insight magazine

Today's CPA | Summer 2017


Technology has “freed” us to work anytime and anywhere.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO

We’ve all heard the term work-life “balance.” Now there’s also work-life “integration” and work-life “flexibility”. But what do all of these terms mean? And, more importantly, how are we supposed to manage a workplace when each term means different things to different people?

As Charlie Brown would say, “Oh, good grief!”

The workplace has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, driven heavily by smaller and faster technologies that have made us more mobile, more nimble, and more available. We seamlessly check our emails, make transactions, and remote into our office networks from the devices we hold in the palms of our hands. Technology now tethers us to work 24/7/365—we can work anytime and anywhere.

But, what has that done to the culture of the “workplace” and our ability to actually have work-life balance? And when I say work-life balance, I mean a defined time when one is truly disconnected both mentally and physically from one’s job (not counting when you’re asleep). Our constant connectivity doesn’t just affect oneself, it can and does affect the coworkers around us.

Now, I openly admit to checking and responding to email almost every night and weekend because that’s when I have free time, but I also proactively tell my employees that there’s no expectation of an immediate response. However, I’m learning that’s not always the case in today’s firms and companies.

In some firms, it’s not unusual for a staff person to get an email from a partner on the Friday of a holiday weekend asking them to complete a task by 5 p.m. on Saturday. Is that considered work-life integration?

A partner or senior executive may talk of going to a child’s sporting event but then takes conference calls at the event. Is that work-life flexibility? On the flipside, staffers may have the option to work anytime, which might mean 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. The only way for the manager on the receiving end of their middle-of-the-night emails to disconnect is to literally turn off his or her smartphone.

My point is, technology and our morphing work anytime and anywhere policies have blurred, and maybe even eliminated, our workplace boundaries—those being the physical office and “9-to-5” workday, and if you had work to do beyond it, you stayed late or went back into the office on the weekend. There was only so much you could do or would do at home, and checking work email wasn’t part of it.

Technology has “freed” us to work anytime and anywhere. And yet, staff retention is always identified as a key business challenge.

So, what are we to do? What do young professionals want? As we shot my recent CEO video, we talked with graduating accounting students from DePaul University about their expectations for work-life “something”. Not surprisingly, their answers were all across the board. Some anticipate some level of work-life integration; others want jobs where they can truly get away from it all on nights and weekends.

It’s easy to get caught up in trends as we try to attract and retain talent. In the end, I think we business leaders need to pause and ask ourselves what kind of work environment and workplace culture we truly want to create for our teams. We have the opportunity to uniquely define our paths. Will your definition of work-life “whatever-you-want-to-call-it” help advance the value of the CPA profession?

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