Hiring and compensation trends Featured

5:39am EDT January 3, 2007

The demand for finance and accounting professionals is high, yet the talent pool is shrinking: a surefire recipe for higher compensationand perks for those in these professions. Still, employees don’t realize how much negotiating power they have, according to a recentEmployment Dynamics and Growth Expectations (EDGE) report, which included survey responses from more than 1,000 hiring managers and 3,000 workers. The survey was developed by Robert Half International (RHI), the world’s largest specialized staffing firm, andCareerBuilder.com, the United States’ largest online job site.

According to the survey, 55 percent of hiring managers said it was difficult to find qualified candidates a year ago; 81 percent said thatit was just as difficult, or more so, today. But while the balance of power has shifted to favor highly skilled workers, the majority ofemployees surveyed said they are still feeling cautious about the job market and not very willing to negotiate higher salaries. “Hiring managers may be aware of the shortage in finance and accounting talent, but that reality has not yet made it on the radar screenof job seekers,” says Alfred Patawaran, division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in Cleveland.

Smart Business spoke with Patawaran about this curious discrepancy and what it means for both workers and employers.

Could you explain the reason for the talent shortage in finance and accounting?

Right now, many of the most skilled professionals are already employed, and there’s a more shallow talent pool to draw from.Additionally, with large numbers of baby boomers expected to retire, there simply aren’t enough highly skilled replacement workers todraw from in the Gen X and Gen Y work force.

If jobs are plentiful, why are workers proceeding with caution when taking a new job? And why are they hesitant to ask for more money?

Although the job market is currently in the employees’ favor, our report indicates that workers are still cautious about the market andare less willing to negotiate higher salaries. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they are not looking for a new job.

The layoffs and workplace uncertainty from a few years ago are still fresh in people’s minds, and many employees are hesitant to testthe job market when they have the security of a job. Additionally, although 45 percent of workers reported their compensation hasincreased in the last year, a much smaller number is willing to ask for a better deal due to insecurities about the U.S. economy and jobmarket.

What should workers do in this environment? Should they ask for more money, better benefits?

Employees certainly can afford to be a bit more assertive when discussing compensation. There are more job opportunities today, andbusinesses face a shrinking labor pool. Workers, particularly those with in-demand skills who are not maximizing the earning potentialof these opportunities, are selling themselves short.

It’s also important for employers to recognize that while competitive compensation is important, few employees are apt to leave a positive, supportive work environment for a modest pay increase, so retention efforts are paramount.

Still, isn’t it only a matter of time until workers realize they are more in demand than they realize?

Most likely, but our results indicate a shift that is subtle and gradual. While employees continue to view the job market as somewhatchallenging, their impression of it seems to be improving. Rising payroll numbers and demand for qualified talent paint a picture ofgradually improving opportunities.

What should employers do in this environment?

Employers not only need to streamline and speed up their recruitment process, but also look for innovative methods to retain the staffthey already have in place. Employers also need to realize the fact that the task of attracting and retaining will not be as easy as it has inthe past. Tried-and-true methods — salary increases, bonuses and flexible work schedules — are always good to implement.

But another important way to keep good employees is to make them feel valued. Most employees won’t jump ship over a modest salaryincrease if their work environment is pleasant and they feel that what they do is valued and appreciated.

Managers do need to take a real interest in their team members and how these employees can reach their career goals. Employees areless apt to leave if there is a good work environment and they are compensated well for what they do.

ALFRED PATAWARAN is the division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in Cleveland. Reach Patawaran at Fred.patawaran@roberthalf.com or (216) 621-4253.