
The best employee benefits are those that are tailored to the culture, tone and humour of an organisation, however this can differ dramatically within a business, something that is particularly acute in the large accountancy firms given their size and the range of different teams, practice areas and service lines that exist within them. Whether employee discounts, reward and recognition or concierge services, the initiatives that will get the most engagement are those that resonate with the employees they are aimed at. For a team based at a location where driving to work is prevalent, it might be use of a coveted parking space that is the most valued award. For a team based in the capital city, it might be a day out visiting local tourist attractions. In terms of discounts, individual interests and preferences will largely dictate what employees choose to engage with. What the big four do very well in this respect is offer a broad range of employee benefits and tailor things such as concierge and recognition awards to specific teams or individuals.

Don’t lose sight of the underlying business objective
From budget approval, to the review of management information and staff engagement levels, the larger accountancy firms place a big emphasis on the need for employee engagement initiatives to deliver against agreed business objectives. At our recent breakfast seminar on employee recognition, for example, Grant Thornton’s Martin Todd (not strictly in the big four, but still one of the world’s largest accountancy businesses) discussed how a key reason for introducing their employee reward and recognition scheme was to support the firm’s business strategy of becoming a ‘shared enterprise’ with a culture focused on sharing ideas, responsibility and reward. The creation of a monthly panel, with representatives from management down to graduate level, to discuss nominations and how they fell within the agreed policy, was one way that Todd and his team ensured that a strong link existed between those business objectives and their recognition programme.

Don’t be afraid to learn from those outside of your industry
In recent years, the large accountancy firms have been vocal proponents of flexible working. The idea being that, as global businesses with clients and colleagues all over the world, the nine to five business day is becoming less and less relevant. Evidently, there’s a business case for pursuing such policies but there are also clear benefits when it comes to employee retention, satisfaction and well-being. It’s interesting to note professional services firms – a sector still viewed as ‘traditional’ by many – being so forward thinking when it comes to their employee policies, more so when you consider that this trend was arguably ushered in by Silicon Valley start-ups. Clearly the big four aren’t afraid to look outside of their sector when it comes to developing forward thinking HR policies. That said, it’s also worth noting that the big four themselves have also been responsible for leading the way when it comes to innovative HR thinking. For example, all of them have made changes to their academic entry requirements, amending or scrapping existing UCAS and degree requirements to create a fairer, more modern and arguably more accurate system.

Are you in the process of developing a reward and recognition strategy and would like guidance on successfully implementing a meaningful programme? Xexec has put together a handy e-book on this subject which includes a case study from Anglian Water.