Why an 80-hour work week doesn’t have to be the norm for accountants

While tax season may be over, some accountants are still finding themselves working long hours. At many firms, it’s common for accountants to put in up to 80 hours a week, working late into the night and on weekends to complete year-end audits or tax returns.

The culture of overwork is ingrained in many corners of the accounting sector, a challenge exacerbated by a tight labour market that’s left some firms short-staffed. But some in the industry feel strongly that it’s time for accounting firms to rethink this model.

“People don’t want to work to the point of exhaustion and not have the opportunity to enjoy life,” says J. Rolland Vaive, founder of Vaive and Associates.

“Many firms tell young people to work hard for a couple years and promise that things will eventually settle down. But young people see the long hours at every level and they don’t want that.”

A 2018 survey by trade publication Accounting Today found that 71 per cent of large firms in the industry are struggling to find talent. That can often mean that the rest of a firm’s team is forced to shoulder a heavier burden.

However, workplace culture also plays a big role. Vaive remembers working long hours in his early years. He says senior accountants are trapped into thinking that this is normal and subsequently perpetuate a culture where young accountants are encouraged to work long hours. When he launched his own firm, Vaive wanted to create a more sustainable culture in which work-life balance is valued and a predictable 40-hour work week is the norm.

Of course, the nature of the industry means that a few extra hours are often needed during tax season. To offset this, Vaive closes the office on Fridays during July and August so his staff can enjoy extra long weekends over the summer. Senior staff are also encouraged to monitor the hours that members of their team are logging and offer assistance as needed.

While Vaive says these policies are a way of treating staff fairly and with respect, he also says it’s good for business. Citing research from Harvard University, Vaive says predictable work hours, combined with time off at night and on weekends, is tied to higher productivity.

Since introducing the reduced summer schedules some five years ago, Vaive says he’s seen lower turnover and improved morale. “The key word is sustainability,” he says. “We don’t want people to burn out.”

Vaive and Associates

441 MacLaren Street, Suite 200A
Ottawa, ON K2P 2H3

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