• Big 4

    Good Lord, the Miserable Employees of Accounting Firms Are Really Miserable

    By | February 7, 2013

    Our friends at Vault have released a few more teasers from their 2013 accounting survey and this time, it's what they're calling the Dark Side of Accounting. They went with Pink Floyd art, which is fine. I personally would have chosen Palpatine or DV or even Darth Maul, but whatever. They still do a good job.

    The first bit of news from Vault is that all those work-life initiatives appear to be working because the majority of their employees are satisfied with everything: 

    [E]mployees 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 […]. Compare this to last year's Accounting Survey, when 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.

    This has to make the firms feel good about their efforts. There's no breakdown by firm at this point, but even for one that has experienced a bit of a work-life setback, this is welcome news.

    Of course there are some employees who simply cannot be satisfied. You could spring for the Google-style cafeteria, stock the bathrooms with gold thrones, and offer free massages and people would still incessantly bitch. We all know these people. You may, in fact, be one of those people. And Vault has chosen to highlight some of those people who don't simply dislike the firms they work for, they excel at this disliking. 

    For example, some people are working so much they are RISKING THEIR LIVES just leaving the job:

    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. 

    Also, if you're a victim of vast partner-wing conspiracy, then you can kiss your career and your social life goodbye:

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

    Speaking of partners, some of these people don't even bother with names, apparently. They just see you as living, breathing money-making machines:

    Most partners have no clue who people are at this firm. 

    Then there's the bald-faced liars: 

    This manure factory says that it focuses on treating its people with care, but it’s a huge hoax that fools only the na├»ve 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.

    And finally the sickies:

    I think the firm possesses a ripe population for psychological studies in the human condition, masochism, and the aggregation of mundane disquietudes into horror.

    So far all the improvements you've made, public accounting firms, you should be aware that these people are still in your employ. For your next work-life act, may I humbly suggest an in-house shrink?

    The Dark Side of Accounting [Vault]

    • Zeiss

      Wha, wha, wha… life is terrible, I hate my job, partners suck, my co-workers are jack-wads.

      F-ing quit. I’m sick of these self pity bitch sessions. No one held a gun to your head when you signed the acceptance letter.

      • tbastard

        “compassion, motherfucker, do you have it?”

    • Robert Palmer

      Busy season peons need to be reminded what they signed up for and quit bitching. Also, they need to hurry the hell up and get the 2012 10-K’s signed and dotted. I’m tired of looking at the 2011 annual reports and 3 sets of 10-Q’s. This should have been finished by the end of January.

    • happier than a clamwich

      Respectfully disagree. The truth is that the accounting firms have a disproportionate amount of arrogant partners whose arrogance stems not so much by the fact they are partners but that so many others are not partners. It’s amazing how once you leave and go to industry and are a “client” that the condescending p**** attitude magically changes. If you leave the master-servant relationship disappears so does the attitude of most partners since they’ve got nothing to hold over your head especially if you go to industry. About 10-15% of them are nice and respectful and don’t changed their tune one bit after you leave and those are the ones that are deserving of respect and admiration. The vast majority of partners operate in an environment where they constantly make promises to staff and managers they have no intention of keeping, string people along and dangle the almighty “you might be a partner one day” carrot hoping enough worker bees with high charge hours and revenue stick along so that they can achieve their aggressive revenue goals and gross margin while coincidentially all Big 4 firms pay highly similar “market rates” within salary bands that appear to further increase the disparity between partner and non-partner comp. Should you feel bad for someone that brings home a decent paycheck and has a strong benefits package with health care and a a 401(k) match when so many don’t have jobs or health care and cannot support their families – not really. That said, public accounting, over time has a way or mentally and physically wearing people down and there’s white noise flowing through the vents of the cubicles and small offices that messages to people to keep on plugging away because it’s no better anywhere else and there’s no sense in leaving.

      A partner once had his door slightly open during a national partner only conference call discussing the decision to not give raises to most employees one year and they spent an hour reviewing all of the partner talking points and ways to recognize employees without paying them more money. It was eye opening to say the least. It cited statistics and surveys, HR leaders and psychologists about how sending e-mails to people and recognizing them with praise in front of other people was just as meaningful or more powerful than giving someone more money. Hand written notes and an occasional 1:1 lunch, maybe a $50 AmEx gift card once a quarter (not bad – that’s 10 cents an hour for each of your 2000 billable hours). The arrogance required to think that staff if given a hamburger and a note from a partner saying way to go on that compliance engagement where they worked 80+ hours a week for 4 months and did multiple all-nighters and didn’t see family and friends for weeks at a time is a substitute for a comp adjustment. This didn’t mean the partners weren’t still getting their distributions or their perks it just meant that after they got their ROI there weren’t many nuts left for the rest of the squirrels. This isn’t an argument for redistribution of wealth among lower staff classes but the mindset of a typical Big 4 partner clearly is about how do I keep the status quo and not rock the boat in order for my leverage model to work and spending quality time with staff and managers and caring about their well being most of the time does not rank high on that list.

