by Saul Meyer | December 21, 2017
When it comes to insight on employee engagement, the Big Four accounting firms (PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte) are generally considered to be thought-leaders. They have all produced numerous reports and a wealth of primary data on trends and attitudes on everything from employee recognition to work-life balance. 

Having been lucky enough to work with a broad range of accountancy firms over the years -- including all of the Big Four -- we thought it would be interesting to share a few insights of our own from working with these professional services behemoths. 

Employee recognition shouldn't be about money 


Working with the large accounting firms has certainly strengthened our belief that reward and recognition schemes should be about saying thank you, as opposed to merely supplementing salary and financial reward. The majority of those working in large accountancy firms are above-average earners, which raises some interesting issues about employee rewards. 

One common question is: "will a $20 bottle of wine be an effective award for an executive earning $150k a year"? For us the answer is most certainly "yes." We've had feedback from countless clients in this sector that it's the message that matters, especially if the award is personally tailored to the recipient in question. Moreover, there are numerous reports about the power of saying thank you, including this one from the Harvard Business Review. As the age-old saying goes: it's the thought that counts.

No two teams are the same

Employee benefits that are tailored to the culture, tone, and humor of an organization have the biggest impact on employee engagement. Take employee recognition awards, for example. For an out-of-town team where driving to work is prevalent, we've known employers to offer a coveted parking space by a way of an employee recognition award. For a team based in the capital city, this gesture wouldn't necessarily carry to same impact, whereas a day out visiting local tourist attractions might. This can be something of a challenge for huge businesses -- such as the Big Four accounting firms -- that have a broad range of different teams, practice areas and service lines within them. What the Big Four do very well in this respect is to offer a broad range of employee benefits and tailor them accordingly.   

Support the business strategy 

In our experience, the major accounting firms place a huge emphasis on the need for employee engagement initiatives to deliver against their wider business objectives. At a seminar we hosted on employee recognition, for example, Grant Thornton's Martin Todd (not strictly in the Big Four, but still one of the world's largest accountancy businesses) discussed the role that their employee recognition scheme played in supporting the firm's business strategy of becoming a 'shared enterprise' with a culture focused on sharing ideas, responsibility and reward. Martin's team introduced a monthly panel, with representatives from management down to graduate-level, to ensure that a strong link existed between those business objectives and the employee recognition program. 

Don't be afraid to break to mold  

There are many examples of the Big Four leading the way when it comes to their employee policies. In recent years the large accountancy firms have been vocal proponents of flexible working. The idea being that, as global businesses with clients and colleagues all over the world, the nine to five business day is becoming less and less relevant. Evidently, there's a business case for pursuing such policies but there are also clear benefits when it comes to employee retention, satisfaction and well-being. 

Likewise, all of the Big Four firms have made changes to their academic entry requirements, amending or scrapping existing UCAS and degree requirements to create a fairer, more modern and arguably more accurate system. It's interesting to note professional services firms -- a sector still viewed as "traditional" by many -- being so forward thinking when it comes to their employee policies.   

Saul Meyer is co-founder and CEO of Xexec, an industry-leading provider of reward and recognition programmes, employee engagement and customer loyalty schemes.