An Accountant’s Perspective Through the Years
By Frederick P. Bara, CPA,Spire Group –
November 8, 2017
“Business as usual” is a phrase that’s commonly used throughout the accounting profession. However, the accounting industry is undergoing a change, meaning business as usual is no longer the norm.
As the bulk of the workforce transitions from Boomers to Millennials, many of the old ways of doing business are being rebooted. Public accounting firms need to adapt to better attract and retain the changing talent demographic. The long hours of busy season and the standard 9-to-5 day are concepts of the past. Millennials desire flexibility and regular feedback from their mentors. The concept of a boss is shifting from a traditional engagement manager to a leader who evaluates not only how his or her employees interact with the firm on a job-by-job basis, but also how they are growing and developing as professionals.
Busy Season and Work Life
I remember the first firm I worked at. It was a mid-sized public accounting firm in Morristown, NJ. The managing partner was a gruff and well-seasoned CPA who had chewed down No. 2 pencils in every conference room and called you in to review workpapers and tax returns. These were the days before paperless was the hot topic, and e-filing was just becoming the norm. Busy season was defined as 55-plus hours per week, with core hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and the whole office had bagels and donuts for breakfast on Saturdays. Most CPAs have experienced some version of this busy season.
But busy season 2017 was something new for me. The hours were still the same — it’s hard to get away from the compressed filing season combined with ever-changing compliance rules — but that was pretty much the only holdover from busy seasons of the past. Saturdays were optional, and I don’t mean you-better-show-up-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-your-career type of optional; rather, if you were able to meet client expectations and deadlines, you were only expected to be available. Some people did continue to come in to the office on Saturdays (old habits are hard to break), but many of the junior staff were able to leverage the technology available and were as productive, if not more so, working from home on evenings and Saturdays. Partners and senior management made it a priority to push the freedom to work from home when it made sense, including on Saturdays. The ability to avoid a regular commute to the office was well received by most.
Boss Versus Mentor
Previously, I’ve found that reviews and raises were never a huge focus of either employees or bosses. You would do your job, get occasional feedback in the form of review notes, and move on. Once a year, you would spend ten minutes with your boss discussing your work over the past year. However, feedback and professional development are extremely important today. We are trained to regularly give and receive feedback on a timely basis. We learn how to deliver the feedback in a manner that the recipient will receive positively. Sure, this may seem a bit too politically correct and forced at times, but the intent and ultimate goal is to develop staff by offering comments in a manner they can understand and grow from.
As a result of training and regular feedback, relationships between management and staff grow stronger. Developing an understanding of the goals and desires of our professionals allows the firm to better develop them. The typical boss has been replaced with a mentor; someone the staff knows has their best interest at heart and is willing and able to advocate on their behalf. There is a significant time commitment involved in being a mentor, but it’s easily outweighed by the benefits of reduced attrition, increased knowledge sharing, and a better ability to interact between co-workers and clients.
We all have our preconceived notions of what an accountant is supposed to look like. I know I did when I was about to graduate from college. But as I have transitioned through the various levels of public accounting, I have met some truly amazing people and been met head on with a diverse crew.
Firms strive to find the best candidate for the job. We look at individuals who have the knowledge set we desire, but, just as important, we evaluate if they will fit in with our team. Luckily for me, my coworkers are individuals from across the globe. Their unique perspectives and varied backgrounds allow us to reach out and relate to a wide range of clients, and their fluency in many languages allows us to meet the needs of foreign clients seeking to set up new operations in the U.S. These are all great for business, but, for me, the most important aspect of working with a varied team is how it can teach each of us about different perspectives and being tolerant of differing views.
For as far as the accounting profession has come, we still have a long way to go; this is just the tip of the iceberg. Technology changes on an almost daily basis, and the needs and desires of today’s workforce will most certainly be different than those of its successors. Public accounting will always remain in a constant state of change, and firms that embrace this reality will be well situated to meet the needs of their employees and clients now and in the future.
Frederick P. Bara
Fred Bara is a manager with Spire Group and has extensive knowledge in various state and local tax issues that small business owners face. He focuses on helping those owners effectively and efficiently run their enterprises. He provides compliance support and consulting services across many industries.
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This article appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.