November 2009 - Posts
If you're working with well-connected people you may have seen this already.
I've received multiple copies: it's been uploaded to one site specializing on the topic and it was also shared by Life of an Auditor. the latter being the first to publish it, on August 31, 2009.
Forwarded copies, rather than those found on websites, interestingly enough, always feature a different chain of "Big Four plus More" e-mail addresses, identifying scores of people who were CC'd, and a silent mass of BCC'd people whose privacy is left intact.
What is this artefact?
A simple farewell.
A farewell to an office from someone who wanted to let it all out. Whether this was only shared with close friends as an inside joke or was a nasty bomb can best be answered by going to the source - but we won't start a hunt right now.
Getting these e-mails is in some ways, a rite of passage - as denizens of AuditLand receive an Epic forward, they spread it virally - just like a chain letter without the cheesy "make a wish after sending it to five people" closing challenge.
I'll assume for the sake of the person apparently burning all their bridges that this was meant to be a joke - it starts off strong but then sort of withers away. Like a jaded auditor's career? Who knows. Regardless, hopefully it won't come back to bite him the way the revolutionary methods of late 18th century France came back to ironically circled around to take down those very same revolutionaries.
A metaphorical representation of burning your bridges.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Philadelphia Farewell Letter
As many of you now know this friday will be my last day with PwC so I wanted to say good bye and thank you for everything. My decision to leave was not a snap decision as it may have seemed but a well thought out process. It started one night in the audit room as I was helplessly attempting to focus on some inane, completely irrelevant task so I could leave when the green card carrying cleaning lady came into my cage to empty my garbage when my decision was made. I realized that I was actually jealous of her job. I would have gladly emptied the garbage cans in the whole building over any of the nonsense I was doing on my computer. See, at the end of her shift she has made a difference, she has added value, be it minimal, of removing the refuse from the employees cubes. At the end of the day she sees the empty garbage cans and knows that she accomplished something. When trying to apply this mindset to my own work I found it to be impossible. At the end of my shift, I will have documented a control, that was only created for the sake of having a control, and my work will get picked apart by anal retentive managers, but ultimately find a home in a cabinet somewhere, only to see the light of day again when it is thrown out in 7 years when it is deemed to be irrelevant. I have added zero value to the client, zero value to my own company, and it has made me routinely daydream about ways to off myself. I find it very hard to be motivated when I know the end result of my work has no impact on anything but simply must be completed because PwC audit guide says it must be completed. What makes this entire process worse is the fact that those around you insist that this work is crucial to the world's existence and it is essential that you never use abbreviations, that your sheets must be as colorful as possible, and all lines must be drawn with a ruler or else it is clear that PwC will come apart from its hinges. I must have missed out on the brainwashing session that PwC provided all senior associate and managers that taught them how to turn obsessive compulsive up a notch.
Anyway...that was how I came to decide that public accounting was not really for me. A couple other pieces of advice for my coworkers and the company as I part: I would greatly encourage some kind of weight loss challenge to be implemented firm wide. The herd of water buffalo you call your work force is embarrassing and a bit gross. When I call a co worker over from 2 cubes down and they are legitimately out of breath when they get to my cube it may be time to knock off 10 or 80 pounds. The company seems to encourage this obesity; each busy season we get a giant package full of pixie sticks, chocolate and assorted sweets. As much as I would enjoy type 2 diabetes, I think I'll pass.
Do not ever, ever, ever put one male on a team with all females unless you want him to quit and or commit a hate crime. This is inhumane. One can only endure so many conversations about greys anatomy, weddings, and handbags before they wish for a cancerous tumor in their armpit.
I think the joke is old already, enough with the sarbanes oxley. It was fun while it lasted but there is no way anybody can honestly think that this bullshit is necessary. Oh you want me to pull a sample of the HR file to make sure everyone’s birthday and hire date is accurate? Yea ill jump right on that, and trust me I'll definitely let you know if there is an exception and not just make up answers that result in me doing less work.
You can easily cut some costs and get rid of the HR department. I'm pretty sure you can train a monkey to send out the available list and a timesheet reminder every two weeks.
Hot on the heels of the PwC discussion regarding people getting "packaged off", comes another eye-opening post - this courtesy of Going Concern, which discusses layoffs at Ernst & Young.
