Work/Life Balance Varies for Accountants Worldwide

Attitudes toward work/life balance vary among accountants in different countries, according to a survey by the Institute of Management Accountants.

While an average of 35 percent of the management accountants worldwide polled by the IMA said they prefer a rigid work schedule, that wasn’t true in the United States, where only 18 percent said they like a rigid work schedule. In contrast, 43 percent of the management accountants surveyed in China, 36 percent in the United Arab Emirates and 43 percent in Saudi Arabia prefer a rigid work schedule. The results come from the IMA’s Global Salary Survey, which polled management accountants in those four countries.

“We asked in our survey the extent to which our members around the world desired to have more flexible career paths, as opposed to a rigid career path that might lead to faster advancement,” said IMA vice president of research and policy Raef Lawson. “We found some interesting results. The members in the United States by a very large margin preferred to have a flexible career path with slower advancement, as opposed to a rigid career path and faster advancement. That points to the increasing desire of employees in general to have that flexibility.”
However, in the other countries surveyed, IMA members seem to prefer a more rigid career path and less balance between their work and personal life than in the U.S., he noted. The poll also revealed different attitudes among male and female accountants.

“The typical stereotype came through in general in this survey that men were more desirous than women of a rigid career path with faster career advancement, and women were more desirous of a flexible career path, possibly because of family considerations,” said Lawson. “But the one exception to this was in Saudi Arabia, where women were much, much more desirous of a rigid career path. That was very interesting. I think it is a reflection of maybe the economic situation there and the opening up of the country to be a little bit more liberal in terms of career prospects for women, and women being very desirous of pursuing that.”

In terms of generational differences among management accountants, the IMA survey found a desire to have a more rigid career path in order to achieve faster career advancement was greatest among the Millennials (ages 18 to 34), followed by Gen X (age 35 to 50), and then the Boomers (ages 51 to 69).

“Note that while the percentage of those preferring more job flexibility at the cost of slower advancement is greatest for Gen X, that is due, at least in part, to a portion of the Boomers having already reached retirement age,” said Lawson. “Excluding those for whom this is not a relevant consideration, there is a consistent pattern of desiring more career flexibility as one gets older. It is interesting to note that Millennials, despite their reputation, are, like prior generations, quite eager to pursue career advancement.”

As part of the IMA salary survey, respondents were also asked whether they planned to change jobs within the coming year. Those working in general accounting were most likely to be contemplating a change, while those working in education were least likely to be contemplating a move. Respondents working in public accounting were next most likely to be planning on changing their jobs. This could be related to the traditional “up or out” employment model of CPA firms, the IMA noted.
“In many countries over half of the respondents were interested in changing their jobs within the coming year, so it really does show a desire for people to advance their careers, through changing their jobs and possibly employers,” said Lawson.

However, that was probably less prevalent in the United States and more prevalent in the Middle East, he added.

“In Saudi Arabia, for example, 58 percent of our members are looking to change jobs within the coming year, and in the United Arab Emirates it was 56 percent,” said Lawson. “In China, it was 31 percent, but that was actually down from the prior year, when it was over 50 percent. In the U.S., it’s less. I think that’s a reflection of the income that folks make in these various countries and the desire to improve their lives.”

The IMA also asked the management accountants it polled why they might want to move to another country. “There were a variety of reasons that were very prevalent,” said Lawson. “The most prevalent was to improve their quality of life. Looking at this by gender, it was more important in China for the female members, whereas in the Middle East it was more important for male members, but that would be a reflection on the economic circumstances of life in these countries and the cultural background, the opportunity to pursue new career opportunities was important. That was important to males in China and KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] and then more important to females in the UAE. An increasing salary was important in many countries. It was much more important in the Middle East than in China. I think that reflects increasing wage rates in China and the emergence of their middle class, but it was more important to males everywhere than our female members. Men tend to be money oriented.”

In tandem with the survey, the IMA has a “competency crisis” initiative to encourage educational institutions to train management accountants. “As employees become increasingly mobile, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to find employees with the right skills,” said Lawson.

By Michael Cohen

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