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Changing Work/Life Balance Expectations in the Accounting Profession



In recent years, there’s been a noticeable shift toward demand for a healthier work/life balance. While this shift is happening in many professions, it’s especially noticeable in professions characterized by high demands and intensive work hours like accounting. 


The pandemic intensified this shift, compelling firms to reevaluate their existing work-life balance policies to attract and retain valuable talent. However, just having these policies in place isn’t enough. Success depends on the attitudes and behaviors of firm leadership. 

 

Leadership support: The cornerstone of effective work/life balance 

Effectively implementing work/life balance policies and alternative work arrangements requires support from the top. Although policies to facilitate work-life balance exist in many CPA firms, partners might unintentionally (or intentionally) discourage their use through guilt-inducing remarks or overt non-support.  


These actions breed resentment and foster a sense of distrust and unfairness in team members. Older generations may have had a higher tolerance level for a disconnect between the firm’s policies and partners’ actions. However, younger generations are increasingly willing to advocate for fairness and challenge discrepancies in policy application. 


Simply put, if your firm doesn’t “walk the walk,” young talent won’t come to work for you or stick around. 

 

How to support work/life balance 

The demand for remote work and alternative work arrangements is not going away despite many organizations forcing employees to return to the office. According to Forbes, the percentage of U.S. companies offering flexibility increased from 51% at the start of 2023 to 62% by the end of the year


Every employee doesn’t want or need remote work and flexible work arrangements, but many do. Firm leaders must figure out how to make them work. 


Here are a few tips for implementing and supporting work/life balance in your firm. 


Address the divide between remote and in-person team members 

One issue in flexible work arrangements is conflicts between staff who work remotely and those who are office-bound. Many jobs don’t lend themselves to remote work, impacting morale and productivity among in-office employees. 


Firms must recognize and address this divide by providing flexibility for in-office employees in creative ways. For example, you might allow people to condense a full workweek into four days. You can also create an environment so attractive that people will want to come in.  

 

Don’t let remote work impact career advancement 

Working remotely may be a huge benefit for some employees, but there’s one area where they tend to get the short shrift: career advancement. 


Flexible work arrangements can inadvertently cause career stalling when managers overlook remote employees for promotions, special projects and other career advancement opportunities. This affects individual career trajectories and can lead to a broader talent drain if not addressed thoughtfully by firm leadership. 

 

Overcome managerial challenges 

Firm leaders and managers need to evolve their approach to managing remote teams. This includes being intentional about communication, setting clear expectations, and equitably assigning projects. Managers need new metrics for measuring productivity that don’t rely solely on physical presence in the office. 

 

Demonstrate a healthy work/life balance 

It’s tough for employees to have a healthy work/life balance when firm leaders don’t model that behavior. 


Leaders should discuss their personal lives and acknowledge their own needs for downtime. This sets a precedent for the rest of the firm that having a life outside of work is natural. 


Partners and managers should also avoid emailing team members outside of office hours. While flexibility means 10 p.m. might be an ideal time for you to catch up on email, getting a late-night email from a partner puts pressure on employees, who might feel as though they need to respond right away. Take advantage of the scheduling feature in your email platform to respect the personal time and space of your team members. 

 

Addressing the changing expectations around work/life balance isn’t just about policy adjustments—it requires a fundamental shift in workplace culture and a commitment from leadership to actively support and model these changes. 


When you get it right, you’ll foster a more equitable, productive and satisfying working environment that can attract and retain top talent in a competitive talent market. 

 

Are you ready to upskill your team and transform your firm? 


The Boomer Learning & Development Circle is a peer group of learning and development professionals in the accounting profession who share tools and resources to properly support their firms’ learning and development goals. Apply now to ensure you’re focusing on the right skills, engaging learners and demonstrating value to other firm leaders. 


 

As a Client Service Coordinator for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Hailey Hilbert is excited to meet members from different Circles and hear about firm challenges and opportunities from various perspectives. Her primary focus is planning Circle meetings and handling events at the Accounting Innovation Center. 

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