CPAs in Public Practice: Creating a stress-free environment

Yesterday, I attended the fourth installment of the Academic Conference of the National Federation of Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants – National Capital Region (NFJPIA-NCR) for the Academic Year 2017-2018. The academic conference was held at Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, Manila yesterday, 17 February. I was one of the speakers. I represented and introduced the public practice sector to the accounting and internal auditing students from Manila schools.

This two-part series will discuss my topic during the conference. This part will tackle the environment in the public practice arena as one of the officers of the NFJPIA-NCR council asked us about the stand of auditing firms regarding the news surrounding online about an entry-level auditor from one of the Big Four professional services firms who died from overwork. The second part will go into detail about disruption of digital technology.

Retaining CPAs is harder than finding them. Retaining professionals are the top issues facing auditing firms this year.

Stressful environment – that is how some people outside the public practice describe it.

Any job, I believe, can have stressful elements, even if you love what you do. You may experience pressure to meet a deadline or to fulfill a challenging obligation.

Workplace stress is a serious subject. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, more than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress—and this is costing American businesses billions of dollars a year in lost work hours and medical bills.

New research from Stanford shows that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that employers don’t get anything out of the extra work.

How should we deal with this? But I think, a better question is – how should we prevent stress? I always emphasize in my speeches, when someone ask me about work-life balance and when I talk to my team members that we must have an open and honest communication. This is how we prevent and solve problems and concerns.

I know every auditing firm has the way to prevent and eliminate stress. Allow me to share what I do with my team members prior to commencement of our audit engagement and everytime a phase of our audit is completed.

I conduct a one-on-one discussion with the members of my engagement teams prior to the commencement of our audit engagement to set expectations – to ask them how they want to be coached and guided, how they want me to conduct review, how best to ask questions, among others. I allow them to set their own expectation of me. My responsibility is to listen and to make a compromise to align both expectations. Of course, having this kind of discussions will not be successful without bringing it to life.

Throughout the audit engagement, I raise concerns about their attitude towards work and I encourage them to speak up their minds when I hold meetings.

Everytime a phase of our audit is completed, I also conduct a one-on-one discussion – this time, to review the expectations we had, if these where met and achieved, if these are reasonable, if these need to be changed. At the end of the discussion, I want them to realize takeaways from the whole phase. They are true to their words. I always ask them to tell me negative feedback about the team, about me, about themselves. I don’t care about the positive things. They can be kept and maintained. Hearing negative feedback is about listening and improving them but it is not about changing the whole you. It is about embracing changing environments, it is about being adaptive. It is about accepting the fact that people has their own attitude, you need to respect them to get the respect you want.

When I delegate tasks, I think of these two things: learning and burden. Some leaders delegate tasks to team members to meet their responsibilities. They always try to explain to their team members that it is a learning experience. But what do we need to consider when delegating? It is critical to have an interaction between you and the team member to whom you are delegating to. It is important to define the purpose of the task and discuss how it fits into the big picture of the job. But the the most important thing is to consider the timing expectations and the workload of the team member. You should realize that you are delegating a task that you should have done but because you do not have time to do everything, you are trying to allocate the work to your team members. But you should also remember that there are also responsibilities that need to be performed by your team members. Yes, it is true that it will gain them new knowledge and experience but you have to consider the workload of each team member.

As members of the engagement, when a superior delegate tasks, you should assess whether you can do it in a specified period of time. There is nothing wrong to say ‘no’. The mantra that you should say ‘yes’ to everything is nothing new. “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later,” Richard Branson once said. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It is great to be helpful, but there is a value in sitting on your hands. Sometimes you feel that you have to say yes to your superior. And if you say ‘no’ then you look like you can’t handle the work – at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite – explain to your superior that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments.

The only answer really to create and maintain a stress-free environment is communication – be true to yourself and be honest to the people around you. Speak up. Each problem has its own solution.

We cannot perfectly eliminate stress at the workplace. But you can stay away from it when you choose not to lose sight of your purpose. Purpose is the expression of your own life – choose to be happy. Neutralize stress in all areas of your life by fueling your life with meaningful thoughts.

Working for more than two years with KPMG in the Philippines, I realized that for your team to become successful, you must establish a good communication structure and you must see leadership as an avenue to motivate people – to inspire confidence, to embrace change.

At KPMG, we always emphasize that one of the key drivers of quality is ensuring that KPMG professionals have the appropriate skills and experience, passion and purpose, to deliver the highest quality in audit. KPMG global behaviors, which are linked to our values, are designed to articulate what is required for success — both individually and collectively.

Our success depends on the quality of people. That’s why KPMG made it a priority to build a culture that rewards high performance and nurtures talent. But no matter how many awards KPMG firms win for the quality of their work, or the number of projects they deliver to clients, our people keep in mind what’s important: inspiring confidence in the market and enabling positive change in society.

To work at KPMG is to see the world differently, through many different perspectives and with a truly collaborative spirit. We empower people to be themselves and respect others – it’s core to our values and what we believe in. This inclusiveness is something we have lived and breathed throughout our history. In short, we are the sum of our people and their stories. It’s who we are.

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About the Author

Paul Michael Jaramillo
Paul Michael JaramilloExecutive Editor
Paul is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a youth and environmental advocate, leader, writer, blogger, filmmaker and an organist. He’s the former Chairperson of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Ilocos Chapter. As a writer, he has found focus and interest on reproductive health, deaf rights, youth development. At the age of 14, he has fully embraced the call of leadership by leading student organizations and college publications. He was a recipient of the PGMA Campus Journalism Award. He joined and won national contests and published some articles related to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in a Spanish paper and website. Some of his articles were also published in leading Philippine news websites and featured in international organizations website.

He launched his career as a CPA in KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. Paul is currently leading the Data and Analytics Network (and its university arm) of KPMG in the Philippines. He is also the Business Lead for Innovation. He provides trainings to KPMG professionals in the Philippines. He also joined Financial Services Academy for Shared Service Centres (SSC) as a presenter. He is part of the Technical Advisory Group of the Firm's Department of Professional Practice, focusing on data and analytics, audit methodology, accounting standards, root cause analysis, system of quality management, and financial statement quality control review. He represents the Firm as a resource and motivational speaker, arbiter, adjudicator and judge in academic conferences, audit conventions, accounting and audit cups, and audit case study competitions. He sits as a member of Root Cause Analysis team of the Firm. Paul is an Audit Methodology Champion and Workforce of the Future Champion of the Firm. He is also the Firm's System of Quality Management Implementation Manager.

Paul is the Review Master and Head Coach of PREMIERE Review School.

Paul is a member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ) and a Church officer in their locale congregation.