HR Study: Gig Economy is Impacting Hiring and Staffing Practices

A new study of more than 300 human resources professionals suggests stronger job candidate screening programs are needed as a result of the gig economy.

The study was conducted by’s Research Institute and Sterling, a company that provides background and identity services. The study covers screening, identity verification, drug screening, continuous monitoring and social media checks of contingent workers, such as freelancers or independent contractors and consultants.

The study surveyed 300 HR professionals representing employers that range from small businesses with less than 50 employees to enterprises with more than 20,000 employees.

“With the growing gig economy, identity fraud issues and changing drug laws, the modern HR team must be informed, resourceful and forward-thinking. Among the tools available that maximize safety and minimize risk are continuous monitoring, social media checks and biometrics scanning,” says Debbie McGrath, CEO of

Among the study’s findings:

  • The gig economy affects hiring and staffing practices, say 64% of respondents, with the screening of contingent workers raising a variety of concerns, including confusion about laws and regulations.
  • Nearly half (48%) report at least one instance of employment identity fraud, while a majority (69%) do not incorporate fingerprinting into their screening process for new hires.
  • Despite marijuana legalization in some areas, nearly half (46%) report still screening all employees for marijuana. Meanwhile, 23% say they’ve stopped screening for it, 15% screen only for certain types of jobs, and 4% screen only in regions where it is still illegal.
  • Among respondents who engage in continuous employee background screening, 62% say it lowers organizational risk, 38% say it has uncovered criminal activity and 18% say it has uncovered fraud.
  • Screening candidates through social media is used by 20% of respondents; 50% expect that over the next several years, there will be greater acceptance of this practice.

IPA’s Culture Assessment Reveals Blind Spots In Accounting Firms

After asking 2,000 firm employees to describe culture at their workplaces, a few generalizations emerged: partners view their culture more positively than most everyone else; respondents expressed low opinions about firm agility; and as firms grew, staff engagement decreased.

Kelly Platt

These were some of the findings from INSIDE Public Accounting’s 2019 annual culture assessment of 21 firms, ranging in net revenue from under $10 million to $100 million. Results, broken out by gender, years of service, department and job title, were outlined by IPA publisher Kelly Platt in a Nov. webinar.

While culture seems intangible, like an invisible glue that holds firms together – 12 core measurable qualities drive and define culture, according to IPA’s partner in the culture assessment effort, CultureIQ. The core qualities of culture are Agility, Alignment, Collaboration, Customer Centricity, Empowerment, Engagement, Growth Development, Innovation, Quality, Recognition Rewards, Trust and Integrity and Work-life Balance.

Culture may be best summed up by the answer to this question: “What does it feel like to work here,” Platt says, advising webinar attendees to ask staff to give a one-word answer to the question. IPA’s 2020 assessment, set for May and November, can help uncover the answers. The data can help firm leaders bring culture top-of-mind, develop a well-defined, positive culture, boost brand awareness and increase retention.

Platt focused her discussion on three of the cultural core qualities that are directly tied to profitability: agility, alignment and engagement.

Agility, the ability to sense and plan for change, scored low overall, Platt says, particularly among women and the administrative/support staff. Employees with more than 20 years of tenure at firms between $20 million and $30 million ranked agility lower than other employee groups, she says. The survey did not ask respondents why they scored any of the cultural qualities the way they did, Platt says, but firm leaders can use the data to uncover what is driving the lower scores.

Respondents generally gave alignment high scores, she says. “What does it mean to have alignment? In a nutshell it’s the bridge between the employees and the firm.” When firms are aligned, everyone is working together on firmwide goals, not just individual advancement. Equity partners as a group scored alignment “off the charts,” with 91% scoring alignment positively, but tax staff ranked alignment lower.

Using this data, partners can ask themselves, and their firms: “Why the disconnect?”

Engagement may be one of the most important aspects of company culture. Platt cites Gallup research that found 70% of U.S. employees are not coming to work fully committed to performing their best. “That’s a very powerful statement,” she says. She adds that 85% of employees quit because of their relationship with their direct manager.

Overall, the nearly 2,000 survey respondents scored engagement relatively high, and higher than data collected from other financial services firms by CultureIQ. Engagement dips in the largest firms, the assessment uncovered, particularly among firm professional staff and the 3- to 5-year tenured group, a vulnerable group that needs attention because they’re asking themselves hard questions about whether they want to stay in public accounting or move on, Platt says.

Some similarities emerged when it came to scoring empowerment. Again, all partners scored this quality higher than all other demographics. Women and the 3- to 5-year group, on average, scored empowerment the lowest of all 12 culture qualities. Women feel most empowered in the smallest firms and least empowered in the largest firms. Women are 11 percentage points behind male respondents in firms of more than $30 million.

