He was fully with the programme, so to speak, as it was an important part of
the firm’s talent management strategy. You need to be flexible to attract and
retain good people, he acknowledged.
What puzzled him was why the promotion of work-life balance was such an
incentive for the next generation. What more, he asked, could an ambitious young
accountant want than a challenging and well-remunerated job?
This partner isn’t alone. After all, the mind of the body corporate is a
necessarily pragmatic one. If something (reasonable) motivates staff, roll it
out. But, of course, that doesn’t mean you have to believe in it.
That, at least, is the conventional wisdom.
But buried deep in the results of this salary are some figures that suggest
that some of those at the top of UK plc are starting to think differently.
Partners at accountancy firms, it seems, are beginning to believe in the concept
of a balance between life and work. And their motivations? Well, this time it’s
Not many partners are looking to change jobs, but among those that are, the
most common driving force is the desire to strike a better balance. Some 43% of
those looking to move cite this as their motivation. This at a time when most
others – from credit controllers to finance directors – are motivated more by
‘traditional’ factors such as career development or pay.
Among respondents within a decade of retirement, the trend is even more
pronounced – 55% want to change jobs so they can spend less time in the office
and more on the golf course, in the garden or emptying the wine cellar.
In itself this isn’t enough to suggest a sea change – after all work-life
balance issues have been around for so long that they have entered the realm of
corporate cliché. What has changed is the willingness of those at the very top
to acknowledge them as a legitimate and non-career limiting motivation.
Talking to a regulator over dinner not long ago (typing this makes me wonder
whether I should worry more about my waistline than my own work-life balance),
he mentioned a job interview he had recently conducted. The interviewee (himself
something of an industry heavyweight) admitted that it was the opportunity to
scale down (responsibility, hours and salary) that had attracted him to the
It’s hard to imagine that sort of admission happening until recently – and
impossible to imagine, again until recently, that such frankness would count in
the candidate’s favour.
Equally encouraging is the fact that the phrase itself is starting to jar.
Ugly punctuation isn’t the worst thing about work-life balance. The phrase
seeks, somewhat incongruously, to treat work as something different to life,
when, in fact, it is one of its most important components.
Damian Wild is editor of Accountancy Age