In October, we set out to understand the effects of the so-called Great Resignation on midmarket companies. The resulting data included a few surprises. First, while executives generally say they’re spending more to hire compared to 2019, and managers say it takes them more time to hire, the level of concern over the talent crunch seems lower now than in 2019.

Second, our data suggests that finance managers are less likely than others to be taking actions that would help them manage through the skills shortage.

Our survey was conducted in conjunction with Wakefield Research and is primarily intended to compare how executives, managers and employees are working through the current talent crunch. We surveyed 100 executives, 250 managers and 100 workers in firms with less than $250M in annual revenue. Each group was asked similar questions, worded for their sphere of responsibility. So, we asked executives about the morale of their employees, asked managers about the morale of their teams and asked workers about their own morale.

We detail our findings in a downloadable report — there’s no registration required.

Measuring Stress Among Finance Managers
In this research, as in all of our research, we strive to get a significant sample of respondents from finance departments. In this case, we had 44 finance executives and 56 non-finance execs. Among managers, 173 came from finance, while 77 came from other areas.

In our main report, we find that managers are showing signs of stress more than executives or workers, and in separating finance from non-finance managers here, the data indicates that finance managers are more stressed.

That stress is showing up in actions they’re considering in their personal lives. Significantly more finance managers versus their non-finance peers are considering moving to spend less on housing. They’re also less likely to ask for flex time, or even consider making that request, but are about as likely to ask to work remotely more than regularly allowed. And finally they’re significantly less likely to consider going back to school: Just 12% of finance managers were considering or actually pursuing continuing education compared with 31% of other managers.

From our analysis, the motivation for seeking less-expensive living accommodations may not fully be a reflection of finance workers feeling underpaid.

Finance and non-finance respondents agree on one point: Nearly half (47%) are considering seeking a less demanding job, and that may be driving the thinking behind changes in living arrangements (42% considering) and locales (45% considering) among finance managers.  It could be that inflation concerns are weighing more heavily on finance managers than their peers. It could also be that managers outside of finance have gotten better raises — though answers to other questions in our survey bring that into doubt. Whatever the cause, it’s this combination of downsizing both lifestyle and job that has us convinced there’s a good bit of burnout at hand, and that may be resulting in less attention to staff and skills maintenance.


Burnout and the Knee-Jerk Tendency Not to Spend
Prior to 2020, our surveys found that finance teams saw it as their job to watch spending; no surprise there. Quarter after quarter, we found that finance respondents were less likely to favor increases in capital and technology spending, for instance. In 2020 that was flipped on its head. Finance leaders wanted to hit the spending brakes faster and harder than other leaders, but also were the first to champion spending increases as the economy recovered.

In this survey we find that they’ve resumed their cautious attitude about spending, and that’s spilling over into what finance managers in particular are willing to do to address talent issues.

The chart above shows responses to a series of questions on what actions executives are taking within their companies and for managers within their teams. We were shocked to see that only a quarter to a third of finance managers are taking actions that have costs–like salary increases. This stands in sharp contrast to other managers, who are the most likely to be using these means to address their staffing issues. What’s more confusing is that finance executives don’t share their manager’s spending cautiousness; they are much more likely to favor spending to retain talent.

Perhaps the biggest head scratcher is the response to offering new hires training. Only 30% of finance managers are willing to offer some training, in stark contrast to the other leaders we surveyed.

It’s hard to imagine that creating a cadence of training for new hires and even for existing employees wouldn’t be seen as a good use of time and resources. In normal times, finance evolves on pace with other corporate functions. More recently, however, finance teams have had to reinvent themselves at breakneck speed. From tracking new sales channels and increasingly complex supply chains to new tax rules and accounting standards, finance looks a lot different now than it did three years ago.

Everyone can use a brush up on skills and practices from time to time. Certainly the larger companies in our sample can afford to create a more structured new hire and skills maintenance program. Smaller firms can use a combination of internal efforts, vendor-provided learning and continuing education services available online. Some are free, and most won’t cost more than $1,000.

Attitudes about hiring that were shaped after the Great Recession, when there were as many as four to five workers for every job opening, are now out of date. Waiting around for exactly the right person to apply for a job is likely a recipe for a very long wait in a time when there are three job listings for every job seeker. 

Further, highly skilled workers are in demand. Burned-out team members may look for jobs with better hours, better tools or better learning opportunities. Make sure you’re not making the decision to leave any easier than it has to be.

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