To Big 4 and Mid-Size Firm Accountants, Which is More Important: Prestige or Culture?

Published: Mar 19, 2014

 Workplace Issues       
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On Tax Day, which is just under four weeks away, Vault will be releasing its latest Accounting Rankings, which include rankings of the most prestigious accounting firms, those deemed the "best to work for," and the top rated firms in compensationbenefitstrainingwork/life balance, and firm culture, among other workplace categories. 

This year, we surveyed more than 10,000 accountants at the top 90 accounting firms in the U.S., asking them to comment on life at their firm. Included in that survey was a question that asked which three factors were most important to accountants when they were deciding on which firm to join. And, this year, unlike last year, respondents to our survey told us that "firm culture/colleagues," and not "prestige," was most important. 

This year, 46.2 percent of respondents cited "firm culture/colleagues" as one of the three most important factors, while 38.8 percent cited "prestige" as one of the three most important. This was a significant change from last year when "prestige" was deemed most important; last year, 47.0 percent of respondents cited "prestige" as one of the most important, while 45.4 percent cited "firm culture/colleagues."

See the below tables for the complete results to the aforementioned survey question from this year's survey (2013/2014) versus last year's (2012/2013).

2013/2014: Which were the three most important factors in your decision to accept this firm's offer?

2014 dfactors  

2012/2013: Which were the three most important factors in your decision to accept this firm's offer?

2013 deciding factors

Meanwhile, as "firm culture/colleagues" has leaped over "prestige" in deciding-factor importance, accountants have become significantly less satisfied with their jobs.

This year, survey respondents told us that their stress levels are high and they're working more hours than they have in the past, in large part due to: understaffing at the lower levels, an increase in client demands, and a tightening of work deadlines. Which all seems to translate into a significant decrease in the level of job satisfaction.

On average, our survey respondents this year gave their overall job satisfaction a rating of 7.86 versus 8.09 last year (on a 10-point scale, with 10 being highly satisfied and 1 being not satisfied at all). And accountants gave their satisfaction with respect to how many hours they work a rating of 7.00 this year versus 7.10 last year. In addition, they gave work/life balance a rating of 7.61 this year versus 7.78 last year, and compensation satisfaction a 7.11 rating this year versus 7.22 last year.

In other words, accountants are currently a lot less happy than they were this time last year. 

In fairness to accounting firms (the Big 4 as well as the mid-sized firms), there has been a big push in recent years to attempt to give employees a better work/life balance. Most firms now offer flexible schedule options, where employees can work remotely a good amount of time. And the benefits at many firms, particularly at the Big 4, which typically work their staffs the hardest (because the Big 4 have the heaviest workloads and largest clients), have greatly improved. In fact, it's widely known that the Big 4 offer some of the best maternity and paternity benefits of any firms in the U.S.

And yet, judging by what 10,000 accountants recently told us, all that doesn't seem to be enough.

*Check back on April 15 when Vault releases its complete 2015 Accounting Rankings.

Follow me @VaultFinance.

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