There wasn’t too much news about the big 4 this week other than a few controversies that popped up so I wanted to speak about an article that was recently released in Quartz spoke about a millennial uprising at the big 4 accounting firm Pricewaterhousecoopers. This article was later picked up by Fortune.com
Quartz is a blog that speaks about management at large corporations and how to become a better manager.
The article starts out speaking about what the culture “used to” be like at PwC. According to the Quartz article, the culture at PwC used to be the standard cliché of the big 4 accountant working around the clock.
Candidates for big 4 jobs at colleges just knew that that’s how life had to be at the accounting firms. Candidates knew that you had to sacrifice thousands of hours of your life to succeed at the big 4, but everything changed for PwC in 2013 when 2/3 of PwC’s workforce became millennials.
This is when this millennial generation started complaining more about all those wasted hours according to the article. This time PwC was more willing to listen though because they were losing employees at historic levels and they were also losing college recruits.
The millennial workforce was ok with working long hours but they just wanted purpose and they wanted flexibility to work from where they wanted.
From my point of view, I agree with this because working at the big 4 is frustrating. So much of working at the big 4 is just showing and being present and waiting on workpapers or waiting in for a partner to sign off on an audit step, a tax return or a project.
The baby boomers used to be glad to have a job, so they might have been more willing to stay late for no reason. Millennials aren’t as willing because they know the way people work is changing. Millennials also value family time and working out more, so we want to get out and do those fun things that we enjoy instead of wasting time in a cubicle for our boss to get comfortable over some intangible deliverable.
According to the article, PwC tried to blame it on millennials being different, but when they actually questioned their workforce they found that everyone wanted the same thing. This included baby boomer.
This is another obvious observation to me.
Of course everyone rather spend time being with their family and enjoying their hobbies than in a cubicle or office all day. I won’t say everyone because I have encountered a few people out there that truly enjoying doing accounting and tax, but most people I’ve interacted with over my career are in accounting because it is a stable job. Not because working 80 hours a week is extremely fulfilling. Especially at the associate level where you don’t necessarily interact with the client and see their reaction to your work product. It’s hard getting a sense of fulfillment without seeing a client’s positive reaction to something you put together.
New worklife flexibility plan at Pricewaterhousecoopers
The article goes on to explain the various initiatives that PwC put in place to combat this terrible image they had internally and externally at college campuses. One of those initiatives was a flexibility plan. This flexibility meant that people could work for home when it fit their engagement and that they could leave early on Fridays. Most of the big 4 have some kind of flexibility policy at this point in time.
PwC Implements Discover Retreat for Newly Promoted Senior Associates
Another benefit that Pricewaterhousecoopers rolled out was a 4 day retreat for their newly promoted senior associates. The article says this retreat was rolled out in 2013, but it was actually rolled out in 2011 so quartz needs to check their.
The retreat is called discover. Since PwC rolled this out for newly hired senior associates, this means that most of those attending were in their early 20’s like 24 or 25. They were basically all millennials. This is a key datapoint because there is a lot of sharing that goes on at Discover. Millennials are more willing to open up about who they are than baby boomers are according to Quartz.
The objective of this retreat is to show the young people at pwc that the organization cares about them, but it is also to help the new senior associates learn tactics to help them last in their careers by teaching them mindfulness techniques and other well being techniques.
There is a lot of fun at these retreats because they have things like yoga and rock climbing.
There is also a lot of openness and vulnerability at these retreats.
The retreats start out with a ‘Who Am I’ story where these new senior associates try to figure out who they are by telling stories about themselves in a group setting. There is a lot of crying and vulnerability in these sessions.
Overall the sessions are meant to help young people figure out who they are, network with other professionals and begin to think about how to make their professional lives more sustainable.
Work well, Be well
The article also speaks about PwC’s policy around work well be well which is a health project that PwC signed up for through the advice of another consulting firm.
Can I just say something here. I always find it hilarious in the big 4, that they hire external consultants when they have thousands of internal consultants. I don’t doubt that their internal consultants make more by billing clients, but not every consultant at PwC is working at 100% capacity. I know that not every consultant at PwC is also well versed in physical fitness and mindfulness. However, if you utilized associates with free time to surf the web and come up with a well being program, I think they would be able to come up with something interesting that the big 4 could implement.
The outside consulting firm that PwC utilized is named the Energy project. The belief of the energy project is that companies see better results when their employees manage their time better and avoid burnout. They believe that productivity drops off after 50 hours of working a week. Many other firms like Goldman Sachs and law firms have not adopted this mentality and still demand 70 hour weeks from their employees. The energy project has worked with other large companies like Google, Facebook, Coke and Pfizer.
PwC has partnered with the Energy project and adopted the work well be well approach to helping employees balance their time and adopt a more healthy lifestyle by working out and utilizing mindfulness.
What does this mean. I think all these things being adopted by PwC are great news and it makes Pricewaterhousecoopers sound like the Disneyland of the big 4 accounting firms, but I would caution people from reading too much into this article. At the end of the day, PwC and the other big 4 firms are still a client service business set around deadlines. I believe this post was a bit of corporate blogging. Corporate blogging is where large corporations use other companies platforms like Quartz to portray their message so that it looks like an independent story.
I think PwC helped facilitate the writing of this story to increase recruiting numbers, and the story speaks to that a little bit. I’m not saying that Pricewaterhousecoopers or any of the other big 4 are evil or duplicitious, but I also think that a workwell program and a retreat or only as good as the leaders that adopt them. If the leaders of PwC and the big 4 don’t adopt or believe in these programs, then millennials and recruits are still going to burnout. At the end of the day, if you want to test the big 4 on their worklife balance programs, ask just one question when you are interviewing. Ask your big 4 recruiter or big 4 partner that you are interviewing with, how they measure their employees. Ask them if they use utilization or billable hours as a key metric of performance. I can already tell you the answer. The answer is yes. You typically have to have high utilization as well to be a good performer and achieve promotions. This means that you have to have at least close to 35 hours charged to a client a week. This doesn’t include time for administrative tasks like group meetings and taking webinars. So if you take time out of your day at the big 4 to do some meditation, you aren’t going to be rewarded for it. You are still going to be expected to fill out your time sheet with chargeable time. It’s hard to avoid burnout and get your utilization because if you remember form the article burnout starts to occur at 50 hours of work a week.
Being rewarded by how much time you charge to client codes is true even if you are efficient. For example, if you can complete a 30 hour project in 10 hours, you don’t get a reward or bonus. You get more work so that you can make your firm more money.
What else can we learn from this Quartz article? It points out that some of the firms have perks that are worth investigating. PwC has Discover and Deloitte has Deloitte University. Should you choose a big 4 because of these perks? No you shouldn’t pick a firm only because of a perk that you have to wait years to receive, but it does speak to the culture of Deloitte and PwC versus EY and KPMG. My main takeaway is don’t think that PwC or the big 4 are 100% focused on your wellbeing because of this article. They are still major corporations that are in existence for client service and billable hours. Until they get rid of metrics of billable hours and utilization, it will be extremely hard to have true worklife balance and flexibility. However, culture is important, and it appears that PwC’s culture is leaning a little bit more towards employee focused than some of the other big 4.