Finance Staffs Getting More Engaged

Research shows U.S. finance and accounting employees put in more effort as 2010 wore on, but were less thrilled with their jobs than workers in many other corporate functions were.

The number of U.S. finance and accounting staffers intending to stay with their current employer spiked in the second half of 2010, as did the number of those willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, according to new research from the Corporate Executive Board.

Each quarter the board’s Corporate Leadership Council (CLC), which is made up of human-resources executives, surveys about 100,000 people worldwide on those topics, across all major corporate functions and industry sectors. The CLC uses the data to determine whether workforces are becoming more engaged or less engaged and whether the risk of turnover is growing or slowing.

There is a consistently high correlation between the “discretionary effort” employees are willing to give and the scores they receive in performance reviews, says Brian Kropp, managing director of the council. (A subset of participating companies gives the CLC actual performance scores for employees who completed the surveys.) And results on intent to stay are validated by looking 3, 6, and 12 months after a survey to see whether people actually stayed.

With the survey results translated to indices on a 100 point scale, the discretionary-effort level for U.S. finance and accounting workers shot up from 40.4 in the first half of 2010 to 53.1 in the second half, while intent to stay leaped from 61.8 to 70.6. In both cases, the degree of movement was much greater than for any other corporate function.

However, while finance now has higher intent-to-stay scores than most functional areas do, the improvement in discretionary effort still leaves finance employees far behind those in human resources, information technology, manufacturing, and operations/procurement/supply chain. “The reality is that they are not as highly engaged as many other functions,” says Michael Griffin, executive director of the Corporate Executive Board’s finance and strategy group.

Perceptions that there are limited external job opportunities are likely playing a big role in the high intent-to-stay score, notes Griffin. Regarding the improvement in both measurements for U.S. finance staffers in 2010, he speculates it is tied in part to “a shifting of the activity mix” for many companies, where the focus has gone from cost cutting and liquidity “to more of a growth mode — from capital acquisition to capital planning.”

For all employees (not just those in finance) in the United States, the highest level of engagement is in the professional-services segment and the lowest is in technology and telecommunications. Kropp notes that technology is chronically at the bottom of the list, partly because of the constant changes within companies and the sector as a whole, and partly because the sector is filled with creatively oriented people who “want to do their own thing rather than being told what to do,” he says.

Globally, engagement levels are much higher in the United States than elsewhere: U.S. index scores across the sectors are mostly in the 60s and 70s, compared with the worldwide average of 38. The disparity is even greater than it seems, because the worldwide number includes the U.S. results.

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