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What's wrong with work-life balance at the Big Four accounting firms?

There are certain names in every industry that people naturally gravitate to. In banking, it’s Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. In consulting, there’s Bain & Co., McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group. And when it comes to accounting, it’s the Big Four and then everyone else.

The latest ranking of the “50 best accounting firms to work for” from confirms exactly this. PwC, Deloitte and KPMG finished in the top three. EY declined to participate in this year’s survey but ranked third overall a year ago. In every other year going back to 2007, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY ranked as the top four accounting firms in some order.

However, when you dig a little deeper, the Big Four don’t always reign supreme. The rather opaque “prestige” category, where accountants rate firms other than their own based on reputation, accounts for 40% of the overall rankings. The Big Four lead this list every year and it’s rarely close. Outsiders want in, clearly.

The quality of life categories tell a different story. When it comes to work-life balance, Deloitte and KPMG ranked 21st and 22nd, respectively, out of the 27 firms that were included. PwC finished 10th. In the last year EY accountants took part in the survey, the firm wasn’t even ranked, meaning it finished outside of the top 25.

For working hours, PwC led the Big Four but ranked below the overall average, settling for 17th. KPMG finished 25th while Deloitte didn’t even make the list, ranking second-to-last or last. EY too failed to rank in the working hours category during 2017. Meanwhile, not one of the Big Four cracked the top 10 in employee satisfaction.

Comments made by employees of the four firms confirm the two-fold tale. Big Four accountants love the name of their employer; they revel in the prestige and what the crest can do for their resume. But many struggle with the quality of life that comes with the job.

We looked at the pros and cons put forth by employees at all four firms who ranked their experience below-average or worse at The responses were near uniform, though some more colorful than others.

“Looks good on the resume…no work life balance,” said someone from Deloitte. “Prestige,” another Deloitte accountant noted as a pro. “Worst aspects are work/life fit.”

“You get a good name on your CV. The stress makes you want to reassess your life choices,” said an anonymous KPMG employee.

“Largest tax firm in the world, great network and MANY great people,” one PwC accountant wrote. “If you are good, they give you more work, not more pay.”

And at EY: “There are some good people here and the prestige is great.” As for the cons? “Everything besides those two.”

Admittedly, these comments were made by accountants who are less than thrilled with their job based on their overall assessment. Not all think this way. But the complaints virtually all mirror each other, as do the reasons that they’re still there. The Big Four offers accountants unapparelled experience that’s looked upon glowingly by others in the industry. It’s just that the lifestyle required to gain the experience appears taxing, to say the least, for many.

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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • Ne
    Neel Patel
    20 September 2018

    Before I visited this blog, I didn't even knew what is big four. Thanks for bringing this forward for us.

  • Ad
    Adrian K.
    13 June 2018

    Work-life balance isn't merely about the hours spent at work or home,
    it's about how you mentally feel while doing (or not doing) stuff. An
    unemployed person can feel much more exhausted after a long day of doing
    nothing than a person working 10 hours a day in a job that satifies
    him. For the unemployed person in this scenario, life becomes work,
    while for the working man his work becomes part of life. It's all about
    the right approach and mindset. There's a great book by Greg McKeown
    ("Essentialism", see here
    https://www.coaching-online... on how
    important it is to prioritize certain aspects of your work life and how that
    helps you to get more effective at work and how that, eventually, will improve your work-life balance.

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