Accountant by Day

I read two articles today, aimed at young CPA's in particular, but most likely valid to many young workers my age.

The first article is aimed at CPA firms, listing steps that firms can take to make sure that millennials (those born between 1978 to 1994) are engaged at work, in order to entice them to continue working for your CPA firm, instead of looking for greener pastures. The article mentions that this age group is expected to make up over 75% of the workforce in about 10 years time.

The second article was directed at young CPA's, and was a short article on how to be a "can-do" person at work (do your work well, volunteer to help with other tasks, have a positive attitude.) The writer of the article hopes that young professionals who follow this advice will find themselves with better opportunities at the office, and the respect of those in power.

For the last 3 years, I have been that young CPA, doing my best to complete everything assigned to me, and find time for a few extra opportunities I can volunteer for. And when it comes time for our annual reviews, management expresses to me that they appreciate this.

But this year, it has become an ever more difficult juggling act. My assigned responsibilities are greater, it's harder to get everything done to various partners' satisfaction, my ability to volunteer to help out with other tasks has diminished as I feel constantly behind on my assigned responsibilities. And in the face of what feels like constant disappointment from not meeting expected timelines, my attitude is beginning to suffer too.

On one hand, I don't think that I'm really disappointing the partners by taking 2 weeks to finalize a job that they hoped would take 4 days. In the end, the job was done by the deadline, and last year it took us 3 weeks to finalize! However, I don't feel like I'm doing a great job either. And I find the lack of an internal feeling of accomplishment to result in a significant decrease in motivation.

I believe this is the disengagement that the first article is warning firms about, but frankly, management at my firm doesn't seem to be concerned about how employees are feeling. If you stay, you stay, if you go, you go, and they don't seem to think they have much influence on that.


Change management – offering employees options

We are going through some changes in our office at the moment, due to a construction project. This involves moving offices multiple times for some of us, and apparently the scheduling is not good enough to be able to give us more than 12 hours advance notice of the need to pack up and move offices.

Of course, no one really likes change, especially not mandated at the last second. In all of this, I've noticed that a really easy way to make employees feel a little better about the changes is to give them options. Instead of "you'll have to clear out your office tomorrow and sit here instead," telling them "you'll have to clear out your office tomorrow, would you like to move to [place 1] or [place 2]?"

Of course, having a real timeline and plans ahead of time, instead of just deciding things at the last minute would be even better, but even in this situation, I think I'd like some choice in where I move to...


My job is eating my life

And it tastes delicious!

Ermm . . . at least I hope so?

So I thought that May would be my "slow" month. The time between audit busy season and tax busy season. Well, I kicked off May with a client project that I had to work on over the weekend - i.e. the client wanted it ready and reviewed Monday morning, but I didn't have the data to begin until Friday afternoon.

Then, this past Friday, for once I had Friday night plans. My friend was singing in a choir, and I wanted to have time to bike home (since I was celebrating Ride Your Bike to Work Day), shower, eat, and then get there in time to get good seats. I would have plenty of time if I left work at 5:30. Shouldn't be a problem on a Friday in May, right? Especially since I arrived at work at 7:45 in order to miss traffic on my bike, right?

WRONG. Had to stay until 6:15 to make some changes to a report that needed to be sent to a client that day. I made it to the concert on time, but only due to skipping the shower and only finding seats in the back row. I come in today only to find that the report was never reviewed or sent to the client on Friday, and I'm told at 5:30 that I should do a more thorough edit and then send it. So tonight I was at work until almost 9 working on that.

And I'm pretty sure it's all my fault, since this doesn't happen to everyone who works at our company, only to some of us . . .


Location location location – at work

About six months ago I moved offices, placing me about 75 feet closer to one partner and further from another partner. This resulted in many more assignments coming my way from the partner I moved closer to, and fewer assignments from the partner I moved further away from.

I started wondering - if the effect of my location is so dramatic within a single floor of an office building, then how does this affect people who work remotely?

I speculate, based on my observations of my workplace, that while physical proximity does play a part in getting extra assignments from partners, this effect can be mitigated by assigning certain staff to certain partners. Once partners have worked with staff successfully on a few projects, they are likely to seek that staff member out when they have a new project.

In terms of working with other people, as a team, sitting close together certainly helps productivity. One study I found determined that once employees are more than 30 meters apart, Fromthey will have much less daily contact and fewer informal interactions. From a little searching on Google Scholar, collaboration across distance is certainly a bigger problem than getting work assignments across distance. However, sharing an office (our desks located in the same room) with a team member seems like it might actually hurt productivity, due to how easy it is to distract one another.

At this point in the post, I would like to apologize for how this post has been published, half finished, multiple times. I am learning how to use the WordPress app on my new Kindle Fire, but I am still a little unclear about how to save a post as a draft.

