September 27, 2021

The Culture of Guilt

Last week I wrote about guilt in accounting firms. Part of it went like this:

Accounting firms were built on guilt! It's part of their culture! Generation upon generation of partners talking about paying dues, mandatory 60-hour weeks (that doesn't include the 20 you ate!), bending over backwards in the name of "client service," timesheets and ignoring your loved ones all for meager pay. Then, if you're lucky, you'll become a partner and then you can instill that in the next crop of capital market servants.

Everyone — up to and including the CEO of Deloitte! — who has spent time working at a firm knows what I'm referring to here. It's 5:30 pm on a Wednesday and many people around you show NO signs of leaving anytime soon. Because you're not a complete narcissist, empathy floods the bloodstream and you can't help but think that maybe you should hang out until at least 6 just for the sake of appearances.

Except that's not empathy! It's guilt! The feeling that you should hang in there with your fellow capital market defender out of camaraderie and/or out of the fear that someone will see you slinking towards the lobby, look at their watch and make a mental note of how lazy you are.

But you're not lazy! It just so happens that your work is done for the day or one of those little people that lives in your house will be playing piano or kicking a soccer ball or something. 

There's something to intrinsic to a client service business like accounting that fosters these kinds of feelings. I'm sure lawyers, bankers and others suffer from the same affliction. The question is — does it have to be this way? It's pretty easy to say, "Yes, it's always been this way." but for a profession in a full-fledged talent war, it might not be sustainable. 

Have a guilt-free week.

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