The post primarily concerns the E&Y offices in the USA, though there's a growing thread of commentary including updates concerning offices from across the globe. And it currently tails off with rumours of upcoming cuts at KPMG in January, though that timing makes absolutely no sense to me considering that's the start of "busy season" for almost everyone!
As you can imagine from my own interjection, the comment thread is a rich trove of unverified but plausible and rather civil reports: a careful readthrough reveals that it includes comments about cuts made last summer, right now, and expected in the near future. Ironically the people responding to those comments aren't naive and challenged the KPMG rumour on the spot, asking for proof which didn't feel like appearing yet.
Other anonymous commentors discussed the fate of a small US office getting shut down completely, this first being Manchester, NH. Going Concern started another article even earlier regarding this rumour, quickly asking for confirmation and details to support the initial report received by Francine - and a series poured in. Ironically the global EY homepage still lists the Manchester NH location as of right now despite the news trickling out almost a month ago, but that'll no doubt get updated at some point. Given that the office only had about 60 people - a small set got to transfer to nearby Boston - the official line will no doubt be that things were "reorganized" and "centralized" - and it may even make business sense on some level, but it's always a shame when a smaller community suffers a loss.
Job situation in weak markets: significantly less secure than the mountain goat's footing an loose rocks.
An interesting topic came up in the Going Concern discussion thread though: why do firms continue to hire when cuts are happening?
The subsequent visitors answered the question for me, by stating that it is "always going to be like that. the big four can't lose face with the
schools that they recruit from. it makes them look good. if they stop
recruiting altogether, they lose face and when the economy picks up in
the future, people will remember the firm's tactics and decide to go to
another firm instead."
The comment goes on to pick on another firm as a place to avoid - I avoid taking sides myself, because it's a known fact that any office around the world can be a tough place to work depending on the local culture based on the little universe of personalities you'll find yourself working with.
You may love working for a Big Four firm in one place, only to move to another city where you don't get the same culture or camaraderie which makes you feel disillusioned or just simply bored. That's why it's valuable to learn as much as you can about firms through your older friends already working there or through the campus recruiting events - if you find someone like me there, you can get some disarmingly honest fats about what it's like in a given office, or even in the sub-departments people get assigned to.
Ironically some comments of the other are invitations from people
working in busy regions of the country where work is plentiful and
transfers are welcome. Looking at those sorts of posts
can make you feel confused: wait you're busy, but you're laying off people at the same time?
This thought is common, but particularly among those who haven't worked very long, if at all, in AuditLand. The strange nature of these firms in a rough economy is that some departments do poorly simply because clients don't have the money or inclination to spend precious resources on added professional services.
But even while that's hammering one side of the company, other groups may be doing very well. After all - what happens in a recession? More bankruptcies. Who comes in to assist when companies crash and burn? The same firms, with their "crash and burn recovery unit" departments that specialize in restructuring failed companies.
So what can you appreciate with all this uncertainty flitting about?
It pays to be nimble. If you see demand shifting away from your field of work to another specialization, figure out if you can change paths and go where people are needed. That ability is essentially what passes for job security these days, and the better you get at it, the less you'll have to worry about layoffs and severance packages.
That last post I mentioned led to a small flood of visitors, partially courtesy of the layoff tracker page at Businessweek. If you're new here and would like to leave a comment go ahead - just click here to let yourself login and start writing about how wildly off-base this news is. Or how accurate it turns out to be - whatever's right. Upcoming posts will discuss what to do when you don't join the Big Four in the first place, and will showcase at least one epic resignation letter.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers Advisory has made some significant cuts to their US workforce, as mentioned off-hand by Francine and discussed in detail here
Skip down to comment 4 in the post for an interesting dissection of firm revenue math and the possible impact it'll have on partner income. It's a topic everyone seems to be curious about knowing more about, gets very little information about, and is often to afraid ask questions about - so go check out "TT"'s breakdown and the follow up if you want to know more. Or skim all the way down to comment 114, which points out that while the cut of roughly 300 people is small compared to the size of the entire US firm, the internal PwC webcast apparently stated that this represents a cut of 6% of the affected group - one value provided by a commenter is 260 of about 4300 people.