Okay, back to the point. The reason for all this thinking about office location is because we are drastically rearranging our offices soon, and I will get some choice about where I sit. Do I choose to be closer to a certain partner, or to the other staff members that I work with frequently?

Of course, the team I would like to work with more will be moving to a whole different floor, so I will have to make a point of sticking my nose onto their floor every so often . . .

How do you think that your office arrangements affect you?

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Young Professionals

In public accounting, there's an expectation that young employees need to "put in their time" as we call it. And they need to put in this time because, well, that's what everyone else did when they're a young employee.

I think every generation thinks that the generation that comes after them is lazy and disrespectful. Go and read Musings of an Abstract Aucklander's post on why this is probably not actually that true (see the quote from Socrates near the end.)

The truth is though, times have changed DRAMATICALLY from when our partners (who are in their 40's) were working in their first and second years in accounting, to now.

First of all, we have vastly improved technology. I can get a lot more auditing done in an hour than we could 18 years ago when the partners were new hires. Of course, to some extent we just do more thorough audits these days, but overall, we are getting more work done per person.

In addition, my mother pointed out to me the other day that while my father would work long hours when he was younger, he also came home to a cooked dinner, bathed children, cleaned house and cleaned clothes. He really didn't have to worry about anything except work. Most young people that I know today do not have this luxury. Even if we have a partner waiting at home, typically that partner works full time too. But most of the partners at our firm are male, and most of them come home to my dad's situation each night.

Of course, some of the older folks at our firm are women, or were single at my age, so in the end, everyone still expects everyone younger than them to "serve their time." And it seems reasonable to expect people to work hard to prove themselves, right? But part of me just feels like, with all of our technology, we could be living differently, and working smarter, rather than just continuing the cycle.

Do you think people should work less now than in the past due to higher productivity per hour? Or do you think people will always be pushed to their limits, due to competition? What track did you take when you were just starting out - working long hours, or trying to get a work-life balance right away?


Work blahs

My (extended) tax season has really ramped up the last couple of weeks. Most of our tax returns are due by September 17th, which is still 4 weeks away, but a) we like to have returns to clients at least a week ahead of time where possible, and b) all MY work has to go through a reviewer, come back to me for changes, go through review again, before it can go to a client, so I need to have all of MY stuff done ASAP.

Unfortunately, I can feel myself losing my motivational steam. I really need to do some work this weekend, and I have yet to start. (But I also want to have time to make pizza and bake some scones tonight.)

So, I'm turning to my blog to help motivate me. By the end of the day, I need to have finished the following tasks:

1) Fill out an IRS certificate application form for a client, along with all required POA forms (I think about 10). Create a word document of a statement for a client to attach to the application.

2) Read the instructions for all of the states a new client of ours will be filing in, and mark down anything that "seems complicated." (I'm not really sure what will count for this, especially since I'm doing it for a partner that I don't usually do tax returns for.)

3) Start tax return for a Corp and Foreign Corp (partners in a Partnership return that I have sort-of finished.)

Work has started getting difficult to complete for me. I have a to-do list, but every day someone adds something to it - some notice we need to respond to, or client audit that we need to pull prior year information for. I spent all day Friday going through review notes on one return, which I can't cross off my list yet, since I still need to discuss some of the notes with the reviewer. So I feel like I haven't been able to cross anything off the list in days, which is very stressful for me. It makes me feel like I'm not making any progress, while the deadline is getting closer.

Any advice on how to stay motivated at work (at least until September 17th!)?

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Blogging and work

I am been very quiet on the blog over the past few months - a lot of that is due to business, but most of it is because everytime I want to share things about my life - getting a new dog, talking about where I went on vacation, I get worried that somehow, someone from work will stumble across it, and it will be such a unique piece of information (combined with that fact that I'm clearly an accountant) that they'll immediately think "Wait I have a co-worker who just spent two weeks in Spain!"

This seems like a silly thought - the internet is a big place - but it's just scary to imagine someone at work finding my blog. And they would email it around to everyone else in a heartbeat!

Do people in your "real" life read your blog? Do you feel comfortable with that idea? What do you think your employer would think about you blogging?


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Take 5

There is way too much going on inside this candy bar. Caramel, peanut butter, pretzels... I have no idea. Does anyone like these??

The home buying process is going well - the sales price is $136,500, and the appraisal came in at $154,000 - thank goodness! I am rolling some seller-paid closing costs into the purchase price, so if the appraisal had come in too low, the seller probably would have just reduced the amount of closing costs they were willing to pay. So we're fine there, and the bank is happy!

Just got back from being out of town for 2 weeks. My roommates found 2 stray dogs in the meantime, so I couldn't bring my dog home with me from my parents house (then we would have had 4 large dogs and an un-housetrained puppy in the house at once!)

