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Accounting Firms Allowing Side Gigs: Good Idea or Independence Mine Field?

These days, you hear more and more about people juggling multiple projects at once. You know, a day job, the moonlighting gig, a passion project, the "I was just fucking around and it became a thing"1 thing, among others. 

You would think that accounting firms, known for working people so hard that it renders them utterly incapable of even thinking of doing anything else, wouldn't have to worry about employees working outside their jobs. But according to the Australian Financial Review, it's become enough of an issue Down Under that PwC had to address it:

PricewaterhouseCoopers tech consultant Mark Chatterton would have been scared to put "Founder of smart phone app HomeInspectr" on his LinkedIn profile alongside his fulltime gig at the consulting giant three years ago.

Now, it is not just acceptable but embraced as adding to a consultant's credibility with clients.

"People doing these type of things two, three years ago weren't open about it," Mr Chatterton said. "Now it's actively supported."

Mr Chatterton is part of a growth trend that PwC believes will rewrite the rules of engagement with both staff and clients.

PwC used to order recruits to shut down other ventures when they joined the firm under its partnership's terms and conditions. Now that policy is waived.

"Staff have always had interests outside of work, property investment, stock portfolios, restoring cars, that was seen as ok but technology ventures were typically seen as a threat," PwC digital change leader John Riccio said.

During my KPMG days, I had a colleague who ran a small business on the side. This was not some hobby, but a full blown business that had operations and employees in multiple cities. He regularly took calls for this business during the work day, went to meetings over his lunch or when he could get away and, of course, spent nights and weekends on it when he wasn't burning the midnight oil for KPMG. He did inform the managers and partners that he worked for about it, and they were cool as long it never interfered with his Klynveldian duties. The whole situation was on a need-to-know basis, however, as I'm sure if the wrong person heard about what was going on, there would've been some pearl clutching. This went on the whole time he was at the firm.   

These days, I'm not so sure all the whispering would be necessary. In Australia anyway, PwC is developing policy to address it:

We need to prepare not only for a new relationship with our customers but with our people," [PwC Australia head of consulting, Neil Plumridge] said.

Riccio said allowing this shift to occur "naturally" within the organisation rather than "in Black Ops mode" requires policy.

In the case of PwC, the two most significant were waiving the claus that required staff to shut down other commercial ventures, and extending flexible work arrangements to all roles last August. 

Now, this is all very well and good, but I can't help but think that there could be some independence pitfalls around this. We all know that independence is a joke, but for the sake of appearances, firms would have to tiptoe through a few minefields to ensure2 everything is on the up and up. It gets complicated for the two-timing employee, especially if the firm puts their foot down and says cut it out or quit.

A source at PwC, who wished to remain anonymous, said that an employee's side gig, can't violate independence rules or the person's full-time position and has to be approved by the firm's ethics and compliance group. "Once you pass that threshold, you will get written approval," the person said. Maybe the rigamarole isn't that bad and it might even be worth it depending on the situation.

Generally speaking, the gig economy is a good thing. It gives people more control over their careers and they can provide a much needed morale boost when the day job is a grind, but still necessary. Granted, you have to be careful which gigs you pick up; driving for Uber might not turn out so well for you, but if your homemade salsa has been selling out at the farmer's market, that could turn out very well for you. But then again, it's January and most of you are staring busy season square in the eye. The idea of getting home to start job #2 probably sounds like a suicide mission.

Is anyone out there burning the candle at both ends with a startup or other side gig? Have you told your day job about it? Anyone think it's a bad idea, that it's not worth risking the security of your tried and true full-time job? Let's talk it out.

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1 Pretty much explains how I got this job.
2 Or, at least, make a halfassed argument.