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Work-life balance worries are scaring people away from audit

March 27, 2024

A negative outlook on work-life balance is one of the most important factors driving people away from the auditing profession, followed by poor perceptions of remuneration and career advancement, according to a new study.

The report, released Wednesday by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants along with Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, found that the top three negative factors impacting attractiveness in the audit profession are work-life balance (61%), remuneration (37%) and the career ladder (28%). Similarly, those are the top three factors impacting retention in the audit profession: work-life balance (73%), remuneration (55%) and the career ladder (26%).

Work-life balance concerns seem to weigh most heavily on both current and prospective auditors, with the expectation of long working hours, especially during busy seasons, which can produce stress and anxiety, while encroaching upon the personal lives of audit professionals. Defining work-life balance isn't a one-size-fits-all concept, according to the report. For some, it means spending enough time with family, while for others, it translates into opportunities for physical exercise or other activities alongside their audit duties. Both current audit professionals and prospective entrants into the field emphasized the importance of striking the right balance between work and personal life.

"A compelling insight from our study highlights the absence of a commonly understood and unified purpose within the audit profession," said Antonis Diolas, head of audit and assurance at the ACCA, who wrote the report. "This not only inhibits prospective candidates from entering the profession in the first place, but also hinders current professionals from recognizing how their work generates value."

Survey respondents pointed to an urgent need to address the at-times-unsupportive cultures within their firms, which can impair their well-being and work-life balance, the report noted. Audit firms are taking steps to address the work–life balance challenges, but their initiatives may lack visibility. Survey respondents said that regulators and standard-setters also share the blame, given that their demands continue to grow. The rise in regulatory requirements and standards has elevated the demands of the job, often causing audits to feel more like a compliance exercise rather than a value-added service.

"The research clearly shows the need for empathy and respect in the workplace recognizing employees' multifaceted lives," said Amir Ghandar, reporting and assurance leader at CAANZ, in a statement. "People also need to be able to see themselves in their leaders, to visualize the opportunities and career possibilities in a way that feels real."

More than half the survey respondents were from Gen Y and millennials aged 25-42, with 37% current auditors, 33% former auditors and the rest considering audit as a future career.

Many respondents noted that the intensive workload during busy seasons isn't adequately compensated. That can be demoralizing, and if it's not addressed it could further affect the attraction and retention of talent in the future. Remuneration ranked as the second most important factor making it harder to attract and retain talent in the audit profession in most regions. Remuneration will always be considered inadequate if the impact of poor work-life balance isn't addressed. However, the concerns about pay aren't uniform and vary by country. There are disparities in compensation across markets, and even among audit firms within the same network.

Many young audit professionals plan to leave their current employer either within the next 12 months or within a few years, according to the ACCA's Global Talent Trends 2024 study, so the traditional career ladder that requires a long investment of time within an audit firm doesn't appeal to them. The perception of a lack of variety of work for auditors is another important factor that's making the profession seem unattractive.

A "career-lattice" approach, as opposed to a "career ladder," may address the issues related to the variety of day-to-day work by offering internal mobility and skill enhancement, according to the latest report. That approach can enable staff to grow in accordance with their preferences and outside interests, potentially improving talent retention and skills diversity within firms.

Sustainability assurance and reporting may provide some inducement to attracting more new people to the audit profession, with 48% of non-auditors saying that such work could tempt them to join the profession and 40% of auditors saying that such a career could tempt them to stay.

[Accounting Today]

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