Liz Fisher, journalist

Hybrid and remote working have taken root across Europe to the extent that just 31% of professional accountants say that they are fully office based, according to an extensive new ACCA survey. This is a significantly smaller proportion than the global average, where more than half of survey respondents work full-time in the office.

This is a major finding of the ACCA’s Talent Trends for Europe 2023. The report builds on the Global Talent Trends report, which surveyed 8,405 professional accountants in 148 countries and is one of the largest ever studies carried out across the profession.

Inflation fears

By far the biggest concern for both employers and employees in the profession was inflation. More than half (54%) of those surveyed identified it as a top three concern, followed by wellbeing and mental health, which was identified as a top three concern by 36% of the sample.

64% of Gen Z work full-time in the office, compared to 17% of those aged 57 and above

Accountants working in the not-for-profit sector were mostly likely to raise inflation as a concern, closely followed by SMEs.

The survey reveals not only the concerns that finance professionals and their employers are grappling with across the globe, but also the impact of the pandemic on working patterns.

Hybrid working

It shows that 56% of respondents in Europe have adopted a blend of home and office working since the pandemic, while 13% work entirely remotely. In Ireland, hybrid and remote working is even more entrenched, and only 17% of respondents say that they are fully office-based. But there is a strong generational contrast; 64% of Gen Z (defined as those under the age of 25) work full-time in the office, compared to just 17% of those aged 57 and above.

The survey is a strong illustration of the extent to which flexible working is a popular option. Almost nine out of 10 respondents in Europe said that they would like to work remotely at least one day a week in the future, and three-quarters say that they are more productive when working remotely – this rises to 82% among female respondents.

Talent crunch

The report suggests that flexible working is just one indication of a growing talent crunch in the profession: ‘These high levels of flexible working may reflect the challenging skills landscape for employers, with significant competition for talent.’

Almost half of those seeking to move are looking for a role outside of their current employer

Overall, increasing mobility within the profession is putting pressure on employers as they chase the best talent. Almost two-thirds of respondents said that they plan to move to a new role within the next two years, and 39% said they plan to move within 12 months. Almost half of those seeking to move are looking for a role outside of their current employer.

‘Employers from across all sectors expressed strong concerns about retention of talent in light of current economic challenges and uncertainty about the forward trajectory,’ said the report. ‘Organisations are seeking to evolve strategies that can support attraction and retention, with hybrid and remote working often being a core component of strategies explored.’

Given the interest in flexible working, it is unsurprising that wellbeing and mental health are also on the minds of accountants across Europe and beyond – 77% say they would like a better work-life balance. Younger members are more likely to say that their mental health is suffering because of work pressure, but there is concern across all generations (57% of all respondents say that their mental health is affected by work) – and is highest among those working for the Big Four and mid-tier accountancy firms.

Lingering concerns

The good news is that the profession is making inroads in terms of inclusivity. Respondents across Europe believe that their organisations are making positive progress against a number of inclusion metrics; overall, 69% say that their employer is inclusive. The responses around social mobility, however, are less impressive, with 36% saying that a low socio-economic background is still a barrier to progression within their organisation.

73% said they would welcome more training from their employer

The report also assessed accountants’ attitudes towards technology. While the vast majority of respondents recognise the ways in which technology can enhance value, 36% were concerned that technology may eventually replace part or all of their roles. And 73% said they would welcome more training from their employer, which is consistent with the global trend and is an indication, says the report, of the ongoing skills gap.

Overall, the global and European talent surveys paint a picture of evolving working patterns, but are also a warning to employers that the talent crunch remains a challenge. Wage rates may continue to be a priority for professional accountants, but where and how they work, and a good work-life balance, are becoming equally important.

More information

See the global, Africa, UK and India survey results

Listen on demand to ACCA’s ‘Are we facing a talent crunch?’ webinar on the findings of the Global Talent Trends 2023 report