The accounting firm with the best work-life balance. And why the Big Four aren’t even close

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The latest rankings of the 50 best accounting firms to work for just came out, and yet again there are no surprises at the top. As with last year, PwC, Deloitte and KPMG finished in the top three, according to Vault’s annual survey. The other member of the Big Four, EY, declined to participate, as it did last year. But it ranked third in 2017 and was at or near the top of the rankings every year in which it took part. Clearly, it’s the Big Four and then everyone else. Yet it’s a small accounting and consulting firm that some may not have heard of that dominated some of the workplace categories that affect people most on a day-to-day basis.

New York-based Friedman LLP snuck into the top 10 overall by finishing first in six quality of life categories, including work-life balance, culture, hours, satisfaction and relationships with supervisors. Friedman has previously ranked in the top 50 on Crain's best places to work in New York City list and as one of Inc. magazine's best workplaces.

With multiple offices in the New York/New Jersey area as well as a practice in Beijing, Friedman is perhaps best-known for its summer Friday program. Employees only work four-days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The 484-person firm also has an alternative work arrangement plan that enables employees to be more flexible with their schedule and work from home periodically. And you can even wear jeans to work. The company is also said to be moving to a new, more modern office in New York later this summer.

Positive employee reviews highlight a strong culture, the opportunity to work with good people and the aforementioned work-life balance efforts, though many acknowledge that busy tax season coincides with hours and pressure “that is inescapable in public accounting.” The most common downers are a lack of career advancement opportunities and less than ideal employee retention rates, which lead to understaffing, according to several reviews. Benefits was one of the categories in which Friedman didn’t rank all the highly; a few employees took issue with the company’s health insurance plan and 401k. Friedman didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the firm’s pros and cons.

Meanwhile, none of the Big Four cracked the top 10 in hours and just one – PwC – finished better than 20th in work-life balance. PwC was ranked 9th. The biggest factor in their overall ranking is their dominance in the rather opaque prestige category, which makes up 35% of the main list.

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

“You get a good name on your CV. The stress makes you want to reassess your life choices,” said an anonymous KPMG employee. “There are some good people here and the prestige is great.” As for the cons? “Everything besides those two,” added someone from EY.

Of course, not all Big Four accountants feel the same way. Yet those that score their firm poorly overall tend to have the same complaints. You’ll earn more and the exit opportunities are greater with the Big Four on your resume, but you’re liable to spend a lot more time in the office as well.

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