Platt also touched on how employees feel about growth and development. The 3- to 5-year and 11- to 20-year group scored this quality lower than all other demographics in the 2019 assessment. Women scored the quality lower than men, and the administrative/support staff ranked growth and development the lowest of all employees. “This is an area of concern for the profession as a whole,” Platt says.

Innovation was scored far higher than Platt expected, with 76% responding positively. “I was shocked by that, that’s a huge positive change in the profession,” she says. However, as seen in other areas, the 3- to 5-year employees lag behind.

Leaders would do well to pay more attention to recognition and rewards, since it was the lowest-scoring core quality for all respondents, Platt says. Consistent with other qualities, the administrative and support staff, the 3- to 5-year employees, women and tax professionals all scored this area lower than others.

Surprisingly, work-life balance scored consistently among all assessment demographics, with 3 in 4 respondents scoring this quality positively. Platt attributes this to the investment in alternative work arrangements over the last several years is paying off. “We’re vying for good talent and to retain it, and we’re finding innovative ways to adjust to the needs of employees and clients.”

The data uncovered in the IPA Culture Assessment provides a basis for determining where firms are excelling and where they are falling short. She advises firms to survey their staff annually and create employee-led committees to make recommendations on how to improve on the existing culture. Although the tone comes from the top, initiatives that come from management are less likely to succeed than those that provide employees at all levels with a sense of engagement and empowerment.

In a tight labor market, the ‘you’re lucky to have a job’ management style is no longer working. Employees must look forward to going to work or they will work elsewhere, she says.

“Bring out the best in your staff, and you’ll bring out the best in your brand.” To understand the assessment results in more detail, download a complimentary executive summary.

The Excellence in Firm Culture Assessment dates for 2020

are for May 1-15 or Nov. 2-16.



Study: More Skills Needed to Properly Manage Financial Downturn

When the next recession hits, as much as half of today’s workforce won’t be prepared.

This is according to research from VitalSmarts, a leadership training company, which asserts that 89 executives in a recent survey say 47% of their employees are not sufficiently “agile, persistent or self-starting to handle a recession.”

The company asked 1,080 employees and executives to rate their company on five skills thought to be most important to weathering a financial downturn: open dialogue, change mastery, productivity, universal accountability and leadership.

The survey shows 52% believe their employees lacked the skills to engage in open, productive dialogue. On the upside, executives had relatively less concern about their employees’ productivity in a financial downturn.

“As the threat of a recession looms, executives question whether their people have the skills to adapt, candidly speak up and hold others accountable,” says David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts. “Unfortunately, our research shows leaders who find their teams and organizations to be on the short side of these skills during a recession may not only struggle to weather the recession well, they may struggle to weather it at all.”

Employees, for their part, say their boss and other leaders also struggled to practice the five skills cited. Specifically, 52% said their bosses did not have the skills needed to successfully navigate a recession, according to the survey, which included 964 employees. Only an average of 7.3% of employees were confident their senior leaders could plan, communicate or lead the sustainable changes needed for success.

Joseph Grenny, co-author with Maxfield of Crucial Conversations, says, “Recession-proof companies have people – from front-line employees to executives – who can hold crucial conversations on how to stay relevant, profitable and accountable. Interestingly, a lot of executives may not be any more prepared than their employees. Employees across the board need to be trained in these skills.”

Freelance-accounting Startup Paro Raises $10 Million

Paro, considered a matchmaker for freelance accountants and mid-market companies, has raised $10 million, led by a Silicon Valley venture fund called Sierra Ventures.

The Chicago-based company plans to double staff in the next year to provide corporate clients with on-demand experts across a range of financial functions. The company, which started three years ago, has grown to 65 employees from about 25 a year ago, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Founder Michael Burdick, a former Deloitte consultant, says the company has thousands of freelancers and hundreds of clients, mostly middle-market companies looking for particular expertise. Paro handles billing for the freelancers and provides software to help them manage their businesses.

“Professionals want flexibility, but it really sucks to freelance,” says Burdick, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. “You spend 40% to 60% of your time doing business development, invoicing clients.”

Tech Crunch reports that Burdick calls Paro “a freelancer operating system.” Burdick says that Paro focuses on elite financial talent, leading to higher margins.

Online labor marketplaces targeting business functions have grown dramatically in popularity in recent years, observers say.

BKR Survey: Full Adoption of Remote Work Slow, but Possible

Aiysha (A.J.) Johnson

Aiysha (A.J.) Johnson

By: Aiysha (A.J.) Johnson, BKR International

Professional job posts have a newer feature. It’s called “remote,” and it proactively tells applicants that the physical location of their work is negotiable. Depending on the job search site, applicants can find 30,000 to 60,000 listings for remote work at any given time. It is defined as employees working in a physical location almost exclusively outside of the company’s offices – even another state or country. And it’s not limited to sales positions.

