In a profession still wrestling with the destructive always-on work culture, 55% of chartered accountants consider their workplace to be toxic.
New research from the chartered accountants’ charity CABA is grim reading. The toxic work environment goes deeper than the always-on long working hours, with half the 2,000 chartered accountants surveyed complaining of communication issues, cliquey colleagues, and bullying.
Granted, toxic workplaces are not confined to the accountancy profession. But while all jobs come with some element of stress, the accountancy profession by its very nature of serving clients has bred unrealistic working hours as the norm.
But it’s not just the always-on working life and cliquey colleagues creating this toxic working environment, chartered accountants endure jealous or competitive peers (13%), people sabotaging one another (12%) and a lack of accountability (12%).
This is not a situation consigned to the accountancy history books, as 76% of the respondents have suffered at the hands of a toxic workplace in the last year.
And it’s the younger generation taking the brunt. For 80% of those aged 18-34, this toxic environment is an everyday reality, with one in four of these respondents believing it was due to people sabotaging one another.
This toxicity abates as chartered accountants get older with 29% of those aged 55-plus thinking they work in a toxic environment compared to 60% of 35-44-year olds and 35% of 45-54-year olds.
An ongoing crisis
Worryingly, this research covers similar ground to other recent explorations into the effects of the always-on culture in the profession, with the most recent of which finding that 40% of senior accountants are stuck in a rut and hate their job.
The always-on culture was one of the biggest instigators of another CABA survey in May which found that a third of accountants feel stressed everyday. The finger of blame then was pointed at emails, struggling to maintain a work-life blend and office politics.
Perhaps a reason to explain accountancy’s toxic workplace dilemma is answered by another survey coincidentally released this week by recruitment consultants Randstad where almost a quarter of accountants (24%) wanted to quit their job to escape poor leadership.
The result of this poll of 9,000 workers across the UK cements the fact that “having the wrong manager can make your working life a lot less enjoyable,” said Ruth Jacobs, the managing director of Randstad Business Solutions.
Equally concerning for CABA’s service director Kelly Feehan is that this type of culture can take its toll on employees’ mental health, leading to an unproductive and unmotivated workforce – which is almost going unnoticed by the oblivious ‘leaders’.
“Leaders must recognise the signs, whether that’s unrealistic expectations, a clear lack of communication or unsupportive colleagues so that measures can be put in place to turn a toxic atmosphere into a productive and happy one.
“It won’t happen overnight, but it’s important that both employers and employees are involved in stamping out toxicity within an organisation. If it’s not tackled head-on, it could lead to increased absenteeism and high staff turnover which will be felt by the whole business.”
A real-life scenario
Mental health issues caused by the stress of the job are becoming an all too common topic on AccountingWEB. Among the latest VAT conundrum or accounting software recommendation, Any Answers is often used as a refuge for accountants suffering from a toxic work environment.
In one example from December last year, an AccountingWEB reader recounted their challenging few months at work where they had no support, worked long hours with unrealistic demands and co-workers not acting as a team.
The result of this was as described in the CABA research. “I got to the point where I was so stressed out with the job, that I ended up having panic attacks and threw up,” wrote the anonymous AccountingWEB reader.
Despite seeing their GP and being signed off work on sick leave for three weeks, their employer wished them well by asking whether they could take phone calls to assist with work.
The qualified accountant reluctantly said yes but they really don’t want to be disturbed while they mentally recover. This real-life example shows how the toxic environment of a mounting workload and an unreasonable boss are a genuine threat to accountants' health.
But like many others, the isolated AccountingWEB member would rather put work before their job to avoid the consequences. “I do feel quite scared of the prospect of going back. I am also dreading the prospect of being roasted and possibly fired (my top boss is impatient).
“When I recover, I will go back and see how things are. I suspect a lot of the work won't be covered and I will have a huge workload to deal with again.”
Have you worked in or are you currently working in a toxic work environment? What must the profession do to shake off this toxicity?
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.