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What are the feelings around hybrid working across Professional Services - Audit, Legal and Tax?

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Audit Legal Tax | 6 Mins Read | 15-11-2021
Submitted by Harry Double on Mon, 11/15/2021 - 10:13
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The prominence of hybrid working has increased exponentially. The majority of organisations across most industries - all over the world - have now adopted this type of flexible working in some capacity, where employees split their time between the office and working remotely.

Attitudes towards flexible working have changed, and many employers now see it as a credible way for their employees to work. Professionals obviously look at it favourably, as they can fit more of their social and family lives around their working schedule - some even go as far as saying they would consider leaving their current organisation if they aren’t provided with their preferred flexible working options.

The thing is, widespread hybrid working hasn’t been around for long enough for us to truly know whether there are longer-term implications on an individual’s career. 

Some organisations might yet reduce salaries for those not travelling to the office regularly, a lack of visibility could inhibit someone’s progression opportunities, and fewer natural social interactions could negatively impact the culture within a team.

From experiences over the past two years, we wanted to gather the feelings of employees towards hybrid working, specifically in the professional services of Audit, Legal, and Tax in the UK. This was carried out by our professional services recruitment team surveying their LinkedIn networks. Here’s what we found…

1. Legal professionals want a high level of flexibility

Across the Legal profession, over half (53%) would prefer to be in the office for 1-2 days per week, whilst a further 31% want to work fully remotely. A rather slim 12% are willing to do more days in the office (3-4 days) than remotely every week, showing professionals are definitely leaning towards the more remote end of the spectrum when it comes to hybrid working.

Remote working Legal professionals

Despite having done so for the majority of their careers, a mere 4% are eager to be in the office 5 days a week after having a taste of working remotely.

2. Those working in Tax don’t believe heightened levels of working from home limit internal career progression opportunities

It’s impossible to ignore the financial implications that the pandemic has had on organisations. People were put on furlough, redundancies were made, pay was docked, and spending was cut.

You may think that this would have a knock-on effect on internal progression and promotion opportunities; the Tax community does not see it that way. The overwhelming majority (78%) believe greater flexibility has had no impact on their opportunities to progress.

Progression in Tax roles

This said, the 21% who responded ‘Yes’ should not be ignored. Interestingly, we have noticed a slowdown of promotions, typically in larger organisations. Whether this is down to people working from home more often or organisations’ continued financial and headcount stresses (or both playing hand in hand), it’s almost impossible to tell.

3. Internal salary reviews a relative rarity for Accounts/Audit  professionals

Progression in the workplace - either internally or by moving externally to a more senior role - often means an increase in salary. By taking on more responsibilities, it is only fair for an employer to recognise it by offering you greater compensation.

But seeing as numerous firms put a pause on increasing pay, as well as promotions, throughout in order to ensure their financial stability, we were interested to find out what proportion of those working in Accounts had received a salary review since the start of the pandemic.

Audit salary review

43% claimed their salary has increased in their current firm, but the combined figure of 57% for those who had to move externally for a salary review (28%) or have not received a review at all since the start of the pandemic (29%), shows a negative picture.

This finding is reflective of what we have seen on the market. Candidates are displaying they want to leave a role because they feel they aren’t being compensated fairly. Also, salaries have become highly inflated and extreme counteroffers for quality employees have become rife. 

There have also been numerous incidents of Accounts professionals moving to new positions at larger firms where they have higher financial security and a guided salary bracket.

4. Money is the main motivator for Tax professionals looking to move jobs, but flexibility and culture are close behind

We wanted to find out whether the motivations of Tax professionals, when it comes to looking for a new job, had been impacted by the pandemic.

Tax motivations

Whilst there is an interesting split, showing that people have varying motivations, it looks like money still makes the world go round; 35% selected money as their number one reason to look for a new job.

Unsurprisingly, flexibility (23%) is also high up on the agenda of job seekers across Tax. Now that professionals have got the taste for flexible working, they seem eager to ensure their future working life consists of at least some remote working.

Company culture/morale, with 23% of responses, is an interesting one. After forcibly being made to work from home for an extended period of time and being apart from colleagues, it seems some people are craving the joyous social interaction that a positive company culture can bring.

5. People in the Legal sector are less inclined to resign in person nowadays

Working under the assumption that pre-pandemic, most people were in the office full time, this would mean that close to 100% of professionals would historically have resigned in person

Using that as a starting point, the results suggest that almost half of people (48%) that now enjoy a hybrid working model, no longer feel it is necessary to resign in person.

Legal resignation poll

Several inferences can be drawn from this and correlate to the increased levels of remote working:

  • Employees feel a lesser sense of loyalty to their current employer/manager
  • Employees feel less connected to their team/business/employer
  • Employees feel too uncomfortable resigning in person because they do not interact with their manager in real life as they would have done before 

While hybrid working has certainly provided employees with additional flexibility and autonomy, it appears to have negatively impacted at least half of the workforce within the legal profession.

Their willingness to resign via email/telephone and not face-to-face suggests engagement with, and connection to, their current employer has either deteriorated or was not robust to begin with.

6. Most Legal leaders feel they haven’t been negatively impacted by a lack of face-time with their teams

Leading on from the connection (or lack thereof) between management and their team members when it comes to resignations, we wanted to get an understanding of whether those in legal leadership roles feel like hybrid working has impeded their ability to effectively lead their teams.

Legal Leadership Roles

It’s pleasing that the majority of respondents (60%) don’t feel the reduced level of in-person interaction has compromised their leadership abilities, but a significant 39% do.

Hybrid working does have its merits for both professionals and their employers, but one of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of face-to-face, spontaneous interactions between team members - across all levels of seniority

Even though leaders may feel like their position hasn’t been compromised, that doesn’t necessarily mean their team members feel the same way. 

Organisations need to ensure they have strong engagement strategies in place for all staff members, and those specifically in leadership positions should receive coaching on how to effectively lead a dispersed team. This is a time when real creativity is needed.

Hybrid working across Professional Services

If one thing is for sure, it’s that hybrid working isn’t going anywhere. The working world has changed significantly in the last two years, and the attitudes of professionals have shifted accordingly.

Firms are having to adapt and adjust in order to offer a suitable level of flexible working to their people, or they risk losing them to other employers that are more accommodating.

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