Hybrid working isn't making us happier

content hybrid working

The pandemic changed working practices worldwide, but hybrid and remote working has taken root in the accountancy profession in the UK to an extraordinary extent, according to a new study from ACCA.

An extensive survey of professional accountants in the UK found that only one fifth of UK-based respondents identify as fully office based, with the remaining 80% saying they either work fully remotely or on a hybrid basis.

ACCA’s report UK Talent Trends 2023 builds on its Global Talent Trends 2023, which surveyed 8,405 professional accountants in 148 countries and is one of the largest-ever studies carried out across the profession. The UK survey reveals the extent to which changing working practices have taken hold. Worldwide, just over half of those surveyed describe themselves as fully office based.

The statistics for Scotland are even more of a contrast, with just 13% of respondents describing themselves as office-based and 73% saying they work on a hybrid basis. The survey also reveals a generational divide, with older (and presumably more senior) employees far more likely to work remotely.

The results suggest that respondents are more than happy with the new working arrangements: 77% claim to be more productive when working remotely, and 83% agree that they would like to work remotely at least one day a week in the future.

There are some challenges to overcome, however. Nearly half (44%) of respondents say they find team collaboration more difficult when working remotely; and participants in a roundtable event that informed the report argued that younger employees in junior finance roles tend to struggle without face-to-face guidance and structure.

Mental health concerns

Despite the prevalence of flexible and remote working in the UK, stress and mental health issues are still a major concern for finance professionals (exceeded only by concerns about the impact of inflation on wages).

As many as 72% said they would like a better work-life balance, and 41% said they would like to see more support from their organisation in managing mental health. More than half (54%) said that their mental health suffers because of work pressures.

On a global basis, the data suggests that younger respondents are more likely to say that their mental health is impacted by work pressures and are more likely to want better support from their employers. In the UK, however, mental health was a leading concern among respondents from all generations.

Those working in the Big Four accountancy firms and financial services were most likely to report that work pressure is affecting their mental health, while those working in smaller private sector firms were more likely to say that they do not get enough support from their employer over mental health concerns.

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Mobility trends

The pressure that high inflation is placing on wage demands and staff retention was the biggest concern for respondents in the UK. Employers are particularly worried at a time when high mobility within the profession is creating challenges for retention. According to the survey, 36% of UK respondents expect to move jobs in the next 12 months, and 58% say they will move within two years.

The prospects for working overseas and the range of opportunities has long been one of the profession’s most appealing traits, but it appears that employers are beginning to struggle with retention as mobility rates rise.

The good news for the UK profession is that this country is the most popular destination for qualified accountants, according to the global survey sample – 22% of respondents say it would be their country of choice. UK-based respondents, by contrast, say their first choice would be Canada or the US.

Overall, the UK profession scores well in terms of inclusion and integrity: 74% of those questioned believe that the leaders in their organisation have integrity, and 73% believe their employer is inclusive.

However, one area where there is room for improvement is social mobility, with 32% of UK respondents saying that a low socio-economic background is a barrier to progression in their organisation. This is by no means a problem confined to the UK – in fact, 49% of worldwide respondents make the same complaint.

Mixed tech views

There are mixed feelings about the impact of technology on the profession: 90% say they understand how technology helps them add more value to their organisation and clients, but 37% are worried that some or all of their role will be replaced by technology. This rises to 63% among respondents who work for the Big Four.

‘This ground-breaking global survey confirms that accountancy remains a smart career choice, offering opportunity, flexibility and security,’ says Abdul Goffar, director at ACCA UK, introducing the report. ‘Indeed, the UK emerges as one of the most attractive destinations for global accountancy professionals.’

More information

This article was first published in AB magazine May 2023

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