Salary survey autumn 2006: contented but poor

autumn salary survey

American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison is famed for saying ‘I never
did a day’s work in my life; it was all fun’. Edison, born in the 19th century,
will be pleased to hear that although accountants might not be inventing
anything quite so revolutionary, in the 21st century they are at least content
to keep our finances in order.

Click here: to download a
of the survey’s vital statistics

Over three-quarters of British accountants are happy in their jobs, according
to the latest comprehensive salary survey carried out by Accountancy Age and
Robert Half Finance & Accounting.

The level of job satisfaction compares favourably with the overall picture in
the UK. Over two thirds of workers described their jobs as a source of ‘personal
fulfilment’, with just 9% branding them ‘meaningless’, according to a study by
The Work Foundation this summer. An overall 69% said their work was a ‘source of
personal fulfilment’.

Our study revealed an emphatic 77% of accountants who responded were happy in
their current job. That said 22% admitted they would consider moving if the
ideal job came along – well who wouldn’t?

Despite the contentedness among UK accountants, almost half of the 3,142
accountants and finance professionals polled across the UK and Ireland in this
autumn’s salary survey are unhappy with their salaries. This might not come as a
surprise to many as it is fair to say that few people think they’re earning as
much as they deserve.

Mark Freebairn, partner at executive search firm Odgers Ray & Berndtson,
says: ‘If you asked any group of people if they were happy with their salary,
I’d be surprised if half of them said “yes”. However it’s a disappointing

Salaries are continuing to rise but our research reveals a mixed picture
despite a sustained war for talent in accountancy.

Finance directors’ salaries have grown by more than £5,000 in the past six
months. The percentage of female FDs has also risen from 13% in the spring to
21% today.

But the average salaries for accountant and auditor have however dropped
since the spring. Average wage packets for accountants and auditors have fallen
by roughly £2000. Tax salaries in contrast have gone up from £48,103 to £54,937.

Salaries aside, our research revealed the number of people seeking a new job,
actively or passively, has reduced slightly over six months. In the spring, 53%
of those polled said they were looking for a job while in this season’s survey,
51% are actively or passively seeking a job.

Despite the salary dips, the results suggest that accountants are a driven
bunch, more concerned with career development than increasing their salaries.
Indeed, 36% cited the potential for career development as most important to them
in a job, with salary and bonus structure (28%) coming second.

Indeed the principle root of discontent at work is caused by limited
potential for career development with more than a third citing it as the main
cause. Long working hours and a poor salary are also causes for unhappiness at

Freebairn says: ‘It’s good to hear people are thinking about their careers
rather than their wallets. That’s how it should be. As long as people don’t lose
money when they change jobs they will always move for better job prospects
rather than just a better salary.’

A significant 94% of respondents said they don’t think employers should
recruit overseas accountants to enhance skills. The finding is surprising
considering the UK is suffering from a sustained skills shortage in accountancy,
with many firms struggling to recruit in the UK and turning to eastern and
central Europe in many cases to nurture new accountants (see overleaf).

As far as benefits are concerned, pensions remain the most appreciated perk
with almost half of accountants choosing it as the top benefit a company can
offer. Bonuses, flexible working and healthcare are the next three most popular
benefits, while leisure facilities, mortgage relief and sabbaticals are the
least sought after.

One result that was questioned by several keen observers of the accountancy
industry was the overwhelming number of accountants (91%) who said they hadn’t
taken an illegitimate sick day in the past 12 months. A surprise? One
commentator says dryly: ‘That’s great. But I wonder if it’s true.’

Perhaps accountants are wiser to the cost to industry. The cost of staff
absence to the UK economy rose to more than £13bn in 2005 – its highest level
ever – according to a survey of 400 organisations by the CBI.

Freebairn says: ‘It’s good that FDs or budding FDs are realistic and known
for their integrity. That stacks up against their morals and integrity.’

Of those accountants that did take a sick day, the main reason was because of
a crisis at home, stress was the next reason. Worringly, a hangover came third
in this miserable league table. More women (36%) than men (25%) cited stress as
the reason they took a sick day.

The UK accountancy landscape continues to evolve. Accountants arguably have
it harder today than previous generations in that they have to compete on a
global scale, with fast changing technology meaning that their skills have to be
much more strategic and adaptable.

Already, UK accountants seem to be showing an element of protectionism. They
will have to overcome this as competition is only set to get tougher. The one
bright aspect is that accountancy is booming, jobs abound and salaries, although
all accountants might not always agree, are growing. Prospects look good for
those with flair, ambition and foresight. For those without, there’s always

A few facts…

  • 73% receive a company pension
  • 49% don’t believe age discrimination laws will make it more difficult to
  • 48% support age discrimination law
  • 49% are unhappy with their salary
  • 77% are happy in their current job
  • 63% are against a compulsory retirement age
  • 66% deny that workplace absenteeism is a problem
  • 91% have not taken an illegitimate sick day in the past 12 months
  • 34% took a sick day due to a crisis at home
  • 34% believe there is a skills gap in accountancy
  • 94% are against recruiting from abroad to enhance skills
  • 36% say career development is most important to them
  • 20% have taken a sick day due to a hangover
  • 67% say age discrimination will lead to more lawsuits
  • 49% chose pensions as their top benefit

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