Auditors from the Big 4 financial services firms blast working conditions at Deloitte, PwC and EY

Ex-employees of ‘Big 4’ financial services firms have spoken out against the ingrained unhealthy work culture and pressures auditors face, with 80-hour work weeks, poor pay, and chronic stress and burnout among the main concerns.

In Australia, these big companies include Ernst and Young (EY), Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and KPMG.

A former Deloitte employee, Sarah* joined the firm as a graduate in its financial statement auditing division. She says it was an “unspoken rule” that busy times would see her working up to 70 hours a week over six days.

Despite this, she recalls that her salary as a graduate was only $55,000, not including superannuation.

“I would say I was seriously underpaid for the hours. I think someone working at McDonalds would have made more than me on an hourly basis,’ she told news.com.au.

“If I had to split it, I probably wouldn’t have made more than $15 an hour.”

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Lachlan*, who has worked at PwC and EY, described the Big 4 culture as an “iron man contest”. He also thinks it would take years to break the “ingrained” corporate culture.

“You survive or go,” he told news.com.au.

“Each level punishes the next level. They see it as, ‘If I had to do it, then you have to do it’ and that spreads the same kind of bad behavior.

“Saying that there are fantastic partners who take care of their staff. However, the good ones end up leaving because they are punished for treating the staff well and therefore not being as profitable.

The complaints were sparked by the tragic alleged suicide of a 33-year-old Ernst and Young (EY) employee after her body was discovered at the company’s offices in Sydney CBD in the early hours of Saturday morning.

News.com.au does not suggest that the work culture at EY contributed to the employee’s death and that the employee’s identity and role within the company have not been disclosed.

On Wednesday, the accountancy firm confirmed the woman left their George St offices at 7.30pm on Friday and returned just after midnight. This was about 20 minutes before police were notified of a “mental wellness report”.

The woman was previously thought to have returned to the EY building at 7.30pm, having attended a company-planned event held at The Ivy – a leading bar and club in Sydney.

The woman’s death has sparked wide-ranging discussions about work culture and employee pressure at the Big 4 financial services firm.

“Nearly Impossible Engagement Targets”

Since Tuesday, news.com.au has received several complaints from former auditors of all Big 4 companies, who cited 70-80 hour working weeks as the norm. Despite this, getting paid overtime is not.

While total working hours nearly double the normal 40-hour work week, KPMG, EY and PwC maintained that employees were working an average of 7.5 to 8.4 hours a day, representatives said. during a parliamentary inquiry in 2020.

At the time, PwC said the financial services company’s records put the average hours worked per week at 40 to 42 hours.

“That includes peaks, holidays and all that stuff,” the rep said.

Similarly, EY said while there was “sometimes work outside of the standard 7.5 hours” it didn’t happen “throughout the year”.

KPMG, however, said it was “very difficult to give an average” of hours worked by staff.

However, former employee Lachlan told news.com.au that auditors are actively discouraged from recording the total number of hours worked for each client. The total number of billable hours an auditor has spent on a case is recorded, but Lachlan said workers are asked to contribute time far beyond their billable numbers.

“They claim that staff only work slightly overtime hours, but what they don’t say is that they set unrealistic budgets that force staff not to charge for time,” a- he declared.

“If you write too much on your timesheet, you get asked about it because he must be responsible somewhere.

If staff overstayed a client, they risked being subject to a performance review.

“When staff have approached HR for advice, partners have been notified and this has usually resulted in staff being placed on a redundancy or performance review list,” he said. declared.

James Guthrie, professor emeritus in the department of accounting and corporate governance at Macquarie University, said junior staff members are most affected by these expectations.

“They give graduates and junior staff $25 to $30 an hour and charge them $150,” he told news.com.au.

“What they have to put in place is a rule that they only have to work the number of hours required on their contract.”

Peak Audit Periods

The audit industry is currently in its peak period. It comes as ASX-listed companies prepare to publish their annual reports by September 30. The period between January and March is another busy period for companies that end their fiscal year on December 31.

Sarah said it was expected that employees would stay every day except Fridays during these times. However, during off-peak times, she said she would be in the office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“During busy seasons, I would arrive at 8:30 a.m. and leave around 11 p.m. and return at 12 p.m. and do the same thing again Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, we would leave at a more reasonable time,” Sarah said.

“If you worked on the weekends, you would work in shifts, which would mean maybe an extra full day in the office.

“I would say my worst week was about 70 hours.”

No amount of money is worth it’

Another former PwC senior partner, Sebastian*, said he was paid around $67,000, after pension contributions were taken out of his total salary of $74,400.

“It’s hard work, and they sell you ‘what does it do to your resume’ and ‘you can make a partner…’. The first, I agree with the second, well, yes, if you sell your soul to the company and accept no life outside of it,” he told news.com .to.

“I know many partners in all Big 4 companies and no amount of money is worth what they sacrifice.”

Working in consultancy and consultancy, Sebastian said the work never stopped. He remembers regularly working 80 hours, including one year when a project required him to work throughout Christmas and New Years.

“I overheard one of the vendors comment, ‘They’re consultants. They are used to working around the clock,” he said.

“I saw it as an investment”

However, stints at Big 4 companies, especially for graduates and junior staff, can have an upside.

Although Sarah remembers being burned during her five-year stint at Deloitte, she says this accreditation helped her secure future employment.

“I saw it as an investment. There was a prestige to working with the Big Four and that’s why people are drawn to it,” she said.

“I hated my life during that time and was excited to get out, but looking back I can see I learned a lot from it.

“That’s why people are always looking for Big 4 recruits. There’s the norm that we’re pushed to work faster and in less time and under more pressure and stress.

Besides extending the timelines for auditors, Sarah says assigning more staff would also reduce the burden on existing team members.

“The more members on the team, the less workload there is for everyone,” she says.

However, the industry is also currently in the midst of a labor shortage. According to CommBank Accounting’s May 2022 Market Pulse survey, at least 93% of companies have experienced difficulty finding quality staff. The decrease in foreign staff and migrant employees is a major problem.

“It becomes an issue why the Big 4 aren’t recruiting more and putting systems and processes in place that support the next generation of accountants,” adds Professor Guthrie.

EY staff respond: ‘Don’t care at all’

Current EY employees hope the passing of the recent employee will spark a conversation about workplace culture and workload.

Some employees criticized the company’s response to the woman’s death.

In comments shared by EY employees with The Aussie Corporate Instagram accounta current member of staff said: “There’s a dark cloud hanging over us at EY and it was so strange because people bypass the event. Either they say ‘it’s so sad’ or they don’t care about it at all.

On a pre-scheduled, company-wide call on Wednesday, they said the death had been “averted”, before management spoke about the split for the remaining 50 minutes.

However, another EY employee said management handled the situation appropriately.

“Even though no one on my team knew the person, I had three different partners call me on Monday to check on me and have an open discussion about what happened.”

As it stands, staff have been made aware of an “incident” over the weekend which resulted in the death of an employee. In an email seen by news.com.au, staff were told Monday morning that a ‘police investigation is ongoing, we have been advised there are no suspicious circumstances’.

“Following this tragedy, we are conducting a comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review which will include health and safety, security and social events,” the email read.

“Jono Nicholas, our Chief Mental Health Advisor, will play an important role in guiding and advising us as we move forward.”

In a comment to news.com.au, EY said a 24/7 employee assistance program had been offered to all staff and their families, along with counseling services on square. Police investigations are continuing, although investigators believe there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.

News.com.au contacted Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG, but did not receive a response before the story was published.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewers.

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Originally published as Auditors from the Big 4 financial services firms blast working conditions at Deloitte, PwC and EY