Recent research by Hays found that overtime increased in 32 per cent of organisations over the past year, with 38 per cent of those organisations where overtime increased reporting a weekly increase of five hours or less.
For 31 per cent the weekly increase was between five and 10 hours, while for 11 per cent it was more than 10 hours per week.
Hays senior regional manager Susan Drew said that in the accounting industry overtime is prevalent and that the majority over non-award accountants are not paid for any overtime hours.
“The accounting industry is certainly one where there’s a culture of long working hours and regular overtime,” Ms Drew said.
“Twenty per cent of employers in professional services increased overtime/extra hours over the past 12 months, for 75 per cent it remained the same. Less than 25 per cent of employers in professional services say non-award staff in their organisation who work overtime/extra hours are paid.”
Ms Drew said that the expectations around overtime are hazy and often unspoken.
“In the accounting and other professional services industries there’s a grey area around what’s considered a typical working week and at what point a professional, often on a salary, moves into overtime,” she said.
“End of month deadlines also exacerbate overtime. In most firms there’s an unwritten rule about overtime and what’s considered acceptable.”
Hays also found that 71 per cent of Australian workers would look for another job if overtime became excessive; 57 per cent would do so if the overtime was unpaid and 14 per cent would do so even if they were paid for overtime.
The prevalence of long hours overtime in the accounting industry is also putting off new recruits, according to investment analyst at Duxton Asset Management, Lauren Thiel.
“There is this idea, which is probably partly true and partly overstated, that accountants work themselves into the ground. That it’s a tough industry, and one not always conducive to family life,” Ms Thiel told Accountants Daily.
Ms Thiel believes that billable hours is central to this culture, but that the traditional billing method is not always in line with a client’s expectations or values.
“Change the focus from billable hours to deliverables. I think the customer will be happier — they’re paying for a product. It should only matter how good your work is, and if you get it done on time, and to the quality that is expected — that should be the focus,” she said.