How to achieve the perfect balance...

Mar 01, 2017
Your job search after you qualify is full of compromises. Before you decide that you can’t live without a steady nine to five, make sure to find out what ‘work-life balance’ means in your new office writes Lisa Hughes.

When training in one of the Big 4, it was not uncommon for me to muse on the idea of work-life balance, especially at the height of busy season. Long hours, the occasional (or not so occasional!) working weekend and never being able to really ‘turn off’ were cited as the most common symptoms of a lack of work-life balance.

In my time with Barden Recruitment, I have met many recently qualified Chartered Accountants coming out of training contracts who carry this desire for balance into their job search. For some, this can dominate their search, resulting in candidates passing on offers with companies where there is an expectation of more than a 9am to 5.30pm routine.

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a strange thing. It is not quite what people think it is. For example, I have similar working hours now in recruitment as I did in my training contract, but it’s a different environment. I don’t feel as if my life is being curtailed because of the job I do or the hours I work. In fact, I could nearly go so far as to say that the line between work and life is slightly blurred because of how engaging and challenging I find my role.

Recently, I have reflected a lot on the idea of work-life balance and have drawn the following conclusions:

  • Work-life balance in a billable hours environment is very different to work-life balance working in a non-billable hours environment (in other words, outside practice). Work is more structured; there are typically internal, rather than external, stakeholders and busy cycles (month/quarter/year-end), but there are also more steady periods. Working in a training contract is simply incomparable to working as a qualified accountant outside of practice – it is like comparing an orange to a grapefruit and concluding that they are both the same!
  • Those of us who have trained in practice over the last seven years have had a more challenging time than most – in particular from 2012 to present. Understaffing, coupled with huge client demands (especially in some departments), have created a situation that has ultimately  resulted in “tougher” training contracts and a slightly skewed perspective on work-life balance.
  • If you find a job you enjoy, a team you love to work with, a consistency that allows you to build your career and a company you feel a part of – it changes everything. You can make the transition from trainee accountant to qualified accountant work for you. Be sure, however, not to dampen your potential by reflecting a perception of what work-life balance means in a training contract onto the reality of working as a qualified accountant.

Spend your time wisely

Working in finance is tough. It’s why accountants get so well paid. The 80,000 hours you will spend in work will make up a majority percentage of your waking hours. Those hours shouldn’t be spent wishing for 5.30pm so that you can “get on with your life”. These hours are a big part of your life. Spend them wisely and they will feel a whole lot different.

Don’t mistake an orange for a grapefruit. Try them both and then make a call.