A Contemporary Analysis of Accounting Professionals’ Work-Life Balance

Practical Implications:

This study offers (1) insights into how different types of accountants perceive work-life balance and alternative work arrangements (which are supposed to fix the work-life imbalance) and (2) advice from accountants on how firms can make alternative work arrangements more effective. The findings of this study may be useful to public accounting firms (employers in industry) that wish to understand their employees’ perceptions of work-life balance and potentially implement changes to enhance their employees’ actual work-life balance.

Citation:

Buchheit, S., D.W. Dalton, N.L. Harp, and C.W. Hollingsworth. 2016. A Contemporary Analysis of Accounting Professionals’ Work-Life Balance. Accounting Horizons 30 (1): 41-62.

Purpose of the Study:

Work-life balance is not only the biggest driver of job satisfaction among accountants, but it also has important implications for audit quality and the supply of accountants. Despite its importance, little research has investigated how accountants, employed in various settings, perceive work-life balance (e.g., work-family conflict and job burnout) as well as support for and viability of the alternative work arrangements that are reputed to encourage better work-life balance. The authors address this gap by studying differences in such perceptions between accountants working in (1) Big 4 versus non-Big 4 firms, (2) audit versus tax, and (3) public accounting versus industry. This research not only provides a snapshot of how current accountants, employed in various settings, view work-life balance, but also provides a baseline against which the authors can compare future views of work-life balance.

Design/Method/ Approach:

The authors use data from two sources. First, the authors administer a survey to certified public accountants to obtain their perceptions of work-family conflict, job burnout, support for alternative work arrangements, and viability of alternative work arrangements. Second, the authors administer another open-ended survey to a different set of certified public accountants to obtain suggestions for how firms can improve employees’ work-life balance.

Findings:

  • Support for alternative work arrangements lowers employee burnout, partly by decreasing work-family conflict.
  • Firm Size: Work-family conflict and employee burnout is higher among accountants at Big 4 (mid-sized) firms than their counterparts at mid-sized (local) firms. Big 4 accountants report lower viability of alternative work arrangements than their counterparts at mid-sized firms and local firms.
  • Gender: Work-family conflict is similar between male and female accountants. Male accountants report lower support for and lower viability of alternative work arrangements than female accountants.
    • More female than male accountants report previously utilizing alternative work arrangements. Accountants who report utilizing alternative work arrangements also report higher support for and viability of alternative work arrangements.
  • Rank: Accountants at higher ranks have lower employee burnout than their counterparts at lower ranks. Higher ranking accountants report higher support for and lower viability of alternative work arrangements than lower rankings accountants.
  • Role: Accountants working in audit, tax, and other roles experience similar levels of work-family conflict and employee burnout, as well as support for and viability of alternative work arrangements. ·
  • Public vs. Private Sector: Work-family conflict is higher among public accountants than those working in industry. Meanwhile, accountants working at Big 4 firms have higher employee burnout than accountants in industry, accountants working at local firms or as sole practitioners have lower burnout than accountants in industry, and accountants working at mid-sized firms have the same levels of employee burnout as accountants in industry. Furthermore, accountants working in public accounting report higher support for alternative work arrangements than their counterparts working in industry. However, compared to accountants in industry, accountants working at mid-sized firms and local firms report higher viability of alternative work arrangements, but accountants working at Big 4 firms report lower viability of alternative work arrangements.
  • Accountants consider improving work-life balance the best way for firms to improve retention of high-quality employees. Accountants suggest that firms can make alternative work arrangements more effective by:
    • creating greater peer and supervisor support,
    • rating employees on productivity instead of visibility,
    • educating employees more about alternative work arrangements,
    • keeping promises regarding alternative work arrangements,
    • providing balanced role models and mentors,
    • recognizing that younger employees value work-life balance,
    • offering mini-sabbaticals to employees, and
    • offering other programs to facilitate work-life balance.