The People Who Count

With too few accountants to go around, companies are grabbing people wherever they can find them.

Alix Nyberg Stuart is senior writer at CFO.

Major Improvement:
New Grads See Salaries Rise
Major 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Accounting $36,710 $39,720 $39,494 $40,647 $41,058 $42,940
Source: Salary Survey (Fall 2000–2005), National Association of Colleges and Employers

Flex Appeal

Companies have long offered flexible work schedules as a way to retain employees. Now some of them can claim the programs also raise shareholder value.

Last November, a study released by the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Voices for Working Families (CVWF) reported that companies had actually documented financial benefits from offering flexible arrangements. The study, “Business Impacts of Flexibility: An Imperative for Expansion,” presented findings from 28 organizations, including IBM Corp. and Marriott International Inc., on how flex-time has improved productivity, customer satisfaction, and cycle times, and prevented turnover. What we now have is “compelling internal data,” says Donna Klein, president and CEO of CVWF, “that makes the business case for flexible workplace arrangements.”

At one participating firm, PNC Financial Services Group, the finance department led a push for a team-based compressed workweek some five years ago, says corporate controller Sam Patterson. Historically, he explains, finance was “in the Dark Ages when it came to addressing work/life issues. But we wanted to improve that balance for key staffers.” After studying the impact both on pay and deadlines, finance instituted a flexible schedule that allows some employees to either work a 9-workday schedule with day 10 off or a 19-workday schedule with day 20 off. The result is that “the same amount of work gets done in one less day, and staff members now have the time to attend to personal matters,” he says.

Rolling out such a system at a time when compliance demands are prompting many finance departments to rack up overtime isn’t easy, but Patterson says that “employees value the program so much that they will do whatever is necessary to make it work.” While boosting employee satisfaction was the goal in finance, other measures of success have resulted elsewhere. In the company’s operations center, for example, cycle time for payments for safe-deposit services was reduced from two days to one, and bond inquiries were reduced from two days to same day completion. Today more than half of PNC’s 23,000 employees participate in some form of compressed workweek, staggered hours, or telecommuting program.

In finance, there have been other intangible benefits, says Patterson. Because the schedule works only if deadlines are met and accuracy is maintained, the department’s overall organizational and communication skills have improved, and there is a heightened awareness of where any project stands at any given moment. “This has taken on a life of its own,” he says. “Employees won’t let you get rid of it.” It’s better to flex, it seems, than to break. — Lori Calabro

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