Date posted: 22/04/2020 5 min read

What CAs really want

Cash isn’t always king when it comes to remuneration. CAs want a work-life balance, with flexible hours and other benefits.

In Brief

  • 70% of CAs nominated “work-life balance” as a key priority in the latest CA ANZ Remuneration Survey.
  • CAs want a workplace that puts them first and offers stimulating work assignments.
  • Australian workers are four times more likely to work at a firm that focuses on their health and wellbeing.

Asked to describe her ideal package, Dania Gouw CA says the key word is “balance”. A senior accountant at Zurich Insurance in Sydney, Gouw defines balance as a combination of “career progression and opportunities, flexibility and team culture”.

Gouw identifies as one of the 70% of CAs who nominated “work-life balance” as a key career priority in the latest CA ANZ Remuneration Survey, which surveyed 3700 chartered accountants in Australia and New Zealand in late 2019. This was up from only 16% the year before.

Other non-financial benefits recognised as important in the survey include flexibility and flexible hours (67%), culture (65%), the people you work with (63%), and being interested and stimulated at work (62%).

“I look for the flexibility option in choosing reasonable working hours, with job sharing, the option of personal study leave and working remotely at least once a week,” says Gouw.

“These are important to show that each individual can be held accountable to get the job done, because the number of hours clocked should no longer be directly linked to quality output or remuneration.”

Another CA, who asked to remain anonymous, said that while the salary amount was still the primary feature he valued, “extra features such as flexible leave and employee benefits are definitely persuasive”.

“I completely understand when I need to work longer hours during busy periods, however on the flipside I’d like to balance it out by working less hours or taking leave during quiet periods.”

What is the ideal workplace for CAs?

An ideal workplace is probably one that “puts their employees first”, says Gouw. In practice, that means a workplace that offers stimulating work assignments and secondments, and rotations through other departments of interest locally or overseas. Daily bootcamp and wellness sessions – and days off for birthdays – wouldn’t go astray, either.

In reality, such enterprises rarely exist. The conditions faced by junior auditors are a case in point. Junior auditors at Deloitte staged a minor rebellion in early 2019 over stagnating salary growth and long working hours. Grads working a 37.5-hour week were being paid about A$50,000, which amounted to about A$25 an hour – or the basic wage.

These issues were highlighted in submissions to an Australian parliamentary enquiry into audit quality, which identified staff retention and working conditions as a factor in audit quality.

As Gouw points out, the idea of flexible working is often available unevenly across organisations, with some areas still relatively ignored. “On paper, employers are quite attuned, but there is still a lack of education and communication to spread this culture across all teams and divisions in the company,” she says.

Workers are prioritising wellness

The CA ANZ survey results echo the findings of health and wellness research conducted by Mercer Australia, where Chi Tran is market insights leader.

“We know that Australian employees are four times more likely to work for a company that focuses on their health and wellbeing,” says Tran, adding that many Australasian employers are now offering a “wellness allowance” of A$300-A$1000 to their staff as part of their remuneration.

“We know that Australian employees are four times more likely to work for a company that focuses on their health and wellbeing.”
Chi Tran, Mercer Australia

“This can be spent in any way the employee wants… gym shoes, gym memberships, fitness classes, anything which the employee thinks can contribute to health and wellness.”

Mercer’s annual Australian Benefits Review has found the number of respondents identifying “flexibility and wellness” as workplace priorities is climbing by 2-3% each year, and currently sits at just over 70%.

This spans all age demographics, but can mean different things to different people. Younger staff, for example, may enjoy the flexibility to take holidays, go to the gym or play competitive sport, while employees with families value the opportunity to take time to collect their children from school and attend school events. For older people, it can be time for medical appointments, personal development and family.

“I have found clients and colleagues who take jobs where the pay is higher but where there is not much flexibility, and in many cases they are out looking for a new job again in about six months,” says Tran.

She observes some employees are willing to accept lower salaries if they are happy with the flexibility and wellness aspects of their remuneration package and conditions.

This can amount to up to a difference of A$10,000 per year, a decision that in effect puts a dollar value on flexibility for some employees.

What constitutes a better offer?

Simon Gold CA, director of Australasian Taxation Services at the SMATS Group in Sydney, offers another perspective. As an employer, Gold sees younger staff coming into the organisation hungry for training and knowledge. But they are liable to be lured away when they receive a “better” offer.

He cites the example of a senior accountant who accepted a job at Australasian Taxation Services, only to return to his former employer shortly after when he was offered a 50% pay rise to go back.

“Despite there being very definite reasons for leaving employment there in the first place, and despite the bright future he would have had here, he acknowledged that the money will get him one step closer to buying his first property.”

A better offer is not always pecuniary, however. Gold says that several of his staff over the years have “changed merely for the sake of change”.

Sometimes they are offered more salary, but that isn’t always the primary objective. One staff member who left last year – for the same salary level – told Gold that after two years with the firm he was “too comfortable” and wanted to try something different.

“Another staffer we had trained up – perhaps a little too well – started their own business,” Gold says.

While many employers in the financial industry are attuned to the changing expectations of employees there is still some distance to go.

For Gouw, the features that she values in her current package are the wellness allowance and the childcare benefit upon returning to work from parental leave.

Asked to nominate features she would like to introduce in the future, she suggests that the company reimburse employees for education expenses, even those incurred in studying outside of the parameters of the current role.

“This would definitely be a good way for a company to show that they value their employees’ personal development and aspirations,” she says.

Source: Data comes from a survey of 3700 chartered accountants in Australia and New Zealand conducted in Nov-Dec 2019.

Read more:

Results from the 2019 CA ANZ remuneration survey

CAs seem to be avoiding truly sluggish wage growth, with a little over a 5% average increase in earning power in 12 months.

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