Saturday, January 08, 2011

Shorter and Flexible Hours in Accounting Firms

There is another article in today's New York Times about choice of shorter hours. Like the last one it focuses on worker satisfaction and overlooks the environmental implications of shorter work hours.

It also says shorter and flexible hours have the economic benefit of reducing employee turnover, but it says nothing about the effect on productivity (which I would be very interested to know). But notice that the last person quoted in the excerpt below says she was promoted to partner based on performance even though she was working part time, which implies that her productivity was high.

Some excerpts fom the article are below. The full article is available at

Flex Time Flourishes in Accounting Industry

...when it comes to respecting the work-life balance of employees, the accounting industry far outshines the rest of corporate America, workplace experts say.

Some firms allow employees to take off the entire summer to devote to their children; some let employees work just three days a week during nonpeak months. The big accounting firms generally give 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, with fathers often receiving six weeks — and that is on top of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided to parents under federal law.

Several firms grant sabbaticals of three or six months at 40 percent pay and full health benefits, so employees can chase life dreams like climbing mountains or building schoolhouses in Africa. And since these are bean counters we’re talking about, they’ve done the math: flexibility enhances the bottom line.

“The nation’s accounting firms excel at this for a boring, accounting reason — they’ve looked at the numbers, and they see it helps,” said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute.

Jennifer Allyn, managing director in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ office of diversity, said stepped-up flexibility policies had helped cut turnover to 15 percent a year, from 24 percent. Firms estimate that the cost of hiring and training a new employee can be 1.5 times a departing worker’s salary, so reducing turnover by 200 employees could mean $30 million in savings. Sharon Allen, Deloitte’s chairwoman, said her firm’s flexibility policies saved more than $45 million a year by reducing turnover.

Working mothers, especially, are drawn to employers that offer flexibility, although all employees want some control over their work hours.

“Flexibility is the No. 1 issue for women, but it’s also the No. 2 or 3 issue for men,” said Cathy Benko, a vice chairwoman at Deloitte. She created its much-praised “mass career customization” program in which all employees work with management to factor their individual goals and needs — like raising three children — into their career plans.
Michelle Hickox, an accountant with McGladrey, the nation’s fifth-largest accounting firm, based in Bloomington, Minn., said her firm’s Flexyear policy had helped keep her from quitting. For the last nine years, she has worked full time September through June, while taking off July and August to spend time with her two school-age daughters. She opted to do this even though she feared it would damage her chances of making partner.

But things took a surprising turn. “One day, my partner-in-charge came into my office and was adamant that being in this program shouldn’t make a difference in my goal of becoming a partner,” Ms. Hickox said. “It felt awesome.” Soon after, she was promoted to partner.
Among Ernst & Young’s 23,500 United States employees, 1,700 women and 300 men are on flexible arrangements. Women are so confident that adopting such a schedule will not hurt their chances of promotion that 25 percent of the firm’s female senior managers — the step before partner — are on flexible arrangements.

Brooke Sikes, an Ernst & Young partner in Dallas, took six months of maternity leave when her first child was born and then spent four years working a 35-hour-a-week schedule, down from her typical 45- or 50-hour weeks. The firm promoted her to partner even though she was working less than full time.

“The firm very much rewards you for your performance,” she said. “It’s not about punching a clock. It’s not about face time.”

See the complete article at


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