The big accountancy firms in the U.S. are keen to trumpet their adoption of work-life balance and flexible working arrangements. But look more closely and this new-found concern for their employees is revealed as little more than window dressing.
Researchers who studied two Big Four firms and two second tier firms have found that not only are flexible working policies viewed with suspicion by management, but anybody brave enough to actually ask for alternative working arrangements is going to find that their career prospects suffer as a result.
According to Philip Reckers, an accountancy professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business, the reality of life in accounting firms simply doesn't match the hype.
"You hear what the firms say publicly about work-life balance, and then you hear what your former students say about their actual jobs," he said.
"Even partners, after a beer or two, would admit that work-life balance programs are largely window dressing."
As it turns out, full-time female workers were viewed as having less promising career prospects than their male counterparts overall. But, once they opt for flextime or reduced hours, it was the guys who really got clobbered.
"Managers may tolerate flextime or part-time work with a woman -- maybe," Reckers says. He figures this is because someone higher up on the corporate ladder or a human resources type has talked to the managers "long and hard" about discrimination and related issues. "But if you're a man and you take flextime, the perception is that there's something really wrong with you," Reckers adds.