• Career Center

    If You Equate Long Hours with Hard Work Then You Aren’t “Committed” But You May Be a Dumbass

    By | October 10, 2012

    In the blood-thirsty world of public accounting, people will do anything to get ahead. While there are a few out there who realize that a life of cubicles, impatient clients, out-of-date laptops, and elaborately designed pivot tables does not constitute life or death, there are many people who spend years of their lives believing otherwise.

    And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with taking your job seriously or being ambitious. Ambition is good. All capital market servants have ambitions of one sort or another but some of the behavior is downright belligerent. Assholey, if you will. This is manifested in a number of ways but one of the most common acts of blind ambition is working unnecessary hours. You see, somewhere along the trajectory of the public accounting profession, someone decreed that long hours = good performance. This idea spread like wildfire to firms large and small and it still dominates the profession today. It has engrained itself into the accounting industry DNA to such a degree that many people working in it today feel guilt – GUILT! – when they leave after a ten or eleven-hour day. That, my friends, is a travesty.

    Now, we all know that public accounting is NOT a 40-hour workweek* career. This is a deadline-driven business so logging longer hours to meet those deadlines becomes necessary.  The problem is that so many people are of the attitude that longer hours define your performance, and ultimately, your career. This is bullshit. Christ, there's even a recent study that says as much. Yes, firms set chargeable hour goals as a metric for your "productivity" but that is misleading because there is no measure of actual output. It's a timecard that shows what clients got the pleasure of your exemplary service. 

    Why oh why do people cling to the billable hour like Queen Elizabeth clings to life? A recent article in the New York Times by Robert Pozen tries to answer this question:

    From the law firm’s perspective, billing by the hour has a certain appeal: it shifts risk from the firm to the client in case the work takes longer than expected. But from a client’s perspective, it doesn’t work so well. It gives lawyers an incentive to overstaff and to overresearch cases.
    Mr. Pozen is a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School and he's drawing on his experience as a law firm partner, but you can easily substitute "law" with "accounting" and the reasoning is still relevant. He continues by extending this reasoning beyond firms that use the billable hours by citing another study:
    Firms that bill by the hour are not alone in emphasizing hours over results. For a study published most recently in 2010, three researchers, led by Kimberly D. Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis, interviewed 39 corporate managers about their perceptions of their employees. The managers viewed employees who were seen at the office during business hours as highly “dependable” and “reliable.” Employees who came in over the weekend or stayed late in the evening were seen as “committed” and “dedicated” to their work.
     
    One manager said: “So this one guy, he’s in the room at every meeting. Lots of times he doesn’t say anything, but he’s there on time and people notice that. He definitely is seen as a hard-working and dependable guy.” Another said: “Working on the weekends makes a very good impression. It sends a signal that you’re contributing to your team and that you’re putting in that extra commitment to get the work done.”
    These managers' reasoning is completely illogical, of course, because it doesn't take into account what the "results" are. Did that dependable and hard-working mute who's on time for every meeting manage to accomplish anything during his day? How about those people working the weekends? Are they contributing more than the people that would rather be ANYWHERE but the office on a Saturday?
     
    I know what you're saying: "I have, like, so much work that I have NO CHOICE but to work longer hours and on the weekends." First of all, no, you do have a choice. And second, if you have all this work you clearly have chosen to take on far more than is necessary of you. If you are choosing to do the work of 5-6 people, that's fine but kindly don't judge others who don't hoard work by calling them "lazy" because that kind of corporate self-righteous douchebaggery is part of the problem.
     
    What else is part of the problem? Much like the old boys club and Lotus Notes, some habits die hard: 
    The reactions of these managers are understandable remnants of the industrial age, harking back to the standardized nature of work on an assembly line. But a measurement system based on hours makes no sense for knowledge workers. Their contribution should be measured by the value they create through applying their ideas and skills.

