The Dark Side of Accounting

by Derek Loosvelt | February 06, 2013

It’s no secret that workweeks at Big 4 accounting firms, as well as at the Big 4’s nearest competitors, can be pretty long and stressful, especially during busy season. It’s also no secret that in the past few years the Big 4 (DeloittePwCKPMG, and Ernst & Youngand the biggest mid-sized firms have been trying to improve their employees’ so-called work/life balance, offering more flex-time options, better compensation, and more congenial working environments, all in order to lessen the blow of long workweeks and stress during busy season. 

To that end, according to the results of the latest Vault Accounting Survey, these improvements seem to be working. That is, employees of the larger accounting firms, on average, appear to be very satisfied with their jobs. In fact, this year, so far (the survey is still open and can be taken here if you’re a public accounting professional), respondents give their firms an average score of 8.11 out of 10 in overall satisfaction (the exact questions is this: Please rate your level of job satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is very dissatisfied and 10 is very satisfied.). Compare this to last year's Accounting Survey in which respondents gave their firms an average score of 7.93 out of 10, and it seems that satisfaction is improving.

Also, this year, 48 percent of respondents give their firms a 9 or 10 in overall satisfaction, meaning just about half of all accounting professionals are pretty darn satisfied. And last year, just under 46 percent of accountants rated their employers a 9 or 10 in satisfaction.

However, despite the improvement, a small minority of accounting professionals are still less than satisfied with their jobs, as just over 3 percent of survey respondents rate their firms a 1, 2, or 3 in overall satisfaction (about the same percentage that did so last year). And it’s this minority, who sing dark tunes of doom and gloom, we’re going to give a little airtime to today. And so, below are the 10 best (or, I guess, 10 worst) survey responses we’ve received thus far about the quality of life (or lack of quality of life) at the Big 4 and its biggest competitors. 

10. “My quality of life since starting here has been extremely poor. We eat dinner four to five nights a week at our desk. There’s no time to sleep. In fact, driving to and from work is dangerous because we’re all too tired to be driving. I think this job is terrible.” 

9. “If a partner doesn’t like you and knows other senior partners, life becomes very difficult, and lonely.” 

8. “Independent thinking and a diverse culture are kept to a minimum.” 

7. “The firm purports to and advertises heavily a work/life balance. But their idea of balance is not working on Sunday or being able to leave on time on a Friday. The firm mandates overtime with nothing offsetting it. And being 100 percent utilized doesn’t preclude you from being 100 percent assigned to another project. Culture is such that you suck it up and get with the program or leave and go some place else.” 

6. “There is such a strong culture of producing revenue that even those not directly involved with client acquisitions care little about jobs that produce lesser revenue. This causes managers to disregard these projects and, in a sense, abandon others on the team and give little coaching and mentoring, causing further dissatisfaction. This type of behavior should be considered unacceptable; however, such is not the case.” 

5. “The firm states that it cares about its employees, but this is truly not the case. The partners are so far removed from the lower staff levels and only listen to those that blow smoke to them. No one tells the partners what the partners don’t want to hear, leading to their arrogance of their ‘people focus’ and ‘work/life flexibility.’ Partners need to do a better job of opening their eyes and seeing what’s really going on. Most partners have no clue who people are at this firm.” 

4. “Severe college nepotism. There was a potential candidate with a 4.0 on a 4.0 scale who was number one in their class who was not even considered because they went to a smaller school that no partners had gone to. This is completely unacceptable when another intern could not even run a "SUM" formula in Excel, and didn't know the basis MS 101 functions of Excel and Word—they didn’t know how to use the “save” function, and, frankly, I’m surprised this person graduated high school with this level of expertise, or lack thereof.” 

3. “If you enjoy putting information from one format into another format, then you may enjoy working here. If you enjoy vaguely communicating with other humans who are scared $hitless to take a stand on anything requiring judgment, then you may enjoy working here.” 

2. “The worst. People come here with lofty aspirations and leave with obesity and fewer relationships due to the stress and number of hours worked. The hours worked are all due to the fact that the firm relies on its name and reputation and therefore feels justified treating its employees like garbage. We are just a number and a great majority of people feel that way. This manure factory says that it focuses on treating its people with care, but it’s a huge hoax that fools only the naïve at this firm. It’s a political stunt, much like presidential candidates focus their efforts on the middle class and small-business owners. These men and women could run for office and become serious contenders for the presidency. Every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that I break. If this will be the day I let HR know that this will be my former employer. I’ve been treated with nothing but disrespect and have received no recognition for my merits besides a lousy 1 percent bonus. This bonus is complete B.S. given that we have to work between 2,500 and 3,000 hours a year. Keep it, it’s offensive.” 

1. “Quality of life is terrible. It’s a conglomeration of not-terrible people being terrible to each other and making each other mutually miserable. I think the firm possesses a ripe population for psychological studies in the human condition, masochism, and the aggregation of mundane disquietudes into horror.”

Follow me on Twitter: @vaultfinance.

Read more:
How Gay-Friendly Are the Big 4 Accounting Firms?
21 Interview Questions the Big 4 Ask
Which Big 4 Firm is Most Prestigious?
Take the 2013 Accounting Survey

Filed Under: Finance | Job Search | Workplace Issues


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