Industry Trends

Four-Day Workweeks During Busy Season

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
toxic workplaces

December 3, 2021

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No work Fridays…during busy season

My first job after graduate school was with a small accounting firm. I worked on both audit and tax engagements, and when the busy season picked up in mid-January, we were required to work in the office on Saturdays. We were warned about mandatory weekend hours in school. Still, much like the romanticism around working at a Big 4 firm, the privilege of having a job that was so important to require working on the weekend had a certain, if misguided, mystique. 

Of course, when we all started to realize that our presence in the office was more about face time than it was about actually working, the mystique wore off fast. The idea that we were autonomous working professionals quickly gave way to a clear understanding that we were grunts to be called upon when needed. The mystique devolved into resentment and, after a while, mutiny. 

Ever since those early experiences, I vowed never to work on weekends again because someone told me that I had to. I feel like I’ve honored that vow, but in the second phase of my career, I started working on weekends because I told myself that I had to. This was a far worse scenario than someone else telling me to work on the weekend. I could easily and vigorously resist the unreasonable demands and expectations of a manager or partner. My rationale, on the other hand, was always clear, logical, and justified. 

For accounting firms, the busiest time of year is fast approaching, and many will undoubtedly regurgitate the annual mandatory Saturday tradition. Please give it up. Clinging to mandatory Saturdays is the horse and buggy of the accounting world. It’s even more antiquated in the pandemic era. Workers of all kinds have made their preferences clear: They want more flexible arrangements and less rigid expectations. 

Fortunately, some employers are taking the hint, going so far as to ditch the five-day workweek altogether: 

[A] Gallup study found that people who worked four-day weeks had significantly higher levels of well-being and were less likely to feel chronically burned out. But they also had higher levels of active disengagement. “By working fewer days per week, employees who already feel disconnected from their employer, team, or manager are more likely to drift even farther away — from tolerating their jobs to hating them,” Gallup’s Jim Harter and Ryan Pendell wrote. That’s especially concerning for companies worried about worker retention.

Mr. Harter, the chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace management practice, said in an interview that a good manager could offset any tendency toward disengagement. His recommendation, though, would be for companies to offer flexible schedules rather than four-day weeks, so that workers can tailor their hours to their individual circumstances.

Now, I get that client demands may not always make the “no work Friday” feasible, but that’s what the flexible schedules are for. If your team is relatively small, it’s likely that you’re all aware of each other’s schedules, familial responsibilities, and other commitments by now. Likewise, the pandemic exposed all the noise:

“To paraphrase William Gibson, the four-day week is already here for most companies,” said [Alex Soojung-Kim] Pang, an organizational strategy consultant in Menlo Park, Calif. “It’s buried under a whole bunch of rubble of outmoded practices and bad meetings. Once you clear that stuff away, then it turns out the four-day week is well within your grasp.”

Outmoded practices like… mandatory Saturdays. 

So if someone wants to compress their workweek into four days because that’s what they need to perform better, they should have a four-day workweek. Or if someone needs to take a midweek sad day, they should take a midweek sad day. Or if no one wants to work Saturdays anymore, ever again, they should not work Saturdays anymore, ever again. Even accountants. Even during busy season.

Quitter advising

A record number of people quit their jobs in September, the third new high this year. Many have wondered what all these people are doing. One thing is for sure: They’re probably not living off unemployment benefits. In fact, a lot of them are working for themselves:

The number of unincorporated self-employed workers has risen by 500,000 since the start of the pandemic, Labor Department data show, to 9.44 million. That is the highest total since the financial-crisis year 2008, except for this summer. The total amounts to an increase of 6% in the self-employed, while the overall U.S. employment total remains nearly 3% lower than before the pandemic.

Entrepreneurs applied for federal tax-identification numbers to register 4.54 million new businesses from January through October this year, up 56% from the same period of 2019, Census Bureau data show. That was the largest number on records that date back to 2004. Two-thirds were for businesses that aren’t expected to hire employees.

We’ve talked many times about how accountants are uniquely positioned to advise employers that are trying to hire people in a competitive job market. But there’s an opportunity on the other side of this trend too: advising the quitters who are, in many cases, self-employed for the first time. The vast majority of these first-timers aren’t going to know all the nuanced (read: tax) benefits of being self-employed. It’s going to seem complex and scary to them. 

And so, again, accountants seem uniquely positioned to help these people navigate their new circumstances. This isn’t business advice, but one possible campaign slogan might be: “Did you just quit your job to work for yourself? Freaking out a bit? Don’t worry. We’re CPAs. We can help.” 

Excel TikTokers

If you are reexamining your life and career choices but still like some of the nuts and bolts of accounting, just know that there may be another path for you. 

Kat Norton is a Microsoft Excel influencer. She has over a million followers on TikTok and Instagram, where she goes by the name Miss Excel, and she’s leveraged that into a software training business that is now generating up to six figures of revenue a day. That’s six figures a day. And she’s only been doing this since June 2020. 

If you’re intimidated by TikTok, don’t worry: Miss Excel says that she didn’t even have a TikTok before she started this business. That means there’s hope for you. But remember, you don’t want to be an accountant on TikTok. The earning potential could be the same, sure, but it’s an entirely different line of work.

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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