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September 29, 2023

Public Accounting Firms Would Be Wise to Incorporate a ‘No Bitching’ Clause Into Their Bonus Structures

When you work in public accounting you meet a diverse group of individuals. They all have different life, education, and professional experiences and that’s what makes working for these businesses so interesting.

Despite these differences, all these people have one thing in common. Something so basic, so fundamental to the culture of the public accounting industry, that we almost forget that it happens. Sort of like breathing or bagel cravings.

That’s right, my friends, I’m talking about the incessant complaining that every single of you do on a daily basis. Not a billable hour goes by that doesn’t include a capital market servant kvetching on a wide range of things. From your POS laptop to nonresponsive clients to the latest technical update email that has no relevance to you whatsoever to Outlook randomly shutting down to someone stealing your clearly marked Hotpocket out of the freezer to that idiot in the next cubicle who talks unnecessarily loud on his phone to filling out time & expense reports to that sorry excuse of a coffee machine to that MONSTER who leaves newspapers on the bathroom stall floor, the causes for bitching are countless.

The Atlantic expanded on a Sue Shellenbarger Wall Street Journal column that discussed coping with the “workplace whiner,” discussing the various types of co-workers that drive us all crazy, but this passage was particularly interesting:

Tips in Shellenbarger’s piece to combat all [the whining] include changing the subject, zoning out, asking your whiny coworker what he or she plans to do about the issue or suggesting taking it to a superior, moving your desk to a complaint-free zone, and so on. Some bosses have even incorporated cash reward programs for workers able to keep from complaining or gossiping for a certain amount of time.

Hold the fucking phone – “cash reward programs for workers able to keep from complaining or gossiping for a certain amount of time”? Where are these employers that award NOT bitching and where do I sign up? If someone were to come to me on a Monday morning and inform me that bonuses would be awarded that week based on “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” I’d never utter a syllable on the job again and I’d be swimming in gold doubloons by the end of the week.

Clearly, for a number of reasons this type of a structure would be perfect fit for public accounting firms although the metrics could get tricky. Among them: How long would a person have to cease from bitching to receive an award? How much would the award be? How often would one be eligible for the non-bitching bonus? One bonus a week? One bonus a month? Would there be a cap on the amount that could be awarded to an individual? All these and more would have to be addressed but I think we can all agree that this could be the start of something big for employees of accounting firms and ultimately the firms themselves since they would benefit from the boosted morale and productivity (completely predicated on employees bottling up rage, but still) from less complaining.

Let’s consider an example bonus structure:

  • No complaints for an hour – $1 spot bonus
  • No complaints for a work day (8 hours) – $20
  • No complaints during overtime hours – $20, per OT hour (contingent on completing 8 hours of non-bitching)
  • No complaints about superiors for one week – $100
  • No complaints about superiors for one month – $500
  • No complaints about anything in the week following a poor performance review – $500
  • No complaints about anything in the week following a compensation discussion – Raise is >10%: $20; Raise is <10%: $1,000; Raise is <5%: $2,000; Raise is 0%: $5,000

A structure such as this would obviously be subject to strict enforcement by a third party impervious to corruption (job creation!), with so much as an eyeroll making you ineligible for payment. Firms would have to make changes to price points and conditions to meet their own needs but overall, this frame is sound.

Once these are in place, much of the subjectivity in incentive-based payment would be unnecessary and performance, at least in this regard, would be far more measurable and thus, a vast improvement over what exists at present.

Workplace Whiners and the Other Coworkers You’ll Know [Atlantic]

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