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'No jerks' and work-free Fridays: Meet the happiest accounting firms

If you’re an accountant working at one of the Big Four, you can sleep well knowing that employees at other firms are green with envy. PricewaterhouseCoopers, EY, Deloitte and KPMG were just ranked the four most prestigious accounting firms in North America, as judged by their peers. But when it comes to work-life balance and employee satisfaction, two less well-known firms have risen to the top.

New York-based Friedman LLP and Michigan’s Plante Moran topped nearly half of the 24 quality of life categories in’s latest employee survey. The only reason the two firms didn’t climb higher in the overall rankings – finishing 8th and 13th, respectively – is that they didn’t fare quite as well in the heavily-weighted “prestige” category, which asks accountants to rank the status of firms other than their own. Prestige, a category dominated by the Big Four, accounted for 40% of the overall survey.

Overall Rankings

1 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP 8.354
2 EY LLP 8.220
3 Deloitte LLP 8.080
4 KPMG LLP 7.710
5 Grant Thornton LLP 7.572
6 BDO USA LLP 7.238
7 McGladrey LLP 7.030
8 Plante Moran 6.821
9 Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP 6.675
10 Crowe Horwath LLP 6.462
11 Moss Adams LLP 6.456
12 Rothstein Kass 6.396
13 Friedman LLP 6.322
14 Dixon Hughes Goodman 6.292
15 Eide Bailly LLP 6.200

(Methodology: 40% prestige, 20% firm culture, 10% work/life balance, 10% compensation, 10% overall job satisfaction, 5% business outlook, 5% formal training)

If you eliminate what outsiders think, Plante Moran and Friedman become a main focus of the study. Plante Moran was ranked the top firm in six quality of life categories, including business outlook, culture, firm leadership, informal training, internal mobility and promotion policies. The mid-west firm, which operates office locations in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois, as well as several overseas, has been named one of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America for 16 consecutive years.

Gordon Krater, managing partner at Plante Moran, said the key to the firm’s culture is employing the right kind of people. “We are relatively jerk-free,” he said. “If you act like a jerk often, there is no room for you here.”

Krater credited the firm’s retention numbers with its willingness to remain flexible. “It doesn’t matter when you work, just get the work done,” he said. “We don’t have mandatory hours.”

Other perks include five weeks of paid time off – with the option to purchase two more at a discount – along with the ability to work remotely or shorten your hours if need be. Two women who were named partners last year work reduced schedules. Krater said that roughly two-thirds of this year’s partner would likely be women.

“Here, value is placed on working hard, but also on having family time and doing things you enjoy outside of work,” said one company insider.

Like most other firms in the industry, Plante Moran is growing. The company added roughly 200 people in the last two years and is looking for experienced CPAs, tax and advisory professionals, Krater said.

Friedman, a slightly smaller firm headquartered in Manhattan, finished atop five categories, including three of the most critical: work-life balance, employee satisfaction and compensation. Friedman also finished first in supervisor relationships and diversity (disabilities).

The real headliner among Friedman’s workplace initiatives is its summer schedule. From June through August, there is no work on Friday. Friedman piloted the program back in 2007, and found that output actually exceeded that of a five-day workweek, said Jeff Agranoff, human resources principal at Friedman.

Agranoff acknowledged that employees work rather long hours, especially during the peak season, but the cream of the crop get paid industry-leading compensation. “Average employees may not get huge salaries, but superstars are compensated at the highest level,” he said. Friedman too is "definitely growing," Agranoff added. "Our biggest growth is in tax and consulting."

Friedman and Plante Moran combine to take the place of last year’s consensus leader in quality of life, Rothstein Kass, which fell precipitously from several lists. The company was forced to layoff a number of experienced staffers after over-hiring, leading to an overall drop in employee morale.

“The company laid off 10% of its workplace last summer. Since then, our department has faced staffing shortages and overworked employees due to the extra work added to their already full schedules,” said one insider. “This forced many employees to work quite a bit of overtime in the summer, which historically has been pretty slow.”

Rothstein Kass finished atop 11 workplace categories in last year’s survey – something it didn’t do once this time around.

Related articles:

KPMG to increase campus hiring by 30% within advisory. Here’s what you need to get the job

KPMG is hiring 16,000 people in EMEA in 2014. Here’s how to get a job

Ernst & Young to hire more than 10,000 in 2014

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • le
    17 April 2014

    The biggest jerks Ive met in my career were all at a big 4 firm.

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