The status of work-life balance issue in the accounting profession

2. Recommendations on improving work-life balance of CPAs

The survey also asked open ended questions resulting in a list of recommendations on improving work-life balance in the accounting profession.  Let’s take a look at some of these recommendations.

Provide True Support for Alternative Work Arrangements

Survey respondents noted that some firms (e.g., Big 4) talk about alternative work arrangements to create or maintain their positive image, but don’t provide sufficient internal support for such arrangements.  As an example, one ex-Big 4 employee respondent said: “Saying there is a commitment to ‘work life balance’ and not being committed to it is almost worse than not mentioning it at all.”  This quote summarizes the point well.

There should be sufficient support for alternative work arrangements at all levels in an organization, especially at the leadership level (remember “tone at the top”?).  There should also be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities for members of an accounting team, including for those with alternative work arrangements.  Finally, results of such arrangements should be analyzed in entirety, not singled out to unsuccessful cases.

Judge Based on Productivity, Not Office Visibility

Oftentimes, adopters of alternative work arrangements are judged inappropriately based on their office visibility instead of their productivity.  It may be part of human nature to unfavorably assess a person’s performance if that person is not in the office.  However, the study authors recommend making such assessments based on productivity.  Of course there will be instances where somebody’s productivity from working remotely, for example, will not be as great as productivity of working in the office.  But these are not 100% of all cases, and some people are actually much more productive if they work remotely (i.e., from home).  One survey respondent indicated: “Oftentimes the assumption exists that if the person is not in the office they are not working when they could be working even harder at home with an alternative arrangement.”

Make Alternative Work Arrangements More Visible

The survey authors indicate that firms should be providing more training about alternative work arrangements to their employees.  In some cases, such arrangements are buried in firm policies and employees may not even know they exist!  It almost sounds like firms create such policies for the sake of having them, but don’t publicize them internally to their employees.  One respondent provided this response: “Typically the alternative work arrangements are not widely promoted or discussed within the firm, which causes very few people to use them.”

Do Not Violate Alternative Work Arrangements

It is important to maintain alternative work arrangements even if there is a need to call somebody or get them back to work for an urgent matter.  If employees think their alternative work arrangements will be interrupted (and their pay still reduced due to alternative work arrangements), employees will not see much benefit in such arrangements.

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