Morale

A Noncomprehensive List of Morale Boosters for Accounting Firms

Accounting firms, who generally eat their young, are all competing for “who has the best perks” in race to scoop up all of the competent new hires. We all know that accounting culture is toxic, but aside from taking all of your allotted vacation so you don’t die at your desk like that one guy, […]

Deloitte Partner Encourages Brethren to Take Back Their Firm

As previously discussed, making partner at a Big 4 firm is no small feat. It takes years of work, some political savvy and luck. When you finally get a seat at the big table, you discover that everything leading up to that point was simply the beginning. Now that you’re calling the shots, you have big responsibility, be willing to resist temptation, and try to keep employees happy. Not an easy task but that’s why they get paid the big bucks, right?

But forget all that. Partners, as we know, are owners. They have an equity stake in their firm and have a say in how the firm should be run. Or do they have that say? One Deloitte partner, a twenty year veteran of the firm, reached out to us recently to express their concern about the upcoming election of new leadership at the Green Dot:

I’m an audit partner with Deloitte. Don’t want to bore you with the fact that I love the firm, and I am a die-hard D&Ter. But, all firms have their faults, right? Even Deloitte. While we tout and sell “Good Governance” strategies – our own governance process is severely BROKEN.

What many may not know is that Deloitte has an election year happening in 2011. Yes – Sharon Allen is off to retirement [Ed. note: PARTY! – Oh sorry, this is serious], and so is Jim Quigley. No tears for them…they have very rich retirement packages that will keep them wealthy for decades to come.

We’ve already been through our “Nominating Committee” process, where all the partners are able to be interviewed by committee members and submit nominations of individuals that they would like to see in different leadership roles. The elected individuals are the Chairman, the CEO, and a CEO “Alternate.” The CEO “Alternate” is there in the event that the CEO elect is also elected as the Global CEO (which will typically happen).

We’ll jump in here to make a quick point: our tipster reiterated to us that (s)he loves Deloitte and the motivation for reaching out to us is due to his/her commitment to the firm. (S)he even admitted that reaching out to GC seemed odd but clarified it to us this way, “It is akin to someone that loves their country and wants to improve upon it because we know we have the right to speak out and improve our country. Right now, our election process at Deloitte is broken.”

ANYWAY:

The thing that angers many partners – but few voice this concern – is that the Nominating Committee Process and the “election” of the Firm’s leadership is a farce. The “independent” Committee comes up with their recommended candidates after hearing the soundings of the partners. I should add that Committee is selected by the Board and Management. There is no “election” to approve the Committee. Then the Committee comes to a conclusion on ONE set of recommended candidates, and the Board approves that recommendation (shocking). Then, the partners get to vote “YES or NO” on the “slate” of candidates that is advanced. This “election” occurs in late February/early March. The leaders must be installed in June. So what if the partners said NO? What would the leadership team do then?? Guess what – they don’t care! Because they know the partners always say YES! It is so painful. And nobody is willing to challenge this process. Because – you have three camps of partners. (1) the camp that doesn’t care and never will because it “doesn’t affect my daily life; (2) the camp that is so rich in the number of units they have, they wouldn’t upset the apple cart because they make too much money to want to risk it even though they know it is wrong, and (3) the younger partners who fear retribution of having their “heads cut off” for speaking up.

Jumping in again – we spoke to a former Deloitte partner, who confirmed the broad details of the process and also the widely-held notion that the election process is a “farce.” This former partner also confirmed this is a feeling held by many partners, especially the freshly minted ones. In addition to the fear of retribution, he said that younger partners also feel apathetic, being of the mindset that the “nominating committee won’t listen to me” and they are being given “lip service” by leadership. Further, for many young partners, simply joining this exclusive club is exciting enough that few pay attention and, oh yeah, they have TONS of work to do. As for the “gray-haired partners,” our source confirmed their attitudes as well, saying that there would be little motivation to speak up when they are “riding out their careers” or have a lot vested with the firm already.

Getting back:

The thing is that these leaders represent our firm, manage our firm, and control our collective destinies. They also rig the elections. And they then tout, continuously, the importance of the “Sense of Partnership.” The truth is that Deloitte is not run like a partnership. Yes, the partners have capital at risk, we are owners of the “Firm.” But, we are not appropriately represented. We lack a true collective voice. We keep quiet for the “good of the Firm.” And, we are now going to embark on a new “BOLD LEADERSHIP” move that is being done to passify all the various interests of our firm (Consulting, Audit and Tax). The thing is – we don’t attempt to have our partners select the BEST leaders – but simply the leaders that a select few believe fit a set of criteria that are BEST for us ignorant partners. It’s a bit like the government telling us what is good for us.

It angers me. And, I wish that I could wake up every Deloitte partner and have them realize this. But – if I did this – I’d likely be fired. So, I’m sending this to you to see if you can help WAKE up our Partners!! They should VOTE NO to the nominating committees recommended leaders. We need to take back our firm, much like the American voters took back our country.

[Signed,]
An anonymous Deloitte partner who cares deeply about our Firm and our culture.

