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Prioritizing Work-Life Balance Remains a Top Focus for Accounting Firms

By Lizzy McLellan Ravitch.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (via TNS)

Opting for a career in accounting, Molly Kowal was motivated by the prospect of stability. Upon completing her college education in 2021, while witnessing peers in diverse fields grappling with job scarcity, she remained confident in her ability to secure employment.

Nonetheless, she is resolute about not succumbing to long working hours during peak seasons.

Expressing her generation’s emphasis on work-life balance, Kowal, an employee at EisnerAmper, a Philadelphia-based accounting firm, highlighted a shift in attitude towards demanding work schedules compared to previous generations.

Ha Pham, a 2019 college graduate, experienced firsthand the grueling hours demanded in her previous role at Deloitte, where she often logged over 100 billable hours per week during peak periods. This intense workload not only contributed to high turnover rates among both new and seasoned colleagues but also escalated the burden on those who remained. Consequently, she made the decision to resign approximately 10 months ago.

Pham reflected on her departure, citing a loss of self-identity as a pivotal factor. Transitioning to a tax accountant position at wealth management firm Stonehage Fleming last summer, she noted a marked improvement in workload manageability.

Despite the 2024 tax and audit season being comparatively less arduous than in pandemic-impacted years, industry experts underscored a persisting talent shortage within the accounting sector, particularly during busy periods.

This scarcity has prompted accounting leaders to reassess their operational strategies as young professionals receive numerous overtures from rival firms and recruiters.

Jen Cryder, CEO of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), acknowledged the evolving landscape, noting that firms that proactively adapted by implementing technological innovations and fostering a conducive work environment have mitigated the talent crisis more effectively.

Embracing Adaptability and Efficiency

Cryder emphasized that the accounting industry mirrors the talent crunch prevalent in other professional services, albeit with heightened intensity due to the stringent educational prerequisites for public accountants. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) must fulfill specific criteria, including completing 150 credit hours of college education, gaining practical experience, and passing a rigorous examination.

In response to the talent shortage, firms have adopted a more flexible approach to recruitment, as Christine Endres, a senior regional director at recruiting firm Robert Half, pointed out. This flexibility encompasses hiring individuals with potential for growth, accommodating remote or hybrid work setups.

Grace Kowal, Molly’s twin sister and also an accountant, transitioned to remote work at Aprio’s Maryland office in 2021. Observing the company’s shift towards remote hiring to attract talent, she highlighted the benefits of a remote work environment, facilitating better work-life integration.

While some professionals value in-person collaboration, others, like Molly Kowal, find solace in a hybrid work model that balances office presence with remote work flexibility.

Endres noted a shift away from fully remote hiring towards hybrid arrangements with adaptable in-office requirements, tailored to individual firm cultures and client needs.

Striving for Work-Life Balance

Both Molly and Grace Kowal noted their firms’ advocacy for limiting billable hours per week, with some firms externally promoting a “55-hour rule” during peak seasons to attract candidates. This marks a departure from past practices where employees often worked 60 to 70 hours per week.

By enforcing reasonable work hour limits, firms aim to prevent burnout and prioritize employee well-being. Leveraging technology and optimizing staffing, firms seek to enhance efficiency and streamline tasks, reducing the burden on accountants.

Despite these efforts, some firms may occasionally decline client engagements due to capacity constraints, leaving smaller organizations, like nonprofits and community banks, without adequate accounting support for audits. PICPA is advocating for legislative changes to raise revenue thresholds mandating audits for such entities, aiming to align regulatory requirements with actual risk factors.

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