Accounting and audit is often viewed as a somewhat dull profession where employees conform to strict dress codes and face hectic work schedules. At leading independent firm of certified accountants and business advisors Baker Tilly Hong Kong however, proactive steps have been taken to revolutionise the workplace, freeing staff from the tyranny of expected professional norms.
According to Janet Bibi Ferreira, Baker Tilly Hong Kong's director of HR and marketing, the firm has implemented a host of initiatives to create an open and relaxed work environment.
Unlike typical accounting firms, staff can choose to dress smart casually in the office and workstations are arranged in a large open layout instead of isolated cubicles.
"We try to ensure a friendly and energetic touch pervades the firm to offset the stressful nature of the profession. This is very important for the wellbeing of our staff. Consequently, new recruits adapt to the new environment quickly and comfortably in a relatively short period of time," Ms Ferreira notes.
With a strong belief in work-life balance, Baker Tilly emphasises thoughtful staff scheduling to avoid seriously overworking staff, which is a common problem in the industry. Extra time is put aside to arrange staff social activities to facilitate interactional discourse which is not work-related.
"Our annual dinner this year had a fancy dress theme. Staff members were encouraged to dress up in a style incorporated in one of the four movies we had selected. An energetic and enjoyable workplace is one of the most distinctive elements in the firm's corporate culture. We work hard but we play hard too," Ms Ferreira stresses.
In addition, the firm supports and sponsors frequent informal networking through staff lunches, after hours drinks, sport and social events. For instance, Baker Tilly Hong Kong participated in the Operation Santa Claus Stanley Fort Football Competition last December, raising HK$40,000 for charity.
"Such activities help to build solid relationships, strengthen commitment and cultivate a sense of belonging — all ingredients for the quintessential team environment we strive towards," Ms Ferreira explains.
When taking on new recruits, Ms Ferreira looks for people who have the capacity to share the same culture. One of the firm's values is "to act from the top down", effectively influencing new recruits through senior staff modelling ideal performance both in and out of the office.
The interests of the employer and those of the individual should be inseparable. Therefore, Baker Tilly Hong Kong cares for the welfare of its staff to generate reciprocal concerns. This creates a natural bond and loyalty from the workforce.
"A large number of our team members are committed to the firm. There have been several instances where staff have chosen to return after resigning. It demonstrates that people enjoy the work environment here," Ms Ferreira remarks.
Promote from within
Career development is an essential feature of the firm's commitment to its people. As a major global player, Baker Tilly International coordinates an international employee exchange scheme for member firms. High-flyers are selected and recommended for secondment to member firms all over the world for a period of three to 12 months.
Moreover, Baker Tilly Hong Kong has a number of multinational clients with whom it works closely through overseas offices. This provides an opportunity for staff to obtain worldwide exposure, which in turn strengthens connections among various global companies and acts as a staff retention strategy.
"The practice of internal promotion to partner level is one of the firm's practices to attract talent and retain experienced staff. New graduates with determination and the right drive can expect a fast track to partnership in one of our divisions," Ms Ferreira points out.
Besides the promotion from within policy, creating a learning-oriented environment serves as a retention strategy as well. There are regular programmes provided for different levels of staff that cover both technical and soft skills. Aside from improving professional knowledge, such training boosts personal growth and creates ample opportunities for team building.
For graduate trainees, a comprehensive programme prepared by different divisions in the firm exists. After undergoing a series of training sessions, recruits can conceive a more comprehensive tableau of the type of work they will encounter in their division as well as a better understanding of other divisional responsibilities.
"We emphasise a family atmosphere within the firm so the pressure to achieve quick success at the expense of a work-life balance may not be quite so pressing. Furthermore, management pays particular attention to individual needs and devise more focussed training and development strategies. As a result, we can offer career growth on an individual scale and give more personalised care to staff. This acts as a trump card when candidates consider us as a potential employer," Ms Ferreira adds.