CPAs are happier than expected!

Dan Erling
Accountants One Inc. President & CEO

A recent survey conducted at Accountants One on behalf of one of our clients led to some very interesting results. Our survey shows that even at 80 hours per week CPAs are satisfied with the work they are doing!

OK – we have to be honest. We expected to distribute this survey to over 2,000 Public Accountants and find a pronounced correlation between lack of satisfaction and lack of work-life balance. But the results reveal a surprisingly different picture.

First, thanks to those of you who participated in the survey.

As you can see below, our survey participants ranged between 0 to 10+ years of experience with the majority having 3 to 5 years of experience.

Now we start to get into the surprising results:

While we found that 34% of our participants were “extremely unhappy” to “moderately happy,” we found that 66% were “happy” to “completely delighted” with their day-to-day work.

That means that the majority of the CPAs responding to our survey ENJOY their work!

I will note that this level of satisfaction is actually HIGHER than results we have run in the past when asking accountants in Private Industry the same question. Do Public Accountants actually enjoy their work more than Accountants in Private Industry?

While we didn’t intend to address that question in this survey, now we are curious.

On the next question we found that 40% of our participants were “extremely unhappy” to “moderately happy,” and 60% were “happy” to “completely delighted” with the Industry of Public Accounting. True – in comparison to the “day-to-day work” a smaller percentage of people (6%) were satisfied with the world of Public Accounting itself, but we were again surprised to see such an overall positive response.

Perhaps those that took this survey did not first consult with Dilbert’s Catbert, The Evil Director of Human Resources:

OK – we will get back on track…

In terms of “hours worked” we were not surprised at all with these results. No surprises here.

So, 78% of our respondents worked above 50 hours per week during busy season. I think it is also worth noting that 5% of the people surveyed worked 80+ hours during their busy season! Yikes!

During the slowest part of the year our results show that things get very much back to normal for the typical Public Accountant – with 52% of respondents working between 40 and 49 hours per week and only 59% of those surveyed working above 40 hours a week. In fact, no-one responded that they worked above 70 hours per week during slow times.

It may be interesting to note that in Private Industry this swing does not exist. We have done similar studies and there is far less of a difference between the busiest and slowest portion of the year. In fact, employees who work 60 to 70 hours per week do so throughout the year just as those who work 40 to 50 hours per week. Just a factoid to throw in the mix!

Next on the survey we asked about the “Worst Part of your Job.” We were not surprised with the results here.

Heading the list — 27% of the respondents noted that “work-life balance” was the worst part of their job.

Money came in second “worst” at 21%. We’d need to do a great deal more research, but informal observational data has led us to believe that lack of “work-life balance” and “dissatisfaction with money” are intertwined. In other words, we have come to believe that if these Public Accountants were more highly compensated there would be less dissatisfaction.

Frankly we were disappointed that “other” was as 16% — we wonder what those “other” elements are. We couldn’t help but worry that we had missed an essential category in the survey choices. Any insight on “other” would be welcome!

And finally, the “Best Part of the Job.”

When we saw these results we smiled. Over many years of watching career satisfied people, we know that happiness comes from doing challenging work and bringing value to others. So nice to see that reflected here.

The survey revealed that 34% of our CPA respondents are enamored with the challenges of their jobs and bringing value.

In summary, we found the results of our survey very surprising. From this data it looks like CPAs are happier than expected even though work-life balance is a grave concern.

Our data shows that 78% of Public Accountants surveyed are working above 50 hours per week during the busiest part of the year and 27% of the respondents find that “work life balance” is the worst part of their job.

Therefore, would it not follow that a high percentage of the respondents would be “unhappy” with their day-to-day role and the industry of Public Accounting? That is what we expected.

Rather, the reverse is true in our survey – 66% of respondents are “happy” in their “day to day work” and 60% are “happy” with the industry!

Frankly, we went into this expecting to show a correlation between “happiness” and “lack of work life balance.” But that is not what jumps out from the data. The picture is cloudier but also more interesting.

Does this mean that CPAs have resigned themselves to working tons of hours, but are willing to put up with it because they (for the most part) enjoy and derive value from their work? In our internal discussions around this data it seems the logical conclusion. And if this is so, then I contend that we have hit a thought-provoking point that deserves more research.

Thanks for your interest. Your input or any questions are welcome and highly appreciated.

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Dan Erling