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CFOs See Concern Over Long Hours
Accounting and financial professionals have never enjoyed short hours and light workloads, but have things gotten even worse in recent years? According to a new survey by Accountemps, one in three chief financial officers (35 percent, to be precise) cited heavy workloads as the top workplace concern for their financial teams.
Job security ranked second, chosen by 19 percent of the CFOs as the number one issue, followed by corporate governance and compliance issues (17 percent), personnel issues such as co-worker conflicts and office politics (14 percent), and work/life balance (11 percent).
The accounting workload really is different these days, according to Accountemps Regional Vice President Susan Afan. "It used to have peaks and valleys. They were monthly and year-end, and then there was tax season and it was cyclical," she says.
Now, not only are there more compliance deadlines, the office follows us home: "With the advent of us being able to check our e-mails through our home computers and PDAs, accountants feel like they're on and working all the time."
How much you work, and when you put in the most hours, may depend on where you work. Anita Hamilton, a senior staff accountant handling internal accounting and financials for Groundwater & Environmental Services, Inc., in Exton, Pa., has plenty of time for long lunches four or five days a month. "Then, the last week of the month, I'm working 24/7, eight days a week," she says. "That's my biggest frustration."
Unlike the CFOs, Hamilton's leading concern isn't her workload, but something that didn't even appear on the survey. "My biggest concern is the accuracy of what I do when I'm under the gun, because a lot of people count on the accuracy of my work," she says.
Sharlyn Turner, a director at Peterson Sullivan PLLC in Seattle says job security, the number two concern of the surveyed CFOs, wouldn't make the list of top three concerns at her firm. "Staffing is our number one concern, and I guess that translates into the hours we're all working," she says. At Peterson Sullivan, auditors are working 45 to 65 hours a week, while tax folks are putting in 35 to 45 hours.
"To be doing 50 or 60 hours a week in June is not the traditional model for public accounting, and that's not what we like to see," says Turner. "We'd like to keep it under 50 hours a week because it does wear on people." To keep the hours down, the firm has been hiring experienced staff and increased its hiring of students.
Jumping into Finance
Private equity analyst Vincenzo Villamena was putting in 12-hour days, plus eight more hours on Saturdays, at the Big Four job he left earlier this year. His move into a private equity position meant trading an intense busy seasons for hours that change with the deal flow.
"At accounting firms, you have the really tough busy season and it takes a lot out of you," he says. "Then, in spring and summer, it's lax in that people would get in at 9 or 10 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. On Fridays, if you'd already worked 40 hours, you could pull a half day."
Finance, by contrast, is "up and down," Villamena says. "When we're doing a deal, it can be intense. One week you're working hard, and then the next, there's not anything on the table." However, he finds private equity to be so fascinating that the times when there are long hours don't bother him. "What I do now is a lot more interesting," he says.
Steven Bortnick, CPA, partner at Bederson & Co., LLP, in West Orange, N.J., says in the compliance business, there's always another deadline coming up. "Payroll and sales taxes have to be filed on time, even if the client's volume is off or down," he notes.
For him, seasonality still exists. "It's easily a 40- to 50-hour work week, and certain times of the year it's 60 or 70 hours a week. During tax season, everyone faces a deadline," Bortnick says.
But don't get him wrong. Bortnick's definitely not complaining. "If you're not busy, you're dead," he says.
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