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Graduate jobs in accountancy: what is the work/life balance like?

Accountancy working hours: will I have a good work/life balance?

What will your work/life balance be like during your graduate accounting career? We consider how to balance work and study, how to handle flexible working arrangements, and what sorts of perks and incentives to expect.
Most companies encourage their new recruits to socialise together.

Generally speaking the work life balance in accountancy is better than it is in other areas of finance such as investment banking and consultancy, but it can depend on the role you do and the employer you work for. Many accounting roles require you to travel to client sites which means that you need to work around the client to a certain extent. That said, most of the clients you work with should be able to work during normal working hours. Communications technology means that working from home is becoming increasingly popular, with accountants being able to use their homes as a base some of the time.

Flexible working

At the turn of the millennium the accountancy profession reported employees being under an overwhelming amount of stress, which meant that employers had to become increasingly flexible about working arrangements. It's worth noting that there can be busier times of the year, of course. For example, if you work in tax you are likely to be really busy around January when tax returns are due or at financial year end if you're working 'in house' as a management accountant. There can also be opportunities for overseas work and this might mean that your work/life balance is altered to fit with the culture within which you are working. This should be made clear when you are applying for a role at the outset.

Balancing work with study

If you start out on a graduate scheme which includes working towards professional exams, which will be necessary to gain professionally qualified status, you may find that studying for some tough exams can make it all feel a little overwhelming. This is only for a limited time, but it's worth being prepared for this and thinking carefully about how you might mange the conflicting responsibilities of work and study. Happily most companies encourage their new recruits to socialise together and new graduates report back that they have had the opportunity to get to know their new colleagues over after work drinks, charity fundraising activities and other social events.

Perks and incentives

Most accountancy firms in the UK offer a standard amount of paid holiday leave on an annual basis and flexible working options. Companies are increasingly recognising the need to provide a varied work environment and support their employees' well-being. They are also adopting corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies which allow employees to engage in work with a charity or local community. This can bring some balance to a role and allow employees to switch off a little from the demands of the role itself. When it was initially introduced CSR seemed to focus on improving the reputation of the company to its stakeholders, but has increasingly become about creating an interesting and balanced working environment for employees, with some of the larger accountancy firms giving significant resource to this activity and allowing employees time off to pursue other interests.

Written by Clare Dawson, University of Birmingham. December 2016.