I spent way too much type going through all the other comments, and things did in fact get kind of dark. Consider this post - it's anonymous, but let's play along and assume there's no false identities at play, particularly with what follows.
"Francine - Current Pwc Director here in another line of service. I can
only tell you that my Advisory friends are “freaking out” by what has
been published by you. You have definitely made your mark with this
posting. The level of unrest that you have caused should make you
proud. One of my friends told me last night that he heard that one of
the Advisory Directors is so stressed out that he was talking about
taking his life if he loses his job. If that happens, the sky is the
limit for you and your little blog!"
Nothing to make light of, sadly - this is dark stuff. At least that's what it sounds like when the commenter goes on to add:
"Had you let this RIF run its normal course, it would have been done
confidentially and all affected parties would be notified on the same
day and only those impacted would have the stress. But you like to
cause unrest and panic…as it is obviously what drives you. You were
like a little kid announcing this on your blog Tuesday morning….”look
at what I know….I’m am so important!”"
I appreciate the sentiment expressed, but I think it's a little naive to think that the plan as described above really would work as claimed. Any major layoff causes unrest and panic, in the firm affected, and in competing firms, even among people who feel their positions are secure. "If it can happen there, it can happen here," can cross peoples' minds.
Is it really beneficial to bury this news and leave people blissfully unaware?
No, it's not.
Starting off with university students, you need to take your intelligent young professionals, open their eyes, and make them realize that they're starting off on careers at highly respected firms which will give them lots of opportunities. But they also need to know and understand the risks that are tightly linked to the rewards which they are pursuing. Your better university professors may point this out to you, but these warnings can sound empty and hollow without facts to back them up.
Clever young Commerce students may think they're dodging bullets by avoiding the General Motors of the world. But even the Big Four can be perilous places - sure you can prepare yourself by saving up your salary, keeping your resume up to date and making yourself an indispensable member of your team. But you're never truly secure, unless you live in a country like France which has renowned job security rules. Out in Canada and the US the realities of "at will" employment are something you should never overlook, and sharing news like this is an uncomfortable but also equally indispensable way to educate people.
Given all this turmoil, entrepreneurial types may roll their eyes, but is it any wonder that the Government of Canada is considered a top employer of choice by risk-averse students around here?
The other bonus to reading about these posts is to be reminded about your rights - including avoiding being pressured into signing the severance agreement until you've had a chance to review it with an independent adviser!
And if you're just starting out as a student, you see eye-opening comments such as this:
"I got a whiff that I dodged the cut. And honestly, I feel cheated. I
want my severance and an excuse to leave this place on good terms."
Contrast that with someone who didn't dodge the cut:
"Confirmed. I was axed today and appreciated the advanced notice from
the blog so I could bring in an extra bag this morning to take things
Folks, the blog is like listening to the weather forecast the night before……."
Finally, just scroll down to comment 103 which offers advice for people trying to get their final paycheque - and which also provides this handy link to the USA's state regulations on final paycheques.
At least if people were writing their UFE exam
they got that out of the way before these announcements came out, but
that's probably the only bitter ray of sunshine available. Well that,
and the fact that many of the people who are laid off manage to find
more interesting jobs. Wel, if they've already achieved their
professional designation in accounting or audit - be it the CA, CPA,
CIA or CISA. I feel worst for people who have to start looking for work
with only a year or so of experience under their belts.
Good luck - if there's any consolation, recruiters have suddenly
ramped up their efforts - my voicemail was getting hit daily this week as I'm
often away from my desk for extended stretches auditing this, analyzing that - so there seems to be a ready supply of jobs for clever
experienced people out there and available.
And what exactly does this arrow symbolize? The recent frequency of posting? I really should take detailed notes about all the clever
topics that come to mind for me to write about, as it'll probably be
far too easy to forget lots of intelligent tips and tricks as time goes
on. I would share them now, but the typical excuses associated with
busy season are still present. Which is why it took me an entire week
to note that I got hit 332 times last month, a fall from September's count of 376.
I try to be prompt in reporting that total, so at least I won't lose
track of it - anyway, that's your statistic for October nestled in with
a much more substantial post.