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January 27, 2023

EY Reports a Rise in Naughty Behavior Now That People Have Returned to the Office

EY office in Sydney, Australia

EY Oceania has released its second Value Realised Scorecard — a wide-ranging report on how the firm is doing — and Daily Mail Australia immediately latched on to page 33: Workplace Incidents:

EY Australia workplace investigations

DM’s salacious headline “EY rocked by soaring number of sexual misconduct and bullying complaints as big four accounting firm workers return to the office after Covid and the tragic death of a female staffer who plunged from 10th floor balcony” slightly exaggerates the situation (shocking).

As we can see from the screenshot above, misconduct and disciplinary complaints are indeed up, though the majority of that increase comes from “breach of policy” complaints. Most concerning are the four substantiated multiple allegations (bullying, harassment, sexual harassment) compared to zero such incidents the year before.

The report makes clear that complaints are up compared to 2021 [2021 report] because people are back in the office together doing complaint-worthy things which they weren’t doing as much of during fiscal 21:

We have seen an increase in misconduct and disciplinary complaints in FY22. With many of our people working remotely in FY21 we saw a decrease in complaints due to people not being in the office or attending events together.

2021 was the first year EY issued a report like this so there’s no pre-pandemic report to compare it to. We’ll take their word on that.

The death DM’s headline mentions is potentially relevant to bullying and harassment at the firm. 27-year-old senior auditor Aishwarya Venkatachalam told a friend before she died in August that things weren’t going so great at EY Sydney. “She mentioned how mean some of her colleagues were,” the friend told DM. “I think things had just started to brew then… (some of) her colleagues and the racist angle was at play here.” Ms. Venkatachalam received her accounting degree in India and had only been in Australia since November 2021.

When initial reports emerged about a staffer being found dead at EY Sydney offices, there was an outpouring of comments about the “high pressure and workaholic culture” that may have caused undue stress on the young woman. In a news.com.au piece about the possible bullying, an EY and PwC alum explained the Big 4 pressure cooker: “You survive or leave,” he told news.com.au, on the basis of anonymity. “Each level punishes the next level down. They see it as: ‘If I had to do it, then you have to do it’ and it propagates the same kind of bad behaviour.” The aftermath of Ms. Venkatachalam’s passing left many at EY feeling as though leadership brushed over the incident. “Seems to be a reflection on leadership if something like this happens but it is just BAU. Made me feel like a totally replaceable resource,” said one to theaussiecorporate.

If you’re interested, you can view the full report here [PDF]. It is a robust collection of data outlining everything from supplier diversity to taxes paid by partners ($839 million) to turnover (22%, up from 19% the year before).

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