Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

CPA Career Rule 1: No Whiners Allowed

Accountants get it done, no matter what it takes. Next question: What to expect for busy season? Join the survey; see the results.

November 19, 2009
by Rick Telberg/On Careers

Many accountants and finance managers, faced with the pressures of a tough business environment and now the upcoming busy season, say they are working harder than ever.

Today, 83 percent of over 800 CPAs surveyed say they are routinely working more than 40 hours per week. Among the same group of CPAs, more than three out of four (77%) said they were working as long and as hard as they did five years ago, a six percent increase, according to the CPA Trendlines survey by Bay Street Group for the AICPA. Of course, accountants and finance managers have always put in the extra effort needed for their clients and companies. But in today’s economy, the pressures are clearly different.

Dan Thomas, a soloist in Irvine, Calif., says he’s working harder, putting in more than 50 hours a week, and it’s not even tax season yet. He explains that customer expectations have changed. “Clients,” he says, “expect more for less and quick response time from their service advisers.”

Busy Season 2010: What to expect?
How to get ready?

Join the survey; get the answers.

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But the self-employed and the owner-operators aren’t alone. At the Milford, Ohio, office of a Fortune 500 consumer-goods company, CPA Tim McDermott is also working more than 50 hours a week. “Headcount at my company has gone down, but the work remains,” he says. “The message is ‘be glad you still have a job and here are your additional responsibilities.’”

For others, he advises, “Be pro-active in identifying non-value-added work and seek your boss’ alignment to push back on the ‘small stuff’.”

There are some stark differences between the CPAs who manage 40-hour work weeks and the ones burning the midnight oil. For instance, 77 percent of the CPAs working longer hours also report higher levels of stress, compared with only 22 percent of those who work a regular 40-hour week. Those working longer hours are 25 percent more likely to be considering changing jobs, even if it would mean a pay cut. But some are accustomed to the long hours, maybe even thrive on it. Half of the CPAs working more than 50 hours a week have been doing so for five years or more.

But where does the time go? We asked that question too.

We were able to account for about 44 hours of the typical accountant’s work week. The most surprising item: “Actually producing my deliverables” accounts for less than half the time. That makes sense considering, by some estimates, the typical CPA firm gets only 50 percent chargeable hours. And it speaks to the importance in an accountant’s work life of the skills and activities that go beyond simply doing taxes or accounting — like communicating and planning.

How CPAs Spend Their Time at Work — Weekly



Actually producing my "deliverables."


Handling work-related e-mail.


In face-to-face meetings.


On the phone for work.


Planning, setting work priorities.


In conference calls, non-face-to-face meetings.


Learning new work skills.


Thinking creatively about work.


(Source: CPA Trendlines survey by Bay Street Group LLC for AICPA)

To get a sense of the accountant’s complete work-life mix, we also asked about their time spent not working. It seems that accountants may be a little sleep deprived, getting on average, six hours and 24 minutes per night. And they’re gulping down lunch, devoting maybe less than half an hour per day. On the other hand, they are spending about 11 and one-half hours a week on “quality time with family and friends.”

How CPAs Spend Their Time-Off-Hours — Weekly





Spending quality time with family or friends.


Relaxing, playing, unwinding, involved in a hobby or sport.




Taking lunch break.


(Source: CPA Trendlines survey by Bay Street Group LLC for AICPA)

Is it a hard-working life? Every accountant knows it is. But there’s also professional challenge, personal satisfaction, pride and, in this economy, gratitude.

“People tend to only look at the negative aspects of everything,” says CPA Jim Luffman of Lakeland, Fla. “If you have a job today you should feel very fortunate because many people are out of work and more are getting laid off everyday.”

“There is a reason it is called work and not play,” Luffman says. “My advice is to enjoy the time away from work you have and make the most of it. Oh! And quit whining.”

BUSY SEASON FORECAST: What to expect? How to gear up? Join the survey; get the answers.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, questions, ideas? E-mail Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.