    By applying an industrial-age mind-set to 21st-century professionals, many organizations are undermining incentives for workers to be efficient. If employees need to stay late in order to curry favor with the boss, what motivation do they have to get work done during normal business hours? After all, they can put in the requisite “face time” whether they are surfing the Internet or analyzing customer data. It’s no surprise, then, that so many professionals find it easy to procrastinate and hard to stay on a task.

    There's the word — face time. The worst thing about this aspect of the culture in public accounting is that so many people say that "face time doesn't matter" when it's obvious that it does matter. You'll hear people at every level of your firm say it but it is a baldfaced lie. It matters a lot. It matters MORE THAN ANYTHING. 
     
    So next time a superior tells you that the firm you work for doesn't reward face time and spouts something about "working smarter, not harder" kindly ask when they plan on leaving because then you'll have an idea when your day will end and then punch them in the kidney for being a hypocrite. 
     
     
    *If this is shocking and disheartening news to you, I suggest you stop reading now, walk out of your classroom or office and never return. You'll be doing yourself and your (future) co-workers an enormous favor.
    • $19577774

      Yeah, I don’t know. I kinda think the accounting firms will never really change. Why should they change? The partners seem to be doing ok. The people running these firms are the same types of people who ran the firms 30 years ago. They are accountants, not visionaries. If Johnny worked 60 hours last week and Bobby worked only 50, then why is Bobby such a lazy fuck? Isn’t Bobby capable of working 60 hours? And Bobby better hope we don’t need to do any downsizing anytime soon, because he’s likely to be the one we cut.

      If you were to put together a list of the 100 greatest business minds and innovators in the last 100 years, I bet you not one of those people would be a CEO of an accounting firm.

      • Robert Palmer

        I wonder how Mitt Romney views the matter and if Bain billed hourly or by project?

      • Iyamwhatiyam

        Definitely not a fan of your’s big4vet, but this was a great comment.  So true on all levels.

    • FormerBig4EE

      This article is spot on – as a former slave in Big4 audit I can attest to the fact that facetime is BY FAR the most important aspect of “performance”. In fact I would go as far to say that efficiency and quality are not even considered.

      • exKPMG

        SO TRUE

    • Grammar Jerk

      Typo in the first line. Typo in the first line. Ha Ha.

    • Guest

      Naa, you can work 40 hours a week. You just have to be bullshitter and take on 1 client while the rest of office has 4. I see it all the time. I also see managers who take hour and a half lunches who end up working 10-11 hour days barely get 8 hours charged and then bitch about it and wonder why their staff left.

      • BKGreed

        Preach on brother (or sister).  Having 1/4 of the client load of others, allows managers to give partners the perception that they do a great job of marketing and selling, which is all that really matters at the end of the day.

    • Fredo

      Great article on a subject that has bothered me and coworkers for years now.  I use to work at a Top 10 regional firm and as one Senior Manager put it, “To move away from the billable hour for us would be like turning around an oil tanker in a puddle of mud.” 

      What is the largest accounting/law firm that has dumped the billable hour? 

    • McGuest

      Oh god yes.  This.  The worst thing about public accounting is being expected to stay late and work weekends, even when your work is done.  Because you were efficient, like they say they want. I once had a manager who wanted to me to check every number on a tax return with a calculator “just in case”.  Just in case what?!  The tax software used by the Big Four firms was incapable of doing math, and no one had ever caught it before?  Sure, it was theoretically possible, but not very likely, and certainly not something the client would want to be billed for.  He would also work until 2 or 3 in the morning, get a hotel across the street from work on Hotwire, and be back in a 7am due to not wanting to go home to his family.  The senior manager above both of us thought I should work just like him.  This was said with a straight face, too.

      • Guest

        It happens. My fav is our payment vouchers constantly not matching the Payment due” instructions. That being said I’d hit the code for an hour and just tell him it was fine

        • McGuest

          I’d have done that, but I was expected to eat my time.   I was told to put down 7 hours to the client, and 1 hour of admin, regardless of time actually spent.  (I got in at 8:30am, left at 10pm at the earliest, and worked harder then than I do now.)

