Ellen Ourednik
Vice President, Talent

Across job sectors, salary levels, and geographic regions, millions of people are quitting their jobs this year. Pundits are calling it The Great Resignation, and this economic trend is one of the unexpected consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about The Great Resignation and its effect on the accounting and finance labor market, we turned to Ellen Ourednik, Vice President of Talent at RGP. Working in a global company with clients all over the world on their talent needs has shaped her perspective about the trends that drive both employees and employers in this unique labor market. 

What’s behind The Great Resignation? What is driving people—talented, highly compensated professionals—to take such dramatic steps to change their work circumstances? 

This is the most competitive labor market I’ve witnessed in my career, especially for experienced knowledge workers in accounting and finance. It is a candidate-driven market for sure, which suggests that people are confident about their career prospects, and that they are willing to take a few risks.

Yet, I would put a broader lens on this story and call it The Great Reassessment. "Quit" is a loaded word and I do think it’s a bigger story than people simply leaving their jobs. 

It starts at the individual level. After a year of work and life disruptions, people are seriously reflecting about what’s important to them, what to prioritize, where to spend their time, and who to spend their time with. People are thinking about how to fit work into life and not the other way around.

Sometimes the outcome of a personal reassessment is the decision to change jobs for more flexibility, more money, or a more promising career path. Sometimes the decision is to take a break and evaluate your life. I’m seeing a lot of people who want to do project work because they are taking a timeout from the workforce. They want to take time off for vacations or visit family whom they haven’t seen for a year or more. This doesn’t mean they are permanently out of the workforce—they are on pause.

What kind of conversations do you have with people who have or intend to quit their jobs? How do you advise them?

In graduate school, I trained as a counseling psychologist and career advisor, which is the perfect foundation for my career at RGP. I put on my counselor hat at least 10 times a day. 

Generally in life, and especially in your career, there is a lot of value in running to something rather than running from something. Figuring out what you’re running to is an important part of this deep, personal assessment. 

I tell people that in today’s world, you don’t just look at the job. You look at the company, its corporate culture, and the work that you want to do. To really make a change in your life and your career, find an organization where you can do good work, that will support you and that will give you opportunities to grow. Because the reality is that your job title is not going to be the same forever.

Are we in the early stages of rapid-fire business transformation? Or have these trends been simmering below the surface for a while?

These trends have been simmering for some time. I don’t know that the pandemic created much that was new, but it really accelerated some developments that were already brewing.

Companies have been inching toward hybrid work and remote work for some time. A lot of our clients were implementing tools to support remote work before the pandemic. At RGP, we were working on Project Virtual Connect, an IT roadmap for technologies that would enable remote collaboration. When the pandemic arrived, we hit fast-forward and compressed an 18-month implementation timeline into one month. A lot of our clients had the same experience. 

What are companies doing or what should they be doing to retain the staff?

Companies need to listen to their employees. If they do, they will learn that people want flexibility and control. On the other hand, people also need stability and security. The employment pendulum has shifted toward talent in today’s Now of Work environment and businesses that can meet these needs will have a very powerful value proposition.

Let’s talk about compensation and location trends. How does this play into the decisions that accounting and finance professionals are making about their careers?

A lot of people in accounting and finance are getting full-time remote work status and a salary increase. Companies in California are hiring accountants in lower-cost labor markets. They can give an accountant in Florida a very compelling salary bump and keep compensation expenses down. 

Salary is where we’re seeing a bit of a bubble, but we expect this to moderate. Overall, benchmark salaries will increase over 2019, but salaries are not going to permanently stay at the current peak level.

We are seeing very high demand for accounting and finance professionals with M&A experience. Someone with experience setting up a data mart and preparing a company for acquisition might be able to command a salary premium.  

Are companies changing their recruiting and hiring strategies in response to these labor market developments?

Yes, companies are reassessing too. They are starting to see that they don’t need an FTE to solve every problem. We have a lot of clients who choose to leverage our services when they have a project or a knowledge gap on their team. They can just as easily contract an experienced person on demand.

And there is a lot about the current gig economy that appeals to accountants and auditors right now. Working on a huge enterprise initiative in a big company is appealing to them. They get the chance to work on a career-building project, while maintaining control over their career.

Ellen Ourednik is Vice President of Talent at RGP, a next-generation global human capital firm helping clients match the right professional talent needed to tackle change and transformational initiatives. She is responsible for aligning talent to business and client needs, helping RGP attract professionals with in-demand skill sets who seek a workplace environment that embraces flexibility, collaboration and human connection. Learn more about Ellen on LinkedIn.

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