Fun by the numbers

by Jeanne Creighton

Janet Bibi Ferreira, director of human resources and administration
Baker Tilly Hong Kong Photo: Wallace Chan

Friendly working environment helps with staff retention

Nobody ever associates accounting and auditing with fun. However, one professional accountancy firm finds that providing its hard working staff with a friendly and open environment helps alleviate the stress of dealing with complex numbers and demanding clients. This translates into a higher than average staff retention rate in an industry notorious for poaching quality people.

According to Janet Bibi Ferreira, director of human resources and administration, Baker Tilly Hong Kong, the company fosters a positive teamwork environment in a friendly, family type atmosphere. "We must show care and concern for our staff who in return provide excellent service to clients. As a result, business partners and stakeholders are rewarded," Ms Ferreira notes.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in Hong Kong last year, Baker Tilly Hong Kong continues to go from strength to strength. Part of the Baker Tilly International group, which is the eighth largest accountancy network worldwide, the Hong Kong office has autonomy in its daily operations while still adhering to the group's overall high standards of practice, including its corporate values, which centre on the support and development of its people, their competencies and integrity.

Budding up

Ms Ferreira believes that an enhanced team spirit adds value to the overall working environment. As such, Baker Tilly Hong Kong is planning to officiate a "buddy system", whereby a junior member of staff pairs with someone more senior, and these buddies share with each other matters not only related to work but life in general. "We want to look beyond work. Staff will be paired with someone who they do not report to directly, so that people can feel at ease when sharing problems with each other. They can experience the firm's culture more closely through interacting with their buddies. This can further strengthen the commitment level, especially for new recruits," Ms Ferreira notes.

Staff are also encouraged to join committees, which enable them to take part in various levels of the firm's decision making process. "People get together from different departments and brainstorm strategies. These measures also strengthen their commitment and ownership," she adds.

Another key factor in Baker Tilly Hong Kong's success is promoting a learning culture. "This offers excellent career development opportunities to our staff. We believe this is part of our employer brand we have built and will continue to nourish and by which we are recognised. It's not only new hires and fresh graduates who can take part in our training, but we also offer training to experienced staff as well," Ms Ferreira emphasises.

In addition, the firm has in place a "promote from within" policy. "We have a number of loyal staff who have been with us for many years and they grow with the firm. For example, Cynthia Lo, one of our directors of audit, joined the firm as a fresh graduate and now she is responsible for a sizable portfolio of audit clients. This demonstrates that at Baker Tilly Hong Kong we can and do provide a promising career to our staff." Ms Ferreira explains.

Wish fulfilment

In light of potential stress, which is very much a norm in accounting, Baker Tilly Hong Kong seeks to establish a higher than industry average work-life balance for staff. "When we assign work, we look at staff schedules and avoid overloading staff. We try to help them in developing a better work-life balance, which creates a more pleasant environment. This also helps maintain our good staff retention rate," says Ms Ferreira.

Baker Tilly Hong Kong recognises and rewards the hard work of its staff by providing individual departments with a fund for their chosen activities such as fun-oriented teambuilding. There is also a monthly new joiners "cocktail hour", where people meet after work for drinks and networking helping to promote a sense of belonging.

The firm also takes its annual party "seriously", by having a varying theme from year to year. "Last year we had a movie theme, and encouraged staff to come dressed as characters from one of four chosen movies," Ms Ferreira remarks. "Also, instead of providing generic gifts, we asked staff to come up with their own 'wish list'. I'm happy to report that we were able to meet 75 per cent of people's wishes, many of which included extra annual leave."

Aside from such activities, staff are also encouraged to give back to the community. Baker Tilly Hong Kong's people have participated in the Operation Santa Claus soccer games as well as the annual International Coastal Cleaning. "These help to build strong relationships, encourage commitment and a sense of belonging in addition to helping others — all the ingredients for the positive team environment we are seeking to encourage," Ms Ferreira sums up.


Taken from Career Times 25 April 2008
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