    • cool story brah

      I probably work 5-6 hours a day and bill 8 and still received a 1 rating.  It’s about perception

      • Jonhson

        I work 3-4 bill 10 and got rated a 2

    • Butt Yogurt

      I’m a complete newb to public accounting, so I may be wrong, but to me it’s obvious they’re going to judge you by hours.  If the members of this site are correct, and staff are truly just cogs in a huge wheel and nobody gives a shit about them, then what other metric would upper management use?  Figuring out if you’re efficient or what-have-you takes acknowledgment of your existence as a autonomous human.  So yeah…I don’t see an alternative.

      • Butt Yogurt Awe

        Butt Yogurt is an epic name

    • Woody94

      It’s not about management not having other ways to evaluate staff. It’s because the other ways are going to involve subjectivity, which means you are putting your neck out when you give a staff a great rating based on your opinion.
      And based on my experience, no one at least in B4 makes decisions worth a shit, much less stands behind their decisions/ opinions

    • $27790307

      I think the solution to this problem is to move your business overseas. In lovely places like Cambodia, Malaysia and India you can find inexpensive talent that won’t constantly complain about you making them work 12 hour days with no bathroom breaks.

      • Miss India

        I agree. Americans are such whiny babies. So sad.

    • Bitter Audit Manager

      This will never change. The problem is, the bitter senior managers stressing out about leaving the senior manager parking lot have this attitude. No one wants to acknowledge that by objective criteria, many people can learn the accounting aspect of the job. Standing out requires selling skills if you want to be partner, but a lot of that “selling” is working late for shits and giggles in front of the partners and pretending, against all empirical evidence to the contrary, that it makes you better at your job.

    • guest

      stay late dont charge. period.

      • Guest

        dont stay charge late. Derp.

    • Jcom

      This is true for all Big4 firms probably, but the feeling I get was that this was a HUGE part of the Andersen culture back in the day.  When Andersen went under my Big4 firm took on some of their local clients, seniors, managers, and one partner.  I had the displeasure of working under ex-Andersen seniors for my first full year, and they would dick around all day and start working at 5:30, while guys like me who had a life and wanted to get the fuck out by 7 or 7:30 could not. Come to think of it, it seems that Andersen was just one big firm of douches

      • Guest

        This is not the first time that I’ve heard that AA was full of douchebags…they managed to put Deloitte to shame.

        • Derpington

           Put Deloitte to shame? How is that even remotely possible?

    • Guest-o

      I’m one of those seniors who could care less about “face time” much to my senior manager’s chagrin and I could care less.  I tell my staff to GTFO at a normal time and follow suit myself.  I’m honest with myself that I’m not in this for the long haul.  My work speaks for itself and I’m always highly rated any way.  

      • Funky Buttlovin

        You’d have even better results if you couldn’t care less.  

        • Guest-o

           But then I might actually care.  That would be scary. 

    • Paul Giordani

      Make friends with the Scheduler and have her put you on fake out-of-town jobs and just kick it at home.

    • TheFinanceWriter

      I’m not a CPA, but this post made me think back on all those (wasted) years of long hours in the investment banking industry. What did that get us? A financial sector broken by a bunch of bossy old men who thought they were smarter than everyone else. They are now living out their golden years facing the fact that they are has-been failures. Some have done this penance in jail, but even those who are not have no financial insights worthy of calling upon like experienced individuals in other fields. I’m glad I saw the futility of it all and got out. You see, I’m as old as they are but was resourceful enough to go my own way, which is why I’m happier now. Young resourceful CPAs should follow their own paths to better rewards by implementing innovations — such as eliminating the hourly fee model. Clients hate it just as much as CPAs hate the pressure of billable hour goals. Give the public something it wants in a less costly or more efficient way and you will succeed handsomely. It requires plenty of hard work, but without the frustration of foregoing other rewarding things in life.