Came back to the office on Saturday to hear that the girl I share an office with has been fired or resigned - either way, it wasn't on the best terms, and she won't be coming back. She is the first person to be let go since I started working here, and it's a little unsettling, especially since she was right at my level and I thought she was doing very well.

Were you disturbed the first time someone you worked with was fired?

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A year in the life of an auditor

Don't miss the Accountant By Day one-year anniversary give away! Your first chance to win $25 is on Monday! Entries for this week close at midnight EST on Friday, so check out the contest rules and enter!


This month not only marks the one-year anniversary of Accountant by Day (join in the giveaway fun - win prizes all month!), but it has also been one year since I started working in public accounting. Actually this is also the sixth anniversary of my US citizenship too. (Which reminds me, I need to change my voting address...)

Thank you everyone for reading, and I hope to continue to provide more and better content for you this year!

This year was the first year I hadn't attended school as a full-time student since I was five. I learned as much, and probably retained more, than in college, but it felt like the hardest lessons were not about how to do the work. Rather, the tough lessons were about how to get the work done when you have 3 managers wanting you to get their project finished first. They were about knowing when to ask questions, and how to really try to figure it out on your own first.


There are starving children in Africa: Keeping things in perspective

I always found the cliché "There are starving children in Africa" response to be a pretty useless tool to use against more well-off children refusing to eat the food offered to them. In reality, the "keeping up with the Jonses" cliché holds true, because we compare ourselves to our peers around us, not to distant people in poverty-stricken countries that we have never been to.

That's what makes high school reunions so stressful - they are one of the closest peer groups you can compare yourself to, and let see how you line up 10 years down the road with people who grew up in the same town as you, with the same basic education. (I read this in a book, but I'll need to get back to you with some real citations.) I imagine that, depending on the structure of your work environment, co-workers might be a pretty important comparison group too. If you work in an environment where you have an advanced degree, but most people you work with don't (like manufacturing) this probably isn't much of a problem for you.

Before bed last night, I was reading through the "Work" chapters of bell hooks's book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. The chapter talks about how the feminist movement promoted the idea that women needed to be "allowed" to work, and that work would be liberating. Of course, for poor American women, which included many African American women, this idea didn't mean much because they had been working for decades, and the type of work they did was not at all "liberating." What the white women meant, of course, what that a well-paying career would be liberating, but they did not specify that when they referred to "work." They made the mistake of only comparing their situation to the men at their same class level - and ignoring the plight of the larger population of women.

Hooks also talks about how many middle class women began to work part time to be able to pay for their kids to go to college, or other "luxuries" that were becoming standard for the middle class.

It's now standard for women to go to college and plan on careers, although here in the South I still know several young women who have worked hard in college and at their current jobs, but think that they will drop it all to be a mom and housewife once they meet the right man. I'm sure none of us know what we want until we get there, but the idea of putting so much time, effort and money into a career and then just abandoning it drives me crazy.

For me, it would be nice not to have to work - but only if that was because I earned enough to retire early. Work is empowering, because it gives me the ability to pay my own rent, buy the things I want, have goals that I know I can accomplish. But some days the fact that I have to spend 10 - 12 hours of my day at work (and commuting to and from work) to be counter productive - like power couples who earn enough to hire the best nannies but never see their children themselves. Why have children in the first place? (Of course, they do get to enjoy their children sometimes and that's why they have them, but a lot of these couples seem stretched really thin and constantly stressed out.)

There seem to be two ways to approach work - well two ways that seem "good" to me. The first is to get a 9 to 5 (well, 8:30 to 5:30) job, and show up to work every day, do your thing, and then live your "real life" at home. Or, if your job is going to be your life, your job needs to be a place where you can accomplish things, have goals, and enjoy a good portion of the work.

I'm still deciding if I really like my job enough to commit to it and give up on having much time to do other things. I do enjoy the work, and the constant challenge, but I also find it stressful to feel like I never quite know what I'm doing, and also to have to work with so many different personalities overseeing me. I think it's something that will just take time for me to get comfortable with, and only then can I really see how I feel about this job.

What is your philosophy towards your job? Is it something you do because you need to work to do the stuff you really like, or is your job something you really like to do? What would your ideal job be? Or how would you ideally spend your days if you didn't "need" to work to pay your rent, food, medical bills, etc?

This post is a good example of why I should write posts all at once, instead of in bits and pieces over several days! My original point of this post is that we start wanting different things depending on our sphere of reference - depending on what the people we compare ourselves to have. It seems that the key to getting away from keeping up with the joneses is to really evaluate what you want and what it will take to get there. If all you want is a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere, you maybe could quit your city job and go for it now. If you want to use your freetime better, maybe quit the demanding career and find a 9-5 job. But first you need to really know what YOU want.

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