Would accountants really choose time over money?
Philip Fisher tackles the thorny issue of work-life balance and asks, given the option would accountants really choose to work less and receive less pay?
A few weeks ago, this column addressed the problem of NHS doctors, who were literally paying for the privilege of working excessive hours due to a clash between their pension scheme and tax legislation.
Pleasingly, relevant ministers must read AccountingWEB, since last week the government announced its intention to correct the anomaly.
However, if initial suggestions are correct, their solution is going to be inadequate. If the proposed changes are limited to doctors, other staff members with the same problem may still work-to-rule, limiting or even negating the benefits.
To be just and fair, surely anybody who is obliged to make pension contributions which will leave them worse off or little better off should be given the chance to opt out.
However, that is a sideline to the main issue of today’s column. In response to my previous article, one comment suggested that given the choice between working full-time for a salary of £150,000 or half-time for £75,000, everybody would choose half the work and half the pay.
In doing so, that respondent has raised an issue that either consciously or otherwise influences many accountants throughout their careers, particularly those in senior posts.
Before they even start work, many of our younger colleagues now take one or more years out to travel the world, do unpaid charitable work or just sit at home watching reality shows on the iPad.
Once employed at junior levels, this issue takes on the title of work/life balance and is particularly important to those with young families. The choice of extending maternity/paternity leave at low or no pay is challenging, as demonstrated by the different solutions regularly put into practice.
Once someone is master or mistress of their own destiny, as a partner or sole practitioner, they get into the territory addressed by the correspondent above who was certain that everybody would rather have £75,000 than £150,000, ie they would happily buy the free time.
That is an unexpected response to come from an accountant. Most of us fully understand and are motivated by the benefits of having greater wealth, whether to spend immediately or invest in a longer or happier retirement. We have seen this quandary in our own lives then mirrored in those of so many clients, with the vast majority choosing the money.
Looked at slightly differently, most of us have certain living standards that we want to maintain. If you halve your income, then that probably comes at the cost of downsizing your property.
In addition, it may necessitate giving up the BMW or Prius and settling for a Fiat 500, just at the time of life when your friends are going for those age-defying sporty little numbers that tend to be painted bright red.
Again and again, most of us see clients to struggle to live on incomes four or five times our own but able to fritter away unbelievable sums of money.
I know very few London-based accountants in senior positions who would happily halve their income in return for twice as much free time.
There are a number of reasons. Obviously, most could not afford to take a 50% pay cut. In addition, an awful lot of accountants are workaholics and would actually find themselves at a loss, should they take say Thursday afternoon, Friday and Monday to extend the weekend to 4½ days.
Their partners might also have a word or two to say about that, particularly when the irritating extra presence is attached to a massive diminution in the joint bank balance.