Time to work less

Despite market downturns and the threat of massive redundancies in the technology sector, unemployment is at its lowest level for 20 years and accountancy and finance professionals should feel safe in their jobs.But FDs should be aware that their employees are a fickle bunch. The majority of finance staff are seriously considering a job change – or even a complete career change.

The latest edition of Robert Half International’s Annual Accountancy Salary and Benefits Survey, published in April, suggests that, of the 1,400 accountancy and finance professionals surveyed, 39% expect to change jobs in the next six months. This doesn’t include the 17% who preferred ‘not to say’ on their forms.

But the survey also suggests that employers, including finance directors, do not realise that so many of their employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. On average, employers only expect 1% of their staff to resign in their first year after joining the company, despite 12% of employees saying they had done just that.

The growing number of itchy feet amongst employees can, in part, be attributed to the strains and stresses of a career in finance. Employees work an average of 9.6-hours-a-week overtime – usually unpaid – and over a third of staff are unhappy about the adverse effect that their work has on their social and family life.

Furthermore, 33% of respondents cite management style as a major problem.

They are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the level of recognition and praise that executives give for a job well done.

Steve Carter, UK managing director of RHI says that FDs better start paying attention to the lifestyle needs of their employees. ‘Staff are often looking for a good work-life balance when choosing jobs. Successful employers will understand that, while cash benefits are lovely, they don’t drive all employees,’ he says. ‘Unless employers address this, they are likely to lose their staff within 18 months.’

Ruth Lea, head of policy at the Institute of Directors takes another tack. Commenting on a new IoD report, The Work-Life Balance … and all that: the re-regulation of the labour market, she says management is not at fault if employees work long hours – they work hard because they want to.

‘Employment brings many benefits, including money, which is rarely mentioned by the “work-life balance” protagonists,’ she says. ‘Some people work very long hours … but this is because they are ambitious, like the extra pay and are quite happy to do it.’

Perhaps this ambition is to blame for many employees’ desire to leave the accountancy profession altogether – particularly in middle-management.

The gap in salaries between top finance execs and those a step or two down the food chain is still wide.

According to RHI, the average salary for an FD of a UK company with a turnover of £10m-£100m is £64,250, a little under twice that of the average head of management accounts (who earns £37,500).

Moreover, due to a shortage in financial skills, newly-qualified accountants are getting paid almost the same as their more experienced counterparts.

A new ACMA earns £31,000; one with two years’ post-qualification experience picks up £35,438. ‘The newly-qualified market is demanding more money,’ says Carter. ‘This is creating salary compression in the middle order of management and highly skilled employees are losing out.’

If this balance is not addressed, FDs should expect an uprising among the ranks of their finance departments. Beware the office guillotine.

Robert Half International’s Annual Accountancy Salary and Benefits Survey 2001 is available at Copies of The Work-Life Balance…and all that: the re-regulation of the labour market are available from the IoD press office:

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