Our “anonymous Deloitte partner” speculated that 75% of partners share his/her feelings on this. What’s been the catalyst to all this frustration? Well, the former Deloitte partner we spoke to said that it’s a partly the nature of the governance process itself but it has been made worse by how leadership handled layoffs and the economic crisis during 2008-2009. As you may remember, Deloitte leadership admitted that the May ’09 layoffs were handled poorly last spring, however, morale amongst partners remains extremely low.

Just to add a few more things from the “anonymous Deloitte partner” – when we asked about the details of the nominating process, the response we received was that while it was a “cordial” and that the partners that serve on the committee feel as though they are doing “God’s work,” but ultimately it is a “falsehood.” The former Deloitte partner confirmed this, who told us he had a friend who served on the nominating committee who joked with him about flying around the country, “listening to crap,” throughout the exercise.

When we asked about the firm’s leadership considering a more democratic process (i.e. partners are nominated by vote), that doesn’t appear to be on the table because another firm does it that way, “In situations where our CEO has been asked about the process, Barry Salzberg stated that our firm doesn’t want a divisive culture where certain partners get their feelings hurt in a race for the CEO spot or other positions. ‘That’s not part of our culture. That is what PwC does, and we don’t want to do that.’ ”

Stepping back from all this (we realize it’s a lot), if we were a run-of-the-mill Deloitte partner, it be pretty difficult to see this as an equitable process. As we said at the outset, being a partner means having a say in how the business is run. Granted, when you’re talking about a firm as large as Deloitte, there has to be centralized leadership but wouldn’t you want a direct voice in determining who that leadership is and not simply up or down on a list of names handed to you? It sounds like a lot of partners at Deloitte are feeling shut out of this process. Maybe some don’t care but many new and aspiring partners probably do (Millennial attitude and all) and this lack of true representation will certainly make some think twice about their long-term careers with the firm.

How Dissatisfied Are Accountants? An Unscientific Poll

On Tuesday we shared with you an article from Crain’s that quoted executive recruiter (and maybe former astronaut?) Buzz Patterson, “I’d say the dissatisfaction index would probably be at a 10-year high, in the high 60s or low 70s,” with respect to the accounting profession.

If this statement is even remotely true, this means those of you just getting your chops are seeing the worst morale in a decade. We’re talking pretty flippin’ epic misery here. For those of you that have been around for years (or even a decade or more) is this really the worst time you remember? If you’re a veteran of the biz, share your perspective in the comments below.

Also, to get things rolling on this second-to-last Thursday of October, we thought it might be interesting to gauge the crowd here at GC. After the jump, pull the lever for your level of satisfaction with your job. Use these explanations as a guide: 5 – “Hand me a cigarette”; 3 – “Take it or leave it”; 1 – “About to go postal.”

Lowering the Bar – How the Big 4 Can Raise Morale by Reducing Starting Salaries

Last Friday’s post by Caleb surrounding the Bonus Watch at Deloitte sparked a handful of intuitive comments from GC readers.

In case you didn’t read the post and subsequent commentary, Commenter Anon51 responded to the question “what do readers suggest firms do to retain practitioners” with the following:

1. treat every team member with respect

2. you can’t just force your team to work harder year after year with fewer people and a smaller budget

3. pay 4-7 year people more, pay new hires less, so it seems there is an incentive to working harder

4. reward your people with an extra day off without having to utilize vacation time, especially after a really busy month/audit

Point 3 is bolded because it resulted in the following comment from Guest:

“That’s a really good idea, and I’m not being sarcastic. There is no reason why new hires fresh out of college need to make $59k ($55k + $4k sign-on bonus), when they would happily work for $50k. Then, a $5k bump every year would be a reward, with maybe a higher bump during promotion years…Pay disparity is a bigger issue than actual pay.”

Well said, Guest and Anon51.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Big 4 are constantly in cahoots with one another with regards to hiring benchmarks. So I propose that TBig4PTB get together and reassess their starting salaries. Behold, a template for all Big Wigs to follow:

1. Decrease starting total packages (salary + sign on) by seven percent. Lower the bar from the get-go.

2. Now is the time – blame the decrease on “a firm wide strategic response to the economic risks of being a major player in the professional services industry. Unofficial response – did you see the DOW sink like the Titanic the other day?!”

3. Spread gap created by initial decrease in salary over the next two years. This will create an artificial sense of accomplishment and praise.

4. Send internal emails stressing the “increase in raises for well deserving employees.” Everyone cheers.

5. In three years college graduates will not know the difference; this “decrease” becomes a non-issue.

Guest’s comment that “pay disparity is a bigger issue than actual pay” can become a non-issue with very little effort. Is this fair or ethical? Mehhhhh. I personally think it would be a slap in the face to those of you who have busted your humps and sacrificed career and personal opportunities all in the name of KPDeloitterhouseErnstMG. But it certainly wouldn’t be the most desperate attempt made by one of the firms in recent memory.

Raising morale – hardly. What are your thoughts?

