October 18, 2021

F*ck the Firms, It’s Your Show Now

Several weeks back I had an early morning appointment halfway across town and though I usually bike everywhere, I decided I didn’t feel like working up a sweat at 7:30 a.m. so I called an Uber. Rather, I attempted to get an Uber, however not a single vehicle was on the road. I live in a major metropolitan area, never before have I had an issue getting a ride even at an ungodly hour like 6:30. I re-downloaded Lyft to see if I might have better luck there and finally secured a ride after two others canceled on me and a 30 minute wait.

I’m the type to talk to strangers (maybe the reporter in me idk) and on our way to my destination I mentioned how strange it was that I struggled so hard to snag a ride. “Yeah,” said my driver. “No one wants to work. The unemployment is too good. Don’t blame ’em.”

Now, we’re not here to debate whether or not the currently-unemployed should get off their butts and go to work. That said, my driver’s comment got me thinking about how in a workers’ market, workers whose needs are met will not willingly choose to work low-paying, shitty jobs if they don’t have to. Just look at all the minimum wage restaurants around you with big, bold WE’RE HIRING signs slapped up all around the building. Employers are desperate, but not desperate enough to pay workers more than can be made by staying home on unemployment looking for something better.

I considered this when putting together Friday Footnotes the other week. ICYMI, two of the eight articles from the week were about the ongoing — and worsening — talent crunch happening as we speak in accounting. This topic has been a favorite of ours over the years but it’s telling that the AICPA’s incoming new Chair came strong out of the gate with an almost aggressive stance on talent recruitment. It’s not surprising, given that this has been an issue for as long as I can remember, but it is signaling a real panic on the part of TPTB that the pipeline is a little too thin for comfort. From the Journal of Accountancy:

[Bill] Pirolli’s focus is incredibly timely, as leaders of the profession are adopting strategies designed to ensure that the best and brightest young people will continue to be attracted to the CPA credential. Jobs at popular technology companies and startup opportunities are enticing for young people who are highly skilled in the latest tech, yet the accounting profession needs them more than ever.

See where I’m going with this? The profession is the Hardee’s down the street with NOW HIRING on a marquee sign out front wondering why it’s so darn hard to find people to work.

As previously discussed ad nauseam, the profession has an image problem. Which, OK fine whatever, accountants are never going to be cool (and it’s cringe when they try). But what accounting lacks in raw coolness it has historically made up for in salary and opportunity, at least to the extent that otherwise unremarkable individuals can phone in a four-year degree at a state school and still have many of the same opportunities usually afforded to only the “best and brightest” in other sectors (I’m looking at you, lawyers). As time has gone on, it’s becoming harder and harder for accounting to compete as a viable career and why not? If someone really wants to work an obscene amount of hours they can go do it in tech and at least maybe get some stock options and some bragging rights out of the deal.

So there’s a recruiting problem. OK, we knew that. The problem is that firms are also bleeding warm already-recruited bodies, especially at the senior level. Perhaps because the market is just that hot, or perhaps the last 15 months gave all of us a lot of time to reflect and realize that killing ourselves for an employer who will happily throw us away the minute things might get tough just isn’t worth it. Surely most of you already knew this, it’s just so much more real when the news is saying that some guy standing too close to you in line at the grocery store could literally kill you I guess.

Here’s the deal. You’ve been told from day one to protect your professional reputation, to “shut your mouth and do your time” like the generation(s) before you because that’s just what you do and God forbid you burn a bridge or — gasp! — make a move that leaves the firm in a pinch because they purposely kept your engagement staffed with as few of you as possible.  This is just how it’s always been, and most people put up with it because they felt their needs were being met.

But now that it seems everyone is making a run for the door, it’s becoming clearer just how understaffed teams are, and how unreasonable it is for firms to expect 110% at all times because what, that’s how it’s always been? Nice try, Boomer, this ain’t that market.

Repeat after me: the firm’s staffing problems are not your problem. Perhaps if one person leaving for greener pastures puts them in that much of a bind they should stop running everyone so ragged and consider, idk, getting some more hands on deck to share the work. Crazy concept, I know. Granted it’s a bit different when everyone is leaving but again, that’s not your problem. They are fully aware that the long hours and unreasonable expectations drive people away, they just don’t care. In fact, we can safely assume they accounted for estimated turnover when all the Covid cuts happened early last year, the leaving is baked into the business model. They just weren’t expecting everyone to leave at the same time.

I’m not sure you guys understand just how much leverage you have here. Much like someone trying to sell a former hoarder home with trucks on cinder blocks in the front yard and dead cats in the basement, demand is so high that it doesn’t even matter what you’re selling. You have options. You certainly don’t have to suffer just because that’s what people who are dead now did 50 years ago when the world (and the profession) was a very different place.

Just how good is the market out there? We’ll visit that shortly in a follow-up. For now, brush up that resume and feel free to skip that 8:30 a.m. Zoom call. I mean, what are they gonna do, fire you? Good luck with that.

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7 Comments

  1. Tired of hearing these cries that the profession is stalling out! This is all such a joke!

    You want to open up the pipeline? You want it to look sexy? JUST PAY MORE!!! It is that simple and easy… The thing is, these owners are crying because they don’t want to pay more. The pipeline problem is a myth.

    The real question is: when the heck are these boomers gonna get out the way and make some room for us to come up!?

    1. They, like everyone else, “enhanced” their lifestyles as their salaries increased. I don’t think a lot of these boomers are going to go willingly.

  2. Pay more to employees you greedy bastards. Accounting is unsexy as is already and you can delay buying your third house or that second yacht.

  3. This conversation is loooonnngg overdue! Having a heart attack while in the office still didn’t get my manager’s attention that me and my teammates could not sustain 80 hour work weeks!

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