      A managing partner of a Big 4 tax practice had a stump speech that was told to multiple people when they left that couldn’t do any better outside of the firm and in one case even said that one person would fail at their new firm (which happened to be a law firm) because they didn’t have the intellectual or academic pedigree (this was part of the speech to get them to stay) notwithstanding one of them got a six figure pay raise at the new firm. It also implicitly admitted that the Big 4 firm was inferior to the law firm. Another one who was on the receiving end the speech that he’d never amount to anything was a gentlemen by the name of Brint Ryan, founder of Ryan LLC which has 850 employees and is one of the largest tax firms in the country. Mr. Ryan is probably quite happy he didn’t take that little nugget of advice as he seemed to turn out just fine. Next time you’re told that you can’t do any better anywhere else think of how many different ways you can prove them wrong as success is the best revenge. If you want to know whether you should stay or go and you believe you’re a high performer (for seniors and above) – go to your direct reporting partner and ask him/her for honest feedback about how you’re doing, when you’re up for promotion and ask them to work a little closer with you (even if they’re not your coach/mentor) and see if they’ll devote the time to do so and follow through. Hold them accountable when you achieve your goals according to your plan. If they keep their word then good for you but if you’ve checked off the boxes and they still give you the “je ne peux pas pointer le doigt dessus” response and they can’t point their finger on exactly why you’re not getting a bonus or a promotion notwithstanding you busted your butt and killed your metrics once again then shame on you for staying.

      • Gust

        Glad you got that off your chest bro. Now, you might be a partner one day so get back to work.

        • happier than a clamwich

          No way gust. I doubled my comp leaving public accounting and have meaninful equity in my company with no charge hour or revenue goals. No PD work – just focused on delivering results and value that I will benefit from as a shareholder. The C-Suite and other company leaders are respectful, sincere, inquisitive, personable, collaborative and engaging. These are unfamilar traits to many in the accounting profession.

      • indentured servant

        tl;dr: quit if you don’t like it

      • joe398s3

        Partners aren’t totally to blame. Enough worker bees stick around. At the end of the day, if they can’t put qualified people in the seats salaries will have to rise to attract talent. Since enough peons put up with the public accounting BS they don’t have to raise salaries.

        • h.t.a. clamwich

          That’s true but there’s also a de facto “stockholm syndrome” culture where you fall in love with your “captors”. You’re shielded from the outside world save for when you get out to clients which in the earlier years so you might not do much shmoozing or networking. You’re free to leave at any time but again the white noise you hear makes you think that there can’t be anything better. Every year the accolades get dragged out: top firm for working mothers, LGBT, diversity, work/life balance and a bunch of other constituencies. Then there’s the “scorecards” and internal surveys that year over year predictably show improvement in chosen categories again reinforcing the message that despite the fact you feel miserable that you need to set that aside because these surveys and awards clearly indicate otherwise. Talking about your reviews and comp adjustments are highly frowned upon if not “strictly prohibited”. Yes, you’re free to leave at any time but you really need to find a way to measure your worth in the marketplace occasionally by seeing what else is out there and not feel like you’re in an unhappy relationship “stuck” without options or you could end up hanging around years beyond when you should have left. There will likely always be more supply than demand so there’s no need for salaries to rise unless investment banking experiences a renaissance and all those finance majors that started switching to a “safe” degree accounting back in 2008 start switching back.

    • B4adv

      Well I don’t understand how auditing guys work for that much money .. Kinda feel sad for them that they work for that little .. I have worked in advisory in two big4s and I know what kinda salary audit folks make when compared to advisory/consulting … I mean why not work anywhere else

      • big4guy

        WRONG – i make 60K starting in b4, its pretty good money considering all i am doing is check boxes.

        • indentured servant

          for 12-14 hrs a day

    • PwCASSociate

      I’ll bet the chick bitching about not getting a wax was one of those people complaining in the comments above.

      • NOBODY

        Maybe she is just really so hairy that it’s truly worth bitching about.

    • Scott

      This is the economy folks and the nature of the business. Also, Partners own EQUITY in their Firms. Business owners make the rules and you don’t tell owners how to spend their money or divide it. General workers have no power for a reason.

      Unless you live in a vacuum, you knew what the work environment was before going in, including the politics, mental games and everything else negative. Like one partner told us back in 2009, if just being employed and getting paid every two weeks isn’t sufficient for your satisfaction, goodbye and good luck.

      That’s the economy folks.

    • JimmyV

      Could be worse, I could have no job.