The Recession Taught Some CFOs That They Need to Pay Closer Attention to Miserable Employees

Plenty of lessons came out of the financial crisis. For some it was that Big 4 auditors are irrelevant. For others it was that we need one set of high quality accounting standards ASAP. Aaaannnd for others, it was that the SEC needs to get better at pretty much everything.


For CFOs, it appears that at least some of them learned that miserable employees are a drag. Robert Half Management Resources surveyed 1,400 CFOs and 27% of them said “they learned to place greater focus on maintaining employee morale.”

It’s likely that this isn’t a lesson learned by just CFOs. Plenty of CPA firms have probably realized that a bunch of morose auditors and tax pros hanging around doesn’t make for a happy shop and are looking to improve their cheerleading skills going forward. KPMG has already brought back the Standing O, PwC, Ernst & Young, and Grant Thornton have all guaranteed merit increases for this year so there are signs that your happiness is no longer an afterthought.

CFOs Advise Keeping Employees Happy [Web CPA]

Compensation Watch ’10: Ernst & Young Still Planning on Merit Increases

A little more from inside E&Y to round out the week. We got a tip earlier in the week that there was an oddly-timed town hall going on in Chicago this week. Our tipster indicated that the meetings usually occur after the June 30 year-end or in September.

We asked around and from the sounds of it, the meeting amounted to an extremely sober pep rally. The need for a little HR cheerleading is completely understandable, considering the month E&Y has had.


“[T]hey just talked about how they know morale is down, yet no plans for how to fix it. Additionally, they said there would be raises this year, but no mention of how large or small…[and] your basic HR ‘Thank’s for your help’ stuff.”

We haven’t heard the details for the cause “low morale” but it’s quite possible that it could be due, at least in part, to the ehmanlay rothersbay uckshowfay. Plus, busy season is in the home stretch and most people are just over it at this point. As far as fix for morale, our suggestions of Canadidan Tuxes, Timberlands and Hitler videos are obviously being ignored with extreme prejudice. We’re all out of suggestions. Maybe they aren’t the best ideas but at least we’re trying.

The silver lining here is that comp increases are still on the agenda after the initial announcement made by Steve Howe back in January. If they go back on this promise — we’re confident they won’t — you can just blame it on Dick Fuld.

Big 4 Firms Are Planning for Your Exodus

For some time now, Caleb has been touching on the upcoming/ongoing/always-occurring exodus from Big 4 into the private sector. The obvious reasons for the change from public to private are obvious, but here’s a few for kicks:

• Bigger pay day (and potential growth)

• CPA requirements completed

• Actual work/life balance

&ill set transition to a new career

There are other reasons of course, but it is the ferocious combination of these that leads to the breaking point – low morale.


Going Concern received an email from a distraught and burnt out Big 4 auditor from the Southeast region:

The level of morale in the [XYZ] office is at an all time low. Discussion with low level staff, through managers, have yielded the same opinion of overwhelming expectations without the needed support from the firm. They want us to draw blood from a turnip, and they want it done better, faster, and with less resources than last year. This has caused everyone to start exploring options in the market. A vast majority have started fielding resumes and contacting recruiting firms. The select few who have made it past that hurdle are interviewing with no looking back.

Not to downplay what this auditor is saying (and I’m not), but this sounds like the unfortunate reality of many auditors working on smaller, non-public clients. You know, the not-as-sexy-as-ABC Bank but just as important to the firm’s bottom line. You won’t get tickets to the pro sport’s game, but thankyouverymuch for your efforts.

The reader goes on:

Primarily, people have expressed their interest in holding out any real intentions of leaving until promotions roll around in the later part of the summer. They’re hoping that maybe there will be some juicy 20% raise waiting for them, but the stark reality of a measly 5% raise is what they know is coming. Any fifth year Seniors who are waiting for the promotion to manager are just using it for resume purposes.

Our offices are already using under qualified second year staff at the Senior level, as well as retaining new managers in the Senior position because they are extremely understaffed at that level. This, in turn, is causing all of those people to take measures to leave perhaps after busy season and certainly after the insulting promotions come through in August.

It’s a matter of time before this individual (and half of their respective office) becomes another statistic that the Big 4 HR guru’s term “natural attrition.” From an HR perspective, here’s a loose idea of the attrition formula:

Fall 2010: 100 new hires

Fall ’11: 95 new hires become “2nd years”

Summer/Fall ’12: 88 2nd years promoted to senior staff, 70 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’12: 2 years of public experience reached, 55 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’13: 45 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’14: 35 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’15: 25 seniors remain; 15 promoted to manager, 10 remain on as seniors

Summer/Fall ‘XX: 10 senior managers are eligible for partner

The recession stunted this formula for every firm, as they were forced to make cuts, not only for cost cutting purposes, but also to keep their staffing formulas close to being in-check. But think about it – your firm expects this kind of turnover. They know it’s a matter of time before their hiring class is whittled down to 10% of its original size.

And in the case of the reader, their firm dropped the analytic ball 3-5 years ago. Had they better estimated the percentage of projected losses, there would be more seniors to handle the work.

Remember that time you felt bad about leaving? They’re waiting for you to do so.