A leading accountancy firm knows that employee happiness is based on a healthy work/life balance EVERY HUMAN resources professional knows that recruitment is a two-way street: it is about your choice of employee, and their choice of your company. Attracting the right kind of person to join your business is key to that person's effectiveness, their longevity with the company and ultimately the happiness of your clients. But how do you become the employer of choice for the candidates most in demand - those bright young graduates all set to become the chief executives of the future? Recruiting is becoming ever more competitive, and it is hard for students to differentiate one firm from another. HR departments are going all out, therefore, to find new ways to make their company attractive to potential employees. This may mean offering financial incentives, guarantees of first-class training, fast-track promotion and opportunities for travel. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, one of the Big Four accountancy companies, is aiming to attract the right candidates by building on its reputation as a 'caring' employer. To this end, the company has set up an employee assistance programme (EAP). This is a holistic approach to employee happiness that recognises the importance of striking a healthy work/life balance, in order to avoid the burnout auditors sometimes experience as a result of long hours and high-pressure work conditions. Peter Bowie, chief executive of Deloitte in China, is aware of the toll long hours take on his staff. 'We can't do much about the fact that every company in China has a December year end, so we have to do their audits in January, February, March and April,' he said. 'Given that is the context of our environment, how do you make it a little more palatable?' He believes the EAP will help his staff cope with the pressures of the job. 'The objective is to help our employees work through various issues, get support in tough times, in a very demanding environment. If that helps them develop personally and professionally, it is better for us and it is better for our clients. If they stay longer because of it, terrific. We all win,' he said. The EAP is partly focused on ensuring staff get a chance to socialise, have fun together and strengthen their team spirit. The HR department organises film nights, summer camps, golf days and community events. They also run classes on a wide range of subjects, including a baking course and make-up classes. Kennis Tam, a graduate trainee at Deloitte, is enthusiastic about the activities on offer. 'I love the idea,' she said. 'It's nice to have free movies and interest classes. But the best part is that these activities help to bring us closer.' Wendy Chan, who joined Deloitte six months ago as a tax manager, has taken advantage of the social events to build a network of friends at her new workplace. While she enjoys the social events, she believes the true benefits come from the professional personal counselling service on offer, thanks to the EAP. This is a 24-hour, toll-free and strictly confidential hotline that provides counselling in three languages. Ms Chan said this was a valuable service, especially for managers who had to be physically and mentally strong to lead a team and be able to give guidance where necessary. 'I did use the telephone consultation service,' she said. 'I was stressed out, so I called them. They listened and they helped me identify the problem by guiding me through but not giving me a solution. After talking to them, I felt calm. I definitely would recommend the service to the staff.' Also on offer under the EAP are corporate discounts and health-related activities. These include personal nutrition consultations, group vaccinations, health talks and stress management programmes. Most usefully, a concierge service has been introduced so that accountants who work more than 12 hours every day do not have to worry about getting their banking done or picking up their dry-cleaning. 'We don't have time. Even with a nine-to-five job, it's hard to do these things,' Ms Tam said. The reaction to the programme, implemented in October, has been mixed, especially in the mainland offices, where the idea was initially greeted with some scepticism. In general, the social events had been popular, but staff had been slow to take advantage of the counselling service, possibly because they might have some concerns about confidentiality, Mr Bowie said. But he was not concerned about the slow uptake. 'We have had over 20 people call,' he said. 'So somebody has felt it important enough for them to pick up the phone, and if it helps even one person, it's worth it.'