Although remote work has always been an option in some industries, the accounting profession is moving slowly toward this option as a way to retain and attract the best talent. For the industry’s more consultative future, will remote work become the norm rather than the exception?

To get a pulse, BKR International asked member firms about their expectations for remote work arrangements in the near future. Their responses indicate that full adoption may be slow, but possible and attractive. Here are four real scenarios to consider for your firm.

Scenario 1: It is a unique situation.

Some firms adopted a remote work arrangement years ago in order to employ a professional with a special skill set. At Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Albrecht Viggiano Zureck & Company, one employee has worked remotely for two decades.

“She lives in Maryland and works on government entities on the audit side of the practice,” says Kenneth Laks, a partner at AVZ and a BKR Americas board member. “Around six times a year, she will come up to New York, but most all of the work is done remotely from her home,” Laks adds. “It has worked out very, very well…but again she is known and trusted from building a confidence with us over time.”

Many firms note that a remote work arrangement is still considered on a case-by-case basis rather than as a general opportunity available to anyone. While firms have written policies regarding flexible scheduling arrangements, including occasional work-at-home options, a true remote work arrangement is still tailored to the needs of the firm and clients as much as for the employee.

Scenario 2: It’s a method to keep key talent.

For Gumbiner Savett of Santa Monica., Calif., (FY18 net revenue of $21.1 million), a formal work-from-home policy for qualified individuals as well as one full-time remote employee communicate options to candidates — as well as to current staff.

“We are open to remote work options with existing staff we want to retain,” says Irene Valverde, director of human resources and practice development. “We are a digital office, so everything is accessible to employees via our network. Our phone system also allows for forwarding of outside calls so that communication is seamless.”

Although Valverde doesn’t see remote work as a possibility for all positions, the firm evaluates the option based on individual talent and responsibilities. “We have no formal plans right now to hire remotely, but we are open to it,” she says.

Scenario 3: It’s a method to hire needed talent.

Now that more firms have adopted cloud-based technology and mobile devices, openness to remote workers has improved from just a few years ago. Still, few if any firms actively advertise for remote positions.

“When we hire, we are hiring for specific talent. So, for the right talent, we are willing to consider remote work arrangements,” says Mark Thomson, managing director of Ostrow Reisin Berk & Abrams of Chicago (FY18 net revenue of $29.5 million). “We currently have four remote employees,” he says.

Technology has made remote work easier and more secure, but firm leaders don’t focus on the tools alone. “We believe that the key to hiring great remote talent is to set expectations at the outset – outline key performance indicators, goals and communication standards to set remote workers up for success,” Thomson adds. “You still must meet with remote employees, and outline their specific arrangement, so that everyone is on the same page and the employee understands expectations.”

Scenario 4: It’s a business strategy.

Performance is paramount whether an employee works in the office or remotely. However, the firm leaders interviewed on this topic agree that the hunt for talent necessitates alternative ways of thinking about service delivery and growth.

“We also recognize that, as the market for hiring public accounting talent continues to be tight, firms will need to search outside of their geographic location, whether it be outside the state or even the country,” says Thomson.

Remote hiring becomes more of a business strategy when it’s about how the team can best serve clients, too. For example, a coastal, mid-sized accounting firm focused on alternative energy may establish a “wind power” team in the Midwest. Maybe the talent is more available there. It’s cheaper for younger professionals to live there, plus it’s also near clients. To adopt this mindset as a growth strategy will take time, policy and technology. But firm leaders are certainly discussing and preparing for their options.

A.J. Johnson is executive director of the Americas Region for BKR International, the global accounting association with 160 independent accounting and business advisory firms in over 500 offices and 80 countries.

Study: HR Leaders Identify Finding, Hiring Quality Employees as Top Challenge

The third annual Paychex Pulse of HR Survey shows that talent and technology are the two primary factors impacting HR leaders this year.

The report says that a tight labor market, fast-changing legislation and an increasing reliance on HR technology all play a role in how HR is evolving.

“The strategic contributions HR leaders make are bolstered by innovative technology solutions that not only dramatically reduce time spent on administrative tasks but can also provide valuable insights on their workforce and the business overall,” says Leah Machado, Paychex senior director of HR services. “With more time, information and resources, HR professionals are better positioned to successfully address the evolving, complex HR needs of both employees and the organization.”

Some highlights:

  • For the first time, attracting talent surpassed regulatory compliance as the top HR concern. More than two-thirds of HR leaders say it’s difficult to find and hire quality candidates, up from 59% last year.
  • 87% of survey respondents agree HR technology has strengthened their contribution to corporate success, up from 75% in 2018. For the first time, 100% of respondents said that they rely on HR analytics in some capacity.