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The last two years have produced a seismic shift in the economy, the labour market, and the values and structures underpinning our working lives. The COVID-19 pandemic destabilized many established workforce systems, and what has emerged out of these upheavals is a much different reality for employees and employers alike.

Employees have developed new working habits and different expectations about their ideal job, along with a greater willingness to pursue new employment opportunities if they are not satisfied. At the same time, employers are looking for ways to retain, recruit and manage their people amid a nationwide talent shortage.

Accountants providing support and advice to clients dealing with human resource (HR) challenges need to help them navigate new and increasingly complex talent-management challenges in the post-pandemic world, says Shubh Mann, director, Channels, with HR technology provider ADP.

“Many of the old playbooks are no longer relevant, and the new rules for being a truly competitive employer continue to be written,” Mr. Mann says. “Employers today face unprecedented responsibilities and complex challenges, and many are looking to their accounting consultants for evidence-driven counsel and innovative tools.”

Accountants are increasingly being asked to provide HR support to their clients, building on the traditional roles that have earned them recognition as many companies’ most trusted strategic advisers. Research conducted by ADP found that 57 per cent of businesses believe they are not fully utilizing all of the services and insights their accounting firm can provide, and 62 per cent of them want HR and talent management insights from their accountant.

At the same time, accountants are working with human capital management (HCM) technology providers to bolster their HR capacities. ADP Canada has built a strong partners network with accounting service providers seeking additional expertise and tools to help them meet their clients’ evolving HR needs.

Power shifts towards employees

ADP conducts research globally on the changing nature of the world of work. According to its 2022 Workforce Trends, workers are defining the future of work. There has been a type of power shift towards employees, who find themselves in a stronger bargaining position with their current and prospective employers. Employees have more clout to ask for not only higher compensation but more flexible working arrangements and supports to give them better work-life balance.

“In the early days of the pandemic, many employees faced a great deal of uncertainty about their economic future. Some workers lost their jobs or took a pay cut, and even if they were employed as before, their belief in the concept of job security was weakened,” says Mr. Mann.

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Employees are empowered and want a job that aligns with their values and better supports both their professional and personal goalsiStockPhoto / Getty Images

“Employees re-evaluated their priorities, and as the world gets back on track, they are feeling empowered to make employment decisions that best suit their personal and professional goals and that align with their values.

While workers’ negotiating power has grown, many companies are struggling to keep and recruit the best people to meet their labour needs. A recent ADP-commissioned survey conducted by Maru Public Opinion highlighted some of these HR challenges among Canadian small businesses.

The growing talent shortage

The good news is that most Canadian small businesses are rebounding. The survey found that the majority (79 per cent) of small businesses that had to reduce their workforce in response to the pandemic have been able to re-hire employees. However, one-third (33 per cent) stated they have trouble finding workers, with nearly half (46 per cent) indicating the talent shortage grew because of the pandemic.

Small businesses are also having difficulty keeping their existing staff. According to small business owners surveyed, they’re seeing staff leave for a better salary (32 per cent), wanting to make a career change (29 per cent) and to take on a more senior role (17 per cent).

" Many of the old playbooks are no longer relevant, and the new rules for being a truly competitive employer continue to be written. Employers today face unprecedented responsibilities and complex challenges, and many are looking to their accounting consultants for evidence-driven counsel and innovative tools.

Shubh Mann
Director, Channels, with HR technology provider ADP

The survey found some regional differences. Small business owners in Quebec struggled the most to find and retain talent, with 44 per cent struggling to find workers and 63 per cent finding it more difficult than before the pandemic to find and retain employees. Small businesses in Alberta struggled the least to find and retain employees, followed by the Prairies. When asked why employees would leave their role, small business owners in British Columbia (33 per cent) and Ontario (31 per cent) were more likely to report a career change, compared to only 20 per cent of small business owners in Quebec.

Small businesses are changing compensation models and working conditions in a bid to respond to the talent crunch. Among those small businesses owners and operators who say hiring in the current environment is difficult, the survey found the following: 46 per cent have increased wages, over a quarter (27 per cent) have increased benefits, like additional vacation time, and close to a fifth (19 per cent) have introduced a shorter work week.

Employer challenges require multiple, complex solutions

Employers have had to navigate multiple new responsibilities and expectations in the post-pandemic workplace, in addition to the increasingly difficult market in which to find, recruit, hire and retain the best people. Other challenges include an elevated focus on workplace health and safety and on initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Businesses are also dealing with a rapidly evolving regulatory landscape and with ongoing COVID-19 compliance, from legislative changes and available tax credits to updating workplace policies. They are also grappling with decisions about the best investments to make in technology related to HCM.

“As we analyze expected trends for the next 12 months, we see that the complexities of managing HR needs in the new labour environment will continue and, in some cases, become amplified for employers,” Mr. Mann stresses. “Retaining and attracting the best people is a challenge that won’t go away anytime soon, and the focus on workplace health and safety will remain at the forefront.”

Looking ahead, it is also clear that remote work will continue to be a priority for many workers and that many employers will have hybrid models, with some employees working from company offices and others working from home at least part of the workweek. Companies will need to invest in technologies to enable connections among teams and keep employees engaged in these more complex setups. Other employer challenges that Mr. Mann identifies include the following:

  • Difficulty in managing fluctuating costs with waves of resignations, hiring, onboarding, learning and development.
  • A need to formalize knowledge that was traditionally held by long-tenured employees. Companies realized that employees in payroll and related areas who were absent for long periods due to illness or accessibility issues, or those that have left recently, left a void in knowledge. It is critical to formalize and, in many cases, outsource this type of work to ensure business continuity.

As more employers strive to differentiate their employee experience so they can avoid losing employees and increase their acquisition of new talent, they will be increasingly looking to their accountants to help lead the way. Partnerships with ADP gives accountants the edge as they strive to meet these new needs of their clients and create non-traditional revenue streams beyond the more traditional accounting services of payroll and tax services.

“ADP can help accountants advise their clients on HR by leveraging tools such as HR Assist, which includes compliance and recruiting tools, HR help desk, HR resources and insights, and more,” Mr. Mann says. “We can offer access to HR analytics and technologies that will support accountants as they help their clients update their processes and policies to match the demands of the changing employee landscape.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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