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Reminder for Public Accounting Professionals: Working Long Hours Is Dumb

Fall is a quiet time of year for most capital market servants, and with the holidays coming up, it's about to get quieter.  

That will all change in early months of 2014 when working long days, nights, and weekends will become the norm at firms around the country. It's a depressing thought for many. And what's more depressing is that the whole culture of equating long hours with hard work and success in public accounting is dumb. Oh so dumb.

If you're new to public accounting or this here website, you might think that we don't know what we're talking about. But this isn't a new idea around here. I wrote a post on the topic over a year ago. Here's a taste of it, but the whole thing is worth a read (if I do say so myself):

[S]omewhere along the trajectory of the public accounting profession, someone decreed that long hours = good performance. This idea spread like wildfire to firms large and small and it still dominates the profession today. It has ingrained itself into the accounting industry DNA to such a degree that many people working in it today feel guilt – GUILT! – when they leave after a ten or eleven-hour day. That, my friends, is a travesty. 


The worst about this aspect of the culture in public accounting is that so many people say that "face time doesn't matter" when it's obvious that it does matter. You'll hear people at every level of your firm say it but it is a baldfaced lie. It matters a lot. It matters MORE THAN ANYTHING. 

We're bringing it up again today because there's a great post at We Are Mammoth discussing the topic. The context of the WAM post is in the tech industry but that hardly matters. The author, Jason James, lists several points that explain what long hours really mean and they should sound familiar:

1. You are working for free — Your big salary doesn't look so good when you're squeezing two weeks of working hours into one.

2. They set unrealistic expectations — Say your typical day is 10-11 hours and then, for whatever reason, you cut out at 5 pm on a random Thursday. People FREAK OUT.    

3. They create a cultural problem at your firm — As James writes, "working 80-100 hours a week simply destroys people." And when there are jobs out there that pay better and offer a better balance, of course people will leave public accounting. That sounds like an god-awful culture to be a part of.

4. They are a sign of weak leadership — These people are responsible for perpetuating the nightmare culture.  

5. They are a sign of poor project management — I took a hatchet to the New York Times for their piece that cited an EY team that "arrange[s] to cover for each other, helping make the busy season tolerable for everyone." Now, I grant you, these teams exist. I even worked on one for a while. But they are few and far between. Because most teams, regardless of their line of business, are short-handed, the project management is a failure out of the gate. Until more teams are adequately staffed, this will continue to be the case.  

6. High opportunity cost — Why don't you ask your significant other about this one? No significant other? Then ask your non-public accounting friends. Oh, no non-public accounting friends? What a surprise.

7. Martyrdom — Whenever someone says, "I didn't get out of there until after midnight," you should respond with, "Well, that's fucking stupid." 

8. They do not result in more productivity or better work — Humans require rest. Working long hours intereferes with our ability to rest and recharge so that we can productive the next day. Anyone that believes the contrary and says things like, "sleep is for the weak" is an asshole and an idiot.

James wraps things up with a bit of a concession for those sickos that want to work long hours:  

[I]f you are going to put in the extra hours, make sure it’s on your own terms.

Agree. Circle gets the square. But in public accounting, extra hours are rarely worked on your own terms. James addresses that too: 

[I]f some place or some job is making you feel like long hours “come with the territory” just know they are misleading you to their benefit, and you can find a better situation with some extra effort.

And because there's a huge demand for people with accounting skills, you can find a better situation with just a little effort, really. If you're new or low on the pecking order, don't let anyone give you the face time is paying your dues/this is how things are BS with a straight face. If you're a manager or partner, do whatever you can to help stop this idiotic aspect of the culture in the profession. It's a huge part of the reason that so many people leave it. 

What Long Hours Really Mean [WeAreMammoth via Lifehacker]