• Big 4

    Thanks to Millennials, PwC Now Knows Their People Want Lives Outside of Work, Have the Feels

    By | March 26, 2018

    The history of PricewaterhouseCoopers goes back to 1849 when Samuel Lowell Price set up business in London. Shortly after that, in 1854, William Cooper started his firm, which would later become Cooper Brothers. It’s hard to know what either Price and Cooper were thinking about back then other than outrageous blacksmith prices and how to avoid getting an infection from a paper cut. It’s unlikely that they could’ve imagined the size and scope their firms would become, or that they would provide livelihoods for thousands, maybe millions, of people all over the world.

    Along the way to becoming a global behemoth, however, PwC became a firm synonymous with hard work and little else. If you think that’s exaggerating, then here’s a quote for you from this Quartz article:

    “We sort of pride our selves on, ‘Ah, we don’t need to have lives, we just forge ahead,’” says Anne Donovan, the company’s US “people innovation leader,” summarizing the mindset that prevailed at PwC for most of her 34 years there.

    The “What do I need a life for?” is not news to anyone who’s worked at PwC or any Big 4 firm (or its predecessors). The absence of work-life balance has been a cornerstone of the accounting profession’s culture for decades, and served as inspiration for Going Concern’s coverage since the beginning of the site.

    At some point, however, a few people at PwC started noticing that more and more people weren’t towing the line on “we don’t need lives”:

    [M]illennial employees, who by 2013 represented two-thirds of the company’s workforce, were no longer so willing to shelve their personal lives indefinitely for the possibility of a lucrative partnership years down the road. And those who did start as associates were far more likely than their predecessors to complain when flexibility promised in the recruiting process failed to materialize.

    Again, this is not news to anyone who’s spent even a small amount of time on this site. Big 4 employees of all kinds were sending biting farewell emails, seeking career advice, and complaining — lots and lots of complaining — about their unfulfilling professional lives. And not surprisingly, people were leaving the firms in droves:

    PwC faced “crisis-level attrition,” says Jonathan Amy, a PwC training executive. (The firm’s titles skew grand and opaque. Amy’s official title is “chief learning architect for learning and development.”) The attrition, coupled with reluctance at college recruiting events, made clear how unenthused the new generation was with the company’s culture. PwC’s youngest employees were leaving at rates incomparable to previous generations. As soon as they got the opportunity to go somewhere else, they went.

    So PwC did what consultants do best: a study. In partnership with the University of Southern California and the London Business School, the company undertook a review of its own workforce. Between 2011 and 2012, the company surveyed 44,000 employees around the world.

    That survey revealed that everyone at the firm wanted better lives, not just young employees; it’s just that millennials were willing “to question long-held assumptions about how that work should be done,” and “to speak up about their dissatisfaction, and to opt out when problems couldn’t be resolved.”

    While millennials have been instrumental in this willingness to speak up, I’d go one step further to say that it was millennial women who led this charge. Think about it. Accounting is a profession that has been dominated by men since forever. Does anyone seriously think that if women hadn’t started entering accounting firms en masse 15-20 years ago that anything would’ve changed? Without women, Big 4 firms would still be an army of ill-fitting, blue button-down shirts working 16-hour days, insisting on mandatory Saturdays. Some smaller firms are still that way.

    Only during this period, when millennial women are becoming an important and vocal part of PwC’s workforce, could this culture change be possible. Their male colleagues, not being complete idiots, saw what they were doing and heard what they were saying and realized they were right.

    All this now adds up to 90 percent of the firm’s employees “incorporat[ing] some kind of flexibility into their schedules” and senior associates going on retreats in Southern California to discuss “wellbeing” “mindfulness” and attend other sessions with “Boxes of tissues […] placed in easy reach around the room.”

    Is it a rebellion? Meh, maybe. If so, it’s been over 150 years in the making; and it’s long overdue.


    • Big4Veteran

      As a client of a Big 4 firm, I’ve noticed that my auditors come in later each day than I used to when I was in public, and go home much, much earlier. In fact, there have been many nights during “busy” season that the auditors have gone home before me. I can only assume that they are working super hard and efficiently in the limited time they are here. Fortunately, they still make plenty of time to bitch about how hard they’re working.

      • BKGreed

        I noticed that too. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that audit fees should in turn be going down because of all the efficiency? I’ve also noticed the in charge always rolls off after one year and always seems to be a second year staff.

        • Andrew Y

          In reality, more and more people are leaving the work place or client location earlier but a reasonable portion of those people are working later in the evening, perhaps after having a workout, dinner with the family, tucking in their kids etc.. It’s pretty easy to go and a lot better than just sitting in the office waiting for the most experienced person to leave. Now that I am that guy (the most experienced), I encourage people to leave when they want. I judge them based on what they get done, efficiency and quality rather than by the hour they check out.

      • N.E.R.D.

        Lying on timesheets?! People just go an lie on their timesheets to meet hour quotas? I am just shocked!!1

        Good for them. Fuck quotas. Timesheets are what they are presented as until proven otherwise. I used to game my timesheets all the time to meet stupid hour quotas.

        • Adam Hill

          Hopefully you were able to travel out of town too and splash those high ticket dinners onto a fixed fee audit. That’s the only way to pinpoint it directly the to partners.

          • N.E.R.D.

            I’m in tax. I don’t travel much.

            • Adam Hill

              I was just agreeing and adding my own experience on how to fuck the system. Carry on!

      • Robby D

        The entire business model of public accounting is absurd. They hire in 22 year olds pay them 55K a year to do 90% of the work. They work them to death knowing that 75% will leave by year 3 and they are ok with that, firms actually get upset when folks don’t leave in masses by year 3. They dangle this false item of making partner in front of them, truth is unless you bring in 1M of business you won’t ever make partner. They brain wash everyone into thinking that working 70 hour weeks January to March is OK and treating you like slaves. It than becomes a domino effect when people leave in November/December before busy season. They shorten engagements from 3 weeks to 2 weeks, and make staff work 80 hours a week. If you actually run the numbers on what a first year staff makes per hour it comes out to 20 to 22 an hour, they pay them 55 to 60K out of school but hours including non chargeable are easily 2500 to 2700.

    • Same thing is going on in the legal field. People have finally realized that life is short.

    • I mean, it was a matter of time. Millennials everywhere, not just on the accounting world ,are demanding more time for themselves, the right of having lives of their own outside of work and of course PwC was going to have to face this and adapt eventually.

      Besides, more and more it’s getting clear how working 16 hours a day isn’t actually related to productivity and fulfillment in the work life; it may have worked in 1849 but it sure isn’t going to do so in 2018.

      Awesome post! Really enjoyed the info.