Liz Fisher, journalist

A major new global survey from ACCA, Global Talent Trends 2024, shows a range of pressures on finance professionals and their employers worldwide as organisations continue to grapple with rapidly evolving technology, changing work practices and the rising cost of living.

The survey of almost 10,000 finance professionals in 157 countries is even broader in scope and reach than previous studies, and highlights the rapidly changing workplace and the concerns of finance professionals and their employers.

Overall, respondents accept that AI will enhance their role

Last year the story was dominated by changing work patterns and remote working; this year, the roles of artificial intelligence (AI) and wellbeing take centre stage.

The report explores six main themes that emerge from the research.

Impact of AI

The reaction to the onward march of AI in the workplace elicited a range of reactions from respondents from excitement to anxiety. Almost half of respondents say they are overwhelmed with the pace of change, with Gen Z the most likely to feel anxious.

What comes across clearly is the need to ensure that employees are equipped with the right skills (and 85% would like more training on technology), as well as reassurance around job security. Overall, respondents accept that AI will enhance their role – 78% say that it will enable finance professionals to add more value in the future – but 51% are personally concerned about the implications for their own job (rising to 62% among those under the age of 26).

Cost of living

The rising cost of living was a major concern in the 2023 study, and the pressure on wages has not abated; 55% of respondents say that they are not satisfied with their current salary, rising to 58% among those aged between 26 and 43. (In fact, for that Gen Y/Millennial age group, the impact of inflation on their salary is their biggest workplace fear.) Employees are demanding higher wages to keep up with the cost of living, and employers are feeling the pressure on talent attraction and retention.

Hybrid working gains traction

The sudden shift in working patterns prompted by the pandemic continues to ripple through the profession. In 2023, 57% of respondents said they were fully office based, while 35% were working on a hybrid basis. This year, 52% are working in the office, while 41% have a hybrid arrangement and 7% work fully remotely. But the report notes ‘big mismatches between how employees want to work and how they are working’; more than three-quarters of respondents say they would prefer a hybrid arrangement.

Over three-quarters (76%) of respondents say they are in the office because their employer requires it. The view that working alongside colleagues is important for creativity and productivity does not appear to be convincing for employees; only 13% say they feel more productive working with other people, and 4% say they go to the office for the social connection.

Is diversity diverse enough?

One of the major questions to come out of the survey is whether diversity and inclusivity (D&I) are being used to their most beneficial extent. The survey suggests that D&I practices are seen as an important part of the employee proposition and in the perceived attractiveness of an organisation to employees; 73% of respondents say it’s important.

Just over a third have considered resigning from their job because of wellbeing issues

But there are complaints that existing initiatives focus too much on singular facets such as gender, while paying too little attention to elements such as age and neurodiversity. Are employers stifling creativity and innovation by failing to recognise broader markers of diversity in the workplace?

Wellbeing isn’t working

Problems around work-related stress, anxiety and burnout were highlighted in the 2023 study and these have not improved significantly over the past year; 57% of all respondents say that their mental health suffers because of work pressures and 63% would like more support from their employer. Just over a third have considered resigning from their job because of wellbeing issues. At the same time, organisation wellbeing programmes are expanding, suggesting that this increased effort is not paying off.

There is a marked generational difference in wellbeing – while 61% of respondents under the age of 26 say that their mental health is suffering because of work pressures, only 40% of Baby Boomers say the same. Regardless of age, respondents working for Big Four firms were more likely to agree that they were feeling the strain.

Mobility: double-edged sword

The possibilities for international career opportunities remains a major attraction for those seeking a career in accountancy. But employers are struggling to retain good talent; 44% of respondents say they plan to move to their next role, with their employer or elsewhere, within 12 months, and 54% expect their next move will be external rather than internal.

Deep dives

In addition to the highlights of the key findings, the survey results are available separately.

AB will be publishing articles focusing on the key themes in different regions over coming weeks