There's no getting around it: Public accountants work a lot of hours. But accounting firms are betting that family- and work/life balance-friendly benefits like telecommuting, on-site day care and formal programs to help returning employees ease back into the workplace after a leave will keep more accountants on the job.
Given the resources firms invest in recruiting and training new CPAs, retention is often the driver behind these benefits, along with a real desire to make the workplace more appealing to accountants.
Firms are particularly targeting experienced senior accountants and managers with three to five years' experience, says Jennifer Allyn, director of diversity and work/life at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) New York City. "That's when you become marketable, because we've given you training," she says.
Those who stay with a big firm until they become managers may get better offers, but they pay the price in long hours as they work their way up the ladder. Addressing work/life needs is one way to boost retention. PWC has two work/life mantras: Work and life shouldn't be mutually exclusive, and there should be no judgment about what's important to an employee -- whether it's their kids, a pet or traveling.
A Time for Time Off
During the busy season of January to mid-April, accountants work crazy hours to meet tax deadlines, so some firms offer time off later in the year. PWC closes for long holiday weekends and, when possible, for more than a week between Christmas and New Year's. On summer Fridays, employees can leave at 1 p.m. if they've finished their work. Other firms let parents work flexible hours in the summer, says Barbara Vigilante, manager of work/life and women's initiatives for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
At Plante & Moran in Southfield, Michigan, employees use flextime to pursue outside interests, including one who worked flexible hours during tax season to train for a marathon, says human resources manager Kristen Cifolelli.
Now that more than half of all new accountants are women, according to the AICPA, accounting firms are developing transition-support programs to help parents move into and out of the workplace. About 6 percent of PWC's accountants work part-time, with prorated salary and benefits. "It's a retention tool for high performers," Allyn says.
At Plante & Moran, where a part-timer was recently promoted to partner, expectant moms enjoy designated parking spaces. Employees on parental leave are assigned a buddy who stays in touch and helps them transition back to work. Those who don't return become part of the "mom squad" -- ex-employees willing to work here and there during the busy season.
Vitale, Caturano & Co. in Boston offers on-site day care during the winter and other, more offbeat benefits such as a visiting masseuse, says vice president of human resources Dave Clarkson. While everyone loves the free continental breakfast and subsidized lunches, the firm's young singles are the ones most often eating the dinners prepared by guest chefs in the company's high-end laboratory kitchen during the busy season, he says.
Dara Bazanno, a senior audit manager for KPMG in San Francisco, says she couldn't juggle four children, two large Securities and Exchange Commission clients and a two-hour commute without company and client support.
"I live 140 miles from the office, and I would have had to quit five years ago, because I just can't afford 15 or 20 hours a week on the road given the number of hours we work," Bazanno says. KPMG set up a home office for her, and now she has breakfast with her kids before work.
Accounting firms also offer concierge services and employee assistance programs (EAPs). When a family member needed a counselor, the EAP located one for Bazanno. When she needed a will and retirement planning, Bazanno used KPMG's free legal services.
Earn Your Perks
Don't expect to be allowed to telecommute your first day on the job. While the concierge services and EAPs are typically available to even the most junior accountants, other perks must typically be earned, Vigilante says. "Everyone has the right to flexibility," she adds. "But to have a flexible work arrangement, you have to prove yourself first."