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December 2, 2022

Micromanagement in the Big Four

I joined a big four firm as an audit associate last year after I graduated from a MAcc program. I already had many years of industry experience but wanted to try public accounting. I knew about the long hours, stress, etc. But nothing prepared me for the level of micromanagement. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced, even when I was a high school kid working in food service.

On every engagement, someone asks me every hour how my work is coming along and when it's going to be done. I can't go to lunch until I'm told, and I have to eat with my coworkers. I can't leave until I'm told unless I get special permission. I work elbow to elbow with coworkers and supervisors and have zero privacy. If I pick up my phone to respond to a text or email, I get suspicious glances. 

I would expect these kinds of work conditions if I were a migrant farmworker or a machine operator on an assembly line. But it's totally inconsistent with my expectations for white-collar professional work. The brainwashed kids who do the micromanaging think it's normal because they've never worked anywhere else, and apparently it's what they learned in training.

Anyone who says this is what every first-year employee should expect obviously hasn't worked anywhere but public accounting. In other industries, entry-level professionals are given autonomy and expected to manage it responsibly. If they don't, they're held accountable. But they aren't treated like children from square one.

Has anyone ever discussed this issue with a big four manager? What kind of reaction did you get? I'm planning to go off about it at length in my year-end review.

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