Is it more than a job’s worth?

You would think that a single young man, working in a lucrative job and living in London, has the world at his feet and is living it up with his friends in the exciting metropolis. But if the individual in question is an accountant, think again.

One such ambitious 29-year-old, an accountant for a multinational management and business consultancy based in London, often finds he works late into the night and at the weekend. More than once has he gone home at 10:30pm in a cab.

It seems he is not the only one. An ICAEW-sponsored study of chartered accountants, released this month, has found that 99% of them admit to working in excess of their contracted working hours.

And 52% of respondents, like our young accountant, are concerned that the long hours are affecting their health, morale, and social life.

‘Long hours make it more difficult to maintain relationships,’ he says. ‘ People just don’t see me a lot. I think it’s taking a toll on my health. I constantly feel drained and I get flu more, I’m constantly tired and I spend the weekend catching up on life, doing what I don’t have time to during the week, which means it’s not real leisure time,’ he adds.

According to the study, which has been sponsored by institute’s Centre for Business Performance, 72% of accountants feel overtime is expected of them.

Our accountant finds it is. He adds: ‘To an extent. Personally I’d feel uncomfortable leaving early and 5:30pm is early as far as I’m concerned.’

The study found that 84% of respondents were working long hours because they felt it necessary to meet deadlines.

Our accountant feels this way at times. He works overtime ‘largely because there’s work that needs to be done and there’s only a limited number of people that can do it.’ He explains that there are six people in his team that do ‘proper accounting’ in a company employing 300 people and works on a global scale.

Unlike the majority of accountants under the age of 30 in the study, our accountant does not find his long hours unacceptable and does not want to change jobs because of them.

‘The job itself makes you want to change jobs,’ he jokes, adding the money he earns also helps.

Furthermore, he says that it is the nature of the work rather than the long hours that lowers the quality of his work, ‘particularly if it’s repetitive work.’ He adds: ‘Maybe I’m just not cut out to do repetitive tasks.’

Although the respondents that work the longest hours were most likely to change jobs, most accountants in the study believe working shorter hours is not a viable alternative and was career limiting.

Among these professionals, the study found a high demand for flexible working hours, particularly among parents and those who have dependants.

It says that many accountants, particularly working women, are likely to take up flexible policies because adaptable hours enable them to balance their jobs and personal life. In accountancy practices, there is growing awareness of this need, and many organisations believe they have already done much to develop and implement flexible hours.

The study points out that the larger accountancy firms have some policies in place, and that smaller ones have an informal approach to working hours, with on average three types of policies implemented.

The study concludes that, although there is high demand for flexible hours and there are policies in place, few take up these practices because it is not regarded as the norm and many believe it could limit their careers.

  • The study was undertaken by the UMIST School of Management and Manchester Metropolitan University

More on the study can be found at


Flexible working practices can help employers reduce staff turnover and attract new recruits, according to the ICAEW.

Its study into working practices found that: ‘Flexible working practices can empower chartered accountants to accomplish their work in ways which suit them best, and there are examples of good practice in achieving this.’ Flexible work policies reduce stress, increase job satisfaction, and enhance recruitment and staff retention.

Kathryn Britten, partner at BDO Stoy Hayward, chair of the institute’s Workplace Initiative, says: ‘Young people, in particular, are telling us they want to work more flexibly and they want a life outside work. We ignore them at our peril.’

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