I would like to preface what I’m about to write with an important note. I have the utmost respect for Ed Mendlowitz (not like he gives three quarters of a rat’s butt cheek what I think of him because who the hell am I), he is an OG of the profession, and we are all fortunate that he so freely and graciously shares the wisdom of his many (MANY) years of experience with us. He is a respected author with an impressive resume and is regularly tapped to speak at industry events because his brain is jam-packed with 40 years of accounting experience and knowledge, but you should already know all that because he’s also a regular on the Accounting Today Most Influential list, among others. With that out of the way …
The other day I came across this Accounting Today opinion piece on the importance of moonlighting for young staff written by the esteemed Mr. Mendlowitz, and to be honest I had to check the publication date because it seemed like something written in 1991 not 2021. Nope. November 2021. OK just making sure.
Let’s jump right in:
When I started, I had to work three hours extra for two nights and five hours on the weekend. I got paid for the two nights, but not the weekend. I worked hard with intense concentration, but I also had time to hustle up tax return clients. I was single and I lived at home. No responsibilities, no cares and no unfinished work when I left, on time, for the day. Today it is different, and “we” complain about the millennials. It is not them. It is “us,” but that is a different soapbox.
In the past, he has acknowledged that the problem with managing millennials is not millennials themselves but rather the ones doing the managing. So despite nearly launching into a “back in my day” diatribe, we can rest assured this isn’t going to be yet another screed on how kids these days just don’t want to work. Whew.
While he does recognize today is different, it’s important to point out just how different. When Ed graduated from college in 1963, the annual cost of tuition at a four-year public college was $243, or $2,078 when adjusted for inflation. I don’t need to tell you just how drastically things have changed since then. Anyway, moving on:
It was important for me to moonlight, and I also think it is important for today’s staff. I believe that staff who moonlight are better performers, more entrepreneurial and better engaged with clients. They take more responsibility with their work and know how to complete a job. They understand the details and the clients’ reactions to what they receive, how it’s delivered, and how to make it user friendly.
Moonlighters also know the consequences of making mistakes and become much better employees because of that. The moonlighting creates added experience, and mistakes accelerate that experience. Plus, it is not on your time! They also are more process-oriented, manage their time better and develop self-checking techniques.
So the takeaway here is that accountants who do work on the side are better at their day jobs because something something experience in dealing with clients.
He goes on to acknowledge that picking up clients on the side probably won’t even be financially viable for the young moonlighter but it’s worth it for the experience. This is pretty much the “you’ll get exposure!” that artists hear all the time when they’re approached to give away their art for free, just repackaged for the professional services environment.
In the immortal words of Ms. Kimberly Wilkins, ain’t nobody got time for that. He continues:
From a money standpoint, moonlighting might not pay for them. If they work for a firm that pays overtime, they could probably work the extra time they are spending moonlighting and make as much. Plus, they would save on the software costs, a website and portal, office supplies, postage and overnight services, and professional liability insurance, and would not need a separate PTIN number. In many respects it is not the money, but the challenge and opportunity that they can do it. When I advise people who want to leave their jobs and start their own practice, I tell them that if they have not done any moonlighting, it would be much more difficult because it is an indication to me that they are not entrepreneurial.
Bro. It’s 2021. Just getting through the day is challenging enough. Inflation is running hot at 6.2% right now — the highest it’s been in 30 years — and Lord knows accounting firm salaries have barely budged in a decade. If staff are going to do any work on the side it’s gonna be OnlyFans accounts. At least they’ll get money for their exposure and not the other way around.
At the end of all this he says that the public accounting meat grinder essentially obliterates any opportunity for staff to pick up clients on the side, which makes me wonder why he even wrote any of the above in the first place. It’s filed under “Practice Management” so we do know it’s suggesting to firm leaders to lay off staff a little bit so they have more time to work when they aren’t also working. Not like they’d listen. And if they did, I’m willing to bet most staff have approximately 10 million things they’d rather do than pick up client work, like snaking their drains or getting their tires rotated. He goes on:
In today’s world of public accounting, there is pressure for staff to work as many hours as possible, pushing all reasonable limits. This pretty much wipes out any moonlighting opportunities and also wipes out the benefits to firms of their staff performing at a higher level that they learn to do on their own dime.
So what do you think? Is he right? Are the tens of thousands of public accountants who consider their obligation to the profession as beginning and ending with their day jobs missing out on the opportunity to broaden their skill set and learn client management? Does anyone not on the partner track even care about all that? Should firms do more to support this sort of entrepreneurial spirit? Since we’re one of the few publications still with an open comment section I encourage you to use it and let us know what you think. If you have time, that is.