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A Less Awful Busy Season Is Possible

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
toxic workplaces

February 17, 2022

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A less awful busy season

It’s the middle of February, and in years past, this is just about the time where things start to get a little intense at accounting firms. It’s been a while since I worked a busy season, but I recall that this was just about the time that I was getting sick of the long hours, takeout, and not seeing much daylight. The worst part: There was at least eight weeks (or forever) to go!

How’s busy season going so far in 2022? You tell me. It’s hard to imagine this one being worse than the last two, but if this Verge article I linked to last week is any indication, then a lot fewer accountants are sticking around to find out:

While there isn’t yet any hard data, turnover seems higher, says Michael Platt of Inside Public Accounting, who is in the middle of doing surveys for the 2021 calendar year. “Everybody we’ve talked to said that their turnover rates in the last couple of months have been significantly different than in previous years,” Platt says. 

Accounting has fostered a toxic overwork culture for decades, so you might think this is just the pandemic boosting attrition. But that explanation only works if the pandemic was just a cut-and-dry crisis. The impact has been so profound that it is shifting people’s thinking about how they spend their time and what they do with their lives. For many people, that might mean toning down the ambition. They’ve seen what it takes to get ahead and decided that it isn’t worth it. This can be especially true of the accounting profession, where success can seem very one-size-fits-all. If you can stand the hierarchical structure of firms, the up-or-out career path, the long hours, the deadlines, you can become a partner at a firm and that comes with riches… and what else? The privilege to keep working harder? 

So with the pandemic sapping ambition, on top of the profession’s already problematic culture, we have more people waking up to the idea that traditional “success” in the accounting world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  

But, as we’ve discussed on many occasions, the accounting profession has an important role in figuring out how work and businesses will evolve after the pandemic. Still, it would be a little better if accounting firms didn’t have to use a “do as we say, not as we do” approach. And, yeah, it’s February, so maybe you think this busy season’s a lost cause. If so, I recommend my friend Amber Setter’s article on toxic behaviors to quit this busy season. It might help:

Are there things within our industry we can change to make the busy season, if not blissful, at least bearable? While I recognize we can’t transform things overnight, change has to start somewhere. Perhaps it can start within ourselves.

Amber’s article gets into the specifics of something I wrote about a while back: caring less. People-pleasing, control, perfection: these are all symptoms of people who care way too much. Accounting has intentionally sought these people out to exploit their insecurity and their desire to achieve, to be something. And for years and years, people in accounting have chased after that achievement, often to their own detriment. Another client, another revenue milestone,—it never ends. Satisfaction is ephemeral, fleeting. Never achieved.

And if more people in accounting can acknowledge that, then maybe busy season gets a little less awful, and the results get better, and the profession embarks on something new.   

Elder fraud(sters)

Earlier today, my friend Greg Kyte and I did a webinar on CPA Academy that featured this gem:

A nun who worked as the principal of a Catholic elementary school in Torrance was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $835,000 in school funds to pay for personal expenses, officials announced Monday.

Mary Margaret Kreuper, 80, of Arlington Heights in Los Angeles, was also ordered to pay $825,338 in restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

If I was writing a character study of an aging nun, who also had a bit of a gambling problem that eventually led to an embezzlement scheme, I would 100% name her Sister Mary Margaret.

On another note: It’s just another example of a senior citizen defying our culture’s expectations. Sister Mary Margaret started the fraud in 2008 when she was in her late 60s. At that point she had been principal of the school for 18 years. And then she decided to embark on a life of fraud. It really is never too late.

Oh, also. Shameless self-promotion time: Episode 3 of Oh My Fraud is out. It’s about Rita Crundwell and Dixon, Illinois.

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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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