What CPA Firm Life Is Like to Young Staff
July 2006 (The Rosenberg Associates Ltd.) Since staff almost always tops the list of CPA firm concerns, last November The Rosenberg Associates Ltd. convened a group of staff to find out what the younger staff think. The participants, one each from 13 small and midsized local firms, ranged in age from 26 to 34; there were seven males and six females.
How they see their jobs
Staff today both like and dislike their jobs. Their firm cultures are positive, the long hours are negative. They like the variety of work, the clients, and their colleagues. One participant admitted that with the long hours, she had to like her co-workers. Of course, the pay is good. However, easily the worst part of their jobs is the tax season: long hours; Saturday work; enduring new, untrained staff hires; and perplexing dress codes. Unfortunately, they see the tax season as so onerous that it would cause them not to pursue a long-time career in public accounting.
What life in a CPA firm is like
From their perspective, the staff conscientiously works to accomplish their firm's goals; however, they face confusing situations along the way. Partners each have a different way of doing things, and staff don't understand why partners don't act more uniformly. Firms over-emphasize billable hours; WIP write-offs at times baffle staff. They want to know why write-offs occur, and whether it's within their control. They wish the partners would spend more time communicating with them about the firm, their jobs, and the work. Finally, they don't receive enough recognition from the partners for the sacrifices they feel they make.
Is a career in public accounting attractive to them?
Despite the struggle with work/life balance, they actively chose a career in public accounting versus industry. The work and the clients are multi-faceted. When we revealed to the group that the average partner salary nationally is $268,000, many, not all, were quite surprised. They do aspire to "partner-size" salaries. They are aware that business development is a key to advancement to partner, but perceive their skills lacking. They asked numerous questions about how to acquire business development skills.
What drives them and how they think; what their values are
They observed that partners work very hard and make many sacrifices, but the staff doesn't necessarily wish to emulate this behavior. In general, the staff aren't keen on sacrificing their personal lives and interests for the good of the firm. We asked, "Do you feel you work hard?" They felt they do work hard while they are at work. However, after work, they are in their own time. They feel that older partners have a single focus lifestyle while they have a dual focus. Divorce and downsizing are two concepts that characterize this generation. They don't want to work so hard that they sacrifice their marriages and families. They also don't want to be the sacrifices in an employment marketplace typified by constant mergers and downsizing. So, they'll work hard for you while they're there, but many won't stick around long enough to become partner.
So what would make the staff "stick it out" long enough to become partner?
-- MARC ROSENBERG is president of The Rosenberg Associates and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org The Management Catalyst, a publication of The Rosenberg Associates, Ltd. Used with permission.