Employees fear the ugly side of workplace culture

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Richard Hattersley
Practice Correspondent
AccountingWEB
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From the former Google software engineer’s infamous leaked 10-page memo to the BBC gender pay gap revelation, this summer has uncovered an ugly side of workplace culture and inequality.

But it’s not just tech and media companies where this attitude has emerged. As discussed in recent research from the accounting charity CABA, a number of professionals have fallen victim to mistreatment in the workplace or have seen anxiety levels soar thanks to a culture of fear.

The surveyed workforce bemoaned instances where they had been afraid to call in sick (35%) or pressurised to work through lunch breaks to show their dedication. While some respondents feel hampered by their appearance, the workers felt as if they were being judged in many other areas of their work day, whether that’s leaving the office first or, astonishingly, afraid to talk with colleagues.

Notably, 16% of females surveyed said that they felt held back by their gender. Practice owner Della Hudson in a recent article on AccountingWEB talked about how the sexist attitudes that the CABA research alludes to is still prevalent in some corners of the profession.

Furthermore, the anxiety held by females often coalesces with issues of age. This is seen from 21% of employees feeling that they’re not being taken seriously due to their youth; a fear that more females (25% to 17% of males) bear.

It is also a fear that affects the opposite end of the age scale: 21% of 55-64 year olds dread judgement based on their age. Concern over appearance was also prevalent amongst the respondents, especially those between 16-24 years old (29%)

With age and gender flagged as issues which intensify workplace anxiety, the survey discovered that little is being done by a vast number of HR directors (42%) who instead prioritise output over their employees' wellbeing.

But as CABA’s Kelly Feehan concluded, no business that promotes a culture of fear or inequality is going to be a success.

"For employees to do their best and flourish, they need to be themselves, and feel confident to express their views, sexuality or beliefs, in an open and honest environment," Feehan said. "Employers need to take heed and see that making employees feel comfortable will be healthier than concentrating on their output, as this way we can address the productivity gap and start resolving these underlying fears employees hold."

It’s a people business after all

Thankfully, what we’ve seen from the some of the Practice Excellence entries is a focus on a positive workplace culture. For example, firms such as Farnell Clarke have renovated offices to create a positive atmosphere.

Recently, Farnell told AccountingWEB that retaining and attracting millennials hinges on firms' ability to advocate positive values. “Most firms won't have a culture to achieve this or certainly not one to support maximum productivity,” he said. “Firms need to create purpose, belonging and a great environment. We created a great bright and vibrant workspace, complete with a pub.”

Olly Evans from another Practice Excellence shortlisted firm Evans and partners echoed these sentiments. “A positive work culture is really important - we are a people business after all.”

The Profitable Firm's Karen Reyburn agreed: "As someone who works with accountants daily, I would say it's more important than most even realise. If your work culture is 'old school', you risk losing great accounting employees to more positive and young firms (young in years or young in mentality)."

Meanwhile, as we’ve also seen on AccountingWEB, Practice Excellence award winners Raffingers enlisted external help to uncover what their employees really think about the firm – both good and bad – and then placate any employee gripes.

The very fact that a number of firms this year have attributed some of their success their work culture shows how firms are now prioritising employee wellbeing as a key business indicator of success.

About Richard Hattersley

About Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

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