In 2019, academic researchers tried to answer the question “Is accounting a miserable job?” »

I came across this interesting article by authors Paul Madsen and Jeffrey Piao today and thought it was worth sharing despite its age (2019). Accounting misery is timeless after all. Additionally, it is relevant given the ongoing problem with the accounting pipeline and concerns about the shortage of accountants, as the paper explains how the “miserable accountant” stereotype actually attracts people to the profession for whom misery is a good fit.

The abstract:

Popular culture describes accounting as a miserable job. Accounting research assessing the annoying “bean counter stereotype” argues that it is wrong and costly because it reduces the appeal of accounting to high-quality students and takes a heavy psychological toll on accountants who are so stereotyped. . In this study, we empirically test the fundamental question: is accounting a miserable job? We use data from a variety of sources that allow us to measure misery at work and model it based on job tasks and personal characteristics of workers in all occupations. We find that accounting work is particularly sedentary, rigid, repetitive, constrained and rule-centric; characteristics that fit the accounting stereotype and that previous work outside of accounting has shown are associated with job misery. However, we find that bookkeeping is not a miserable job. In univariate and multivariate tests, we find that accounting has misery values ​​that are either close to the mean or better than the mean for the comparison jobs. This apparent paradox could be a positive consequence of accounting stereotypes, which can make it easier to match potentially miserable work with people most willing to tolerate it. Indeed, we present longitudinal evidence suggesting that accounting attracts people with personalities suited to repetitive, rule-centric work and who have psychosocial backgrounds that make them robust to stress. Working hardship costs workers, employers and society dearly, and accounting stereotypes have value if they facilitate informed career selection.

The introduction opens with this quote from Monty Python:

“…our experts describe you as an appallingly dull, unimaginative, shy, lacking initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humor, tedious company, and irrepressibly dull and awful type of company. And while in the most professions this would represent considerable inconvenience, in accountancy it is a positive boon.

Misery is “a state of suffering and need which is the result of poverty or affliction” by Merriam Webster. It can also describe “a circumstance, thing, or place that causes suffering or discomfort” or “a state of great sadness and emotional distress”. In the study, the researchers used “work misery” to refer to the suffering resulting from workplace afflictions. Just so we are clear on definitions and what exactly misery is in the context of this article.

Alright, let’s go back to the previous research mentioned in the article:

Accounting work has long been described in popular culture as boring, rigid and monotonous (Allen 2004, Beard 1994, Richardson et al. 2015, Smith and Briggs 1999, Smith and Jacobs 2011, Warren and Parker 2009). A branch of the accounting literature argues that such stereotypes are costly to the profession as they reduce the number, quality and diversity of people who choose accounting careers (Baldvinsdottir et al. 2009, Beard 1994, Briggs et al. 2007, DeCoster and Rhode 1971, Friedman and Lyne 2001, Jeacle 2008, Smith and Briggs 1999), and that accounting careers are more interesting and compelling than stereotypes suggest (Belski et al. 2003, Chen et al. 2012, DeCoster and Rhode 1971, Jeacle 2008, Warren and Parker 2009). However, other accounting publications suggest that accounting jobs are miserable. A majority of accounting educators and practitioners would not major in accounting if they were “starting their studies again” (Albrecht and Sack 2000, Ch. 4) and CPA firms have exceptionally high turnover (CPA Journal 2018 ). These issues are potential consequences of a pervasive “burnout culture” in accounting which, in the early 2010s, caused “crisis-level attrition” and “rebellion” among junior PwC staff. (Nusca 2018, Purtill 2018), and a mismatch between the personality traits that lead to success in accounting degree programs and those that lead to success in accounting firms (Briggs et al. 2007). That bookkeeping is miserable work is an empirical question that has not been carefully assessed before.

In the study, the authors modeled job misery across all occupations to test whether accounting is particularly miserable compared to available alternatives, comparing accountants to other workers and also to a subset of workers. closer to accountants in terms of education. To make the empirical assessments of accounting misery as comprehensive as possible, they assessed it in three contexts, each of which allowed them to measure misery and its potential causes in distinct ways using large random samples of Americans. . What they found after the assessment will come as a shock to readers of Going Concern: their evidence suggests that accounting is not a miserable job and, by some measures, is significantly less miserable than other jobs and less miserable than you would expect given its characteristics.

Essentially, the paper suggests that accounting can actually be miserable for foreigners if they pursue a career in accounting, but those who are attracted to accounting careers may be better equipped than these people to tolerate these conditions. It’s true, you are all resilient and uniquely built to survive stressors that others would perceive as miserable. Well, that’s a potential explanation anyway:

To sum up, we show that accounting is a job which, because it is sedentary, rigid and repetitive, has the potential to produce high rates of misery. Yet this is not the case, at least not according to accountants. One potential explanation is that people choose accounting careers from a menu of options, likely with prior knowledge of accounting stereotypes (Haslam et al. 1998). Since accounting stereotypes are accurate to some degree, they can protect against misery by facilitating informed career selection. This explanation is supported by two important theories of work misery. The first postulates that misery is a function of the degree of person-environment fit (Caplan 1987). If people believe that accounting stereotypes are accurate, those who are relatively tolerant of rigid, monotonous work should be more likely to pursue a career in accounting, to find their work as an accountant suitable for them, and therefore to experience relatively little hardship. work stress. The second postulates that misery is a consequence of an initial illusory idealism about a job followed by disillusionment after exposure to the realities of work (Freudenberger 1974, 1975). Since students selecting accounting degree programs are particularly unlikely to choose accounting because they are interested in it (Madsen 2015), accountants may be protected from disillusionment because they have never initially deluded. These explanations have the practical implication that accounting stereotypes are likely to have significant benefits for accountants and their employers, and the profession’s efforts to counter these old stereotypes, if successful, would likely have unintended negative consequences (Briggs et al. 2007, Jeacle 2008).

LOL: “Accountants can be protected from disillusionment because they were never under any illusions to begin with.”

All the while, we wondered if students were fearful of the profession because of some cynical accounting blogs, negative posts on Reddit, and people on Fishbowl complaining about their burnout. And yet, this research says the exact opposite: stereotypes – which are mostly true – recruit knowledgeable individuals who thrive in this environment. The takeaway here is that you all need to step up your meme game and make sure that students considering the accounting route are fully aware of how miserable your job is. I hope the AICPA is reading this!

Read the whole paper: Is accounting a miserable job? [PDF]

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