Last August the body of a 27-year-old woman was found at EY’s Sydney office early one Saturday morning, turns out the woman was an auditor at the firm and had returned to the office late Friday night to get some work done after drinking with colleagues earlier that evening. EY staff would later say they felt left in the dark on the situation and criticized leadership for a lack of transparency. “They brushed over the incident at the start of the call and then went on to talk about the EY demerger for the remaining 50 minutes,” said one person who was on the firmwide call that took place the Wednesday after their colleague’s death. So basically “Yeah so someone died, anyway let’s talk about Project Everest.”
The deafening cacophony of public criticism for their handling of the matter prompted EY Oceania to engage an outside consultant for a workplace culture review of member firms in Australia and New Zealand. The results of that independent review were made public today, a move the independent consultant said “represents an act of courageous leadership and a deep desire to learn and grow.”
Key findings from the review as summarized in the firm’s press release are:
Overall, the vast majority of people feel safe in EY Oceania workplaces and believe people behave in a respectful manner towards others. Over nine in ten of our people agreed that they always feel safe in their workplace (94%) and that people behave in a respectful manner towards others (92%).
Some 74% of people report that they rarely feel excluded in the workplace, suggesting that a significant minority at times do feel excluded.
However, positive experiences are not experienced by all, and negative experiences have a significant impact on individuals, teams and the firm.
Despite initiatives to advance a safe, inclusive and respectful culture, in the last five years 15% of people have experienced bullying, 10% indicated they had experienced sexual harassment, and 8% of people experienced racism.
Long working hours and overwork are a critical issue, having a negative impact on individual wellbeing, team cohesion and retention with 46% reporting that their health has been negatively affected as a result, and two in five people considering quitting.
31% of people at EY are working 51 or more hours in a week, at least one week out of every four; approximately one in ten (11%) are working 61 or more hours in a week, at least one week out of every four.
There is a relatively high level of confidence that EY Oceania can address many of the issues explored in the Review with 78% feeling confident the organisation will make meaningful change in relation to sexual harassment, 74% in relation to racism, and 70% in relation to bullying. However, only 31% of people are confident EY Oceania can change a culture of long work hours and overwork.
Because EY would be loath to give the impression it is the only Big 4 firm with the above issues they add:
The Report identifies that many of these issues are known challenges across professional services firms in Australia, particularly balancing productivity and wellbeing, and that these issues lend themselves to shared learning and shared problem solving across firms.
Said David Larocca, EY Regional Managing Partner and CEO Oceania, in a very long quote block:
“There are findings in the report that are distressing and completely unacceptable. Bullying, sexual harassment and racism have no place at EY Oceania and I apologise to anyone who has suffered as a result.”
“The purpose of this independent review was to enable us to listen and learn so that we can action the feedback. We are determined to ensure EY Oceania is a more respectful and inclusive workplace, where everyone feels empowered to speak up”.
“While the report shows many people have had a positive experience working at EY Oceania, it also shows that this is not everyone’s experience and that we have fallen short of the standard that everyone who works at EY has a right to expect. The impact of long working hours is also significant and taking a heavy toll on the wellbeing of many of our people.”
“EY Oceania accepts all of the recommendations made in the report and commits to their implementation. It is critical that all our people have the opportunity to reflect on what this report has told us, and that they are able to contribute to the meaningful action we take in response to these findings.”
“I’m heartened to know that the vast majority of people who participated want change, have confidence in our commitment to action this change and are keen to do what they can to accelerate cultural transformation”.
“I am grateful to everyone who participated in the Review and shared their experience. I thank them for their honesty and courage in coming forward.”
The full 142 page report can be found here [PDF]. Be warned, the first page comes with a content warning:
We wish to advise that this report contains some distressing personal stories of harmful behaviours. As a reader, you may experience a range of emotions, particularly if you have directly experienced or witnessed harmful behaviours yourself. Please use your available support networks.
If people are interested, we can do a deeper dive on the findings.