Professional skepticism of young accountants under pressure

May 16 2018

Young professionals within the accountancy sector experience high levels of work pressure, which compromises their professional skepticism and thus the quality of their work. This is the argument presented by Marlies de Vries of Nyenrode Business Universiteit and Bas Herrijgers of NBA Young Profs in the joint research report of Nyenrode Business Universiteit and NBA Young Profs: “Young professionals – views on the auditing profession”.

During the busy season, young professionals spend an average of 60 hours per week working and studying. Causes of such a high workload mentioned in the study include capacity shortage, unrealistic schedules, high client expectations, the “up or out” culture and increased requirements and supervision. Auditing organizations also reward young professionals who embrace heavy workloads, which