At its core, accounting is a challenging career that requires growth and learning and can usually pay pretty well. There’s lots to do, and it requires developing expertise and finding ways to solve puzzles.
Organizations need folks who can understand broad frameworks and rules and interpret that to produce all sorts of things they need. So far, so good.
Even better, because it’s a challenging job that requires lots of training and experience, the supply of good accountants is never high enough to meet demand. So, the pay should be good, too, right?
Like anything nice, someone typically finds a way to make it soul-crushing.
Sure, accountants could come in, do the work, and go home at a reasonable time to see our families. But there’s a problem- It won’t make anyone else rich quick.
Hell, in most cases, accountants don’t even have a reason to leave home; accounting is a job that can be done at any time from anywhere. But still, for many, we have jobs with bosses, so we must follow along.
But wait, there’s more!
Organizations are onto the whole “get paid for the work you were hired to do” racket, so each year, the pressure increases. Stretch (see exhaustive) targets are tied to bonuses dangled like carrots. To even be considered for a promotion, you must go above and beyond what you were hired to do. Forced rankings declare good people “losers” and hint that maybe you should go elsewhere in the very near future.
On the comp side, accountants are routinely gaslit about their worth and how much they’ll earn because only a few firms control most of the salaries (which have barely risen in 10 years).
So, with costs rising and an income barely enough to survive on, accountants are naturally thrown into the pressure cooker just to survive.
Ok, fine, fine. We’ll do the tasks, and we’ll take a less-than-fair salary. But buckle up; here comes another train.
Apparently, organizations see accountants as expensive ditch diggers. Whereas if you aren’t constantly doing something and making visible progress, you are stealing time. Forget thinking and processing (the thing we do); You must be fully optimized all the damn time for you to be considered a resource rather than a burden.
And finally, for those brave souls inclined to go above and beyond in completing tasks or finding a way to make them better/faster, your reward is… you guessed it… more work! (Hint: The answer is always more work)
So, now we are constantly doing mentally tedious work at an unsustainable pace for a less-than-attractive salary.
Is it reallyyyyy a question about why those young whipper-snappers aren’t flocking to join accounting firms anymore, especially those renowned for their abuse?
Is it really a question about why young professionals and students don’t want to spend more time and money to become more educated getting their MAcc or CPA to be treated like this?
For myself and a growing number of similar professionals, the answer is to do something else and advise those behind us to do likewise. In my career, I sprinted to Director in 10 years and found the climb wasn’t worth it. I had to make a decision to leave to improve my health, be there for my family, and find a better way to be rewarded for my skills and expertise.
I joke to others now that my experience has taught me how not to run a business. Later this month, I will close a deal to buy a small accounting firm of my own, where my focus will be on doing the opposite of how accounting businesses & talent are treated today.
My bet is that you can run a profitable business and create a culture where people can do work they like AND are treated and paid beyond fairly. Game on.
Benjamin Wann, CMA, CSCA, MBA, PMP, CPA
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Best of luck! I’m finally leaving, too. I was reluctant for a few years only to continue to absorb additional work as wiser people left before me. Last year I did 2,200 billable hours and was only given more work. I’m a sucker…Anyone else thinking of leaving probably should–it only gets worse. “Next year should be better” has never come true in over 20 years.
It’s part and parcel with the ills of our capitalistic system. There needs to be laws written by us little people instead of the richy riches who own us lock stock and barrel. Capitalism should be working like it used to, that is, tax the living fuck out of the rich and let the middle class come back into existence. I’m a CPA, started at PwC and now work in industry as a controller. I’m still underpaid for the value I bring and there are a lot of folks making more money and working half the time, it’s a rough career and yeah, I don’t recommend it.
Great article. I. Am. Burnt. OUT!!!
There are 2 things most (if not all) people who work for others believe about themselves: 1) They work harder than everyone else, and 2) they are underpaid. In the majority of the cases, neither of those are true. You can always go work for another company, or, better yet, go start your own business. Then, it’s on you!
Found the partner (or boot licker). There are 2 things most (if not all) partners believe about themselves: 1) They earned it, and 2) subordinates don’t work hard enough. In the majority of the cases, neither of those are true.