Workplace Issues

Finance Staffers Going Beyond the Call

They're increasingly willing to take on extra work as the economy roils and as companies make progress in motivating them through new management ap...
David McCannSeptember 7, 2011

Like other types of employees, corporate finance and accounting workers significantly ratcheted up their effort levels in the first half of this year, following a spike seen in the second half of 2010. The trend is pervasive worldwide, including in the United States.

The degree to which people are engaged in their job is monitored by the Corporate Executive Board’s Corporate Leadership Council (CLC), which surveys about 25,000 employees quarterly. They are asked to rate, on a seven-point scale, their levels of discretionary effort — based on such things as their willingness to take on extra work — and intent to stay in their job.

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Worldwide, the number of respondents who rated their discretionary effort highly (a 6 or a 7) climbed to 18.3% in this year’s second quarter – the highest level reached since early 2008, and up from 13.1% in the final quarter of 2010. Among the approximately 200 participating U.S. financial and accounting workers, the movement is even more pronounced (see chart).

With regard to employees generally, the discretionary-effort trend is presumably tied, at least in part, to continuing fears about the economy and a possible double-dip recession. But CLC managing director Brian Kropp has some additional thoughts.

It’s taken some employers a couple of years to understand how to manage employees and align them effectively in the heightened financial stakes that have prevailed since the economy’s 2008 meltdown, observes Kropp. As companies have pulled out costs and flattened their internal reporting structures, management is growing less vertical — where marching orders pass from senior managers to middle managers to lower-level employees — and more horizontal, where the organization connects with and influences its workers more directly.

“A major driver of discretionary effort is people knowing what their roles and responsibilities are and getting the right direction and resources,” says Kropp. “Now that companies are starting to figure out a new management style, they’re more able to drive employees toward the right behaviors and discretionary-effort outcomes.”

Meanwhile, intent-to-stay levels have also risen this year. Among finance and accounting workers, high levels of intent to stay reached 37.6% in the first half. That’s a rise from 33.9% in the latter half of 2010 and 29.7% in the first six months of last year.

That trend is interesting because in 2008 and 2009, discretionary effort fell while intent to stay grew. The thinking then was that employees were passively entrenched, not wanting to be at or motivated by their job as companies struggled, but not having anywhere else to go. It is not clear what has caused the two measurements to directionally align now.

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