Skip to content

How to transform a disengaged accounting team

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

· 6 minute read

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

· 6 minute read

Employee engagement is on the decline. Are members of your accounting team among them? 

A 2022 Gallup survey found that employee engagement in the U.S. experienced its first annual decline in a decade — dropping from 36 percent engaged employees in 2020 to 34 percent in 2021. This pattern continued into 2022. 

Active disengagement has been on the rise each year since 2020. In 2022, 18 percent of full- and part-time employees were actively disengaged. In fact, 2022 saw the “lowest ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees in the U.S. since 2013, almost a decade earlier,” the survey stated. 

Whether it is due to in-office employees desiring greater flexibility and work/life balance, remote staff feeling isolated and disconnected from the team, or employees, regardless of their location, simply feeling overworked and stressed, workplace engagement is a critical issue that leads to higher turnover rates. 

This article will explore how firms can transform a disengaged team and provide actionable insights firm leaders can set in motion today.  

What does a disengaged team look like?

Signs of disengagement on a team include:

Negativity: Being disrespectful or rude to other team members is often an indicator that the employee is feeling disengaged.  

Lack of enthusiasm: When a team member is no longer passionate or enthusiastic about their work, or they are simply doing the bare minimum that’s required (also known as “quiet quitting”), that could be red flag. 

Absent: Do you have a team member who is frequently calling out sick or is routinely late to meetings? If so, there’s a good chance that their absenteeism is stemming from feelings of disengagement. 

Elusive: Exhibiting evasive behavior, like avoiding group activities, not attending meetings, or not replying to messages, could be a sign that the employee is feeling disengaged.  

Unwilling to up-skill: Another potential indicator of disengagement is if an employee lacks interest in learning new skills and growing within the firm.  

When employees are disengaged, it impacts more than just their job. It has a ripple effect across the firm, negatively impacting overall team morale, the quality of service provided to clientele, and, ultimately, the firm’s profitability.

What are the root causes of disengagement?

There are various internal and external factors that can cause disengagement. While the COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in the rise of disengaged employees, there are other factors that must be considered. Understanding the root causes can help firms transform a disengaged team. 

Workplace stress: Burnout in the workplace is one of the most common issues impacting today’s professionals. It is real and not to be overlooked. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon. According to WHO, “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by three dimensions, according to WHO:  

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 
  • Reduced professional efficacy. 

Desire for higher pay: Employees who believe they are not being sufficiently paid for their work are more likely to disengage and start looking for a job that provides higher pay. 

Lack of flexibility: The desire for a greater work/life balance isn’t new but there’s no doubt that the pandemic further highlighted the desire for flexibility and changed how and where people want to work. Underscoring this point, recent research by global human resource consulting firm Robert Half found that nearly half (41 percent) of finance and accounting professionals are looking or plan to look for a new job in the first half of 2023. Many of these professionals are pursuing hybrid positions (63 percent), followed by fully remote positions (47 percent). 

Lack of career growth opportunities: Most employees want to work for an organization that fosters a culture of growth and development. This is especially true of junior staff who are looking to grow and move up the corporate ladder. Firms that lack career development opportunities risk losing employees. 

Poor management: Ensuring that team leaders possess positive managerial skills is important as poor management can not only elevate workplace stress but further fuel employee disengagement. 

Furthermore, the Gallup survey found that, since the onset of the pandemic, employees experienced the most declines in: 

  • Clarity of expectations 
  • Connection to the mission or purpose of the company 
  • Opportunities to learn and grow 
  • Feeling cared about at work  

How do you deal with a disengaged accounting team?

For starters, if a team member seems disengaged, it is important to open the lines of communication to try and determine what is causing their disengagement. There is always the chance that their feelings aren’t stemming from work but rather something else that is happening in their personal life. Either way, it is important to try and determine the root cause. 

It is also important to ensure that employees have a clear understanding of their roles and expectations. In today’s new work environment, communicating the intended firm’s strategy and values has never been more important. 

Take proactive steps to help ensure that team members feel connected, recognized, and appreciated. For instance, hold regular one-on-one meetings with staff members to address their goals, workload, wellbeing, etc. If the team is working remotely, consider holding regulatory scheduled stand-up meetings. These steps can be a great way for remote staff to remain engaged and share the status of their work. 

How to motivate your accounting team during tax season

Anyone who has worked within the accounting profession for some time knows that it can be stressful, especially during tax season. Thinking of ways to help motivate the accounting team and keep staff engagement on the upswing during the busy season is important. To achieve this, consider the following: 

  • Encourage staff to make both mental and physical health a priority. This involves regular exercise and avoiding too much unhealthy food. 
  • Remind staff to link their daily work and relationships to a larger sense of purpose. This can help drive engagement and motivation. 
  • Have a countdown till the end of tax season, with celebratory milestones. 
  • Keep a log of workflows and processes that are in need of improvement and invest in software that will make the lives of staff easier next tax season. 

Take steps today to help ensure morale and staff engagement remain on the upswing in your firm. This involves being proactive, communicative, and leveraging the right accounting software solutions to ease the strain on staff. 

Software solutions that can automate manual accounting processes will enable staff to work smarter and faster, thereby boosting employee morale. To learn more, read “How to streamline accounting processes — a step-by-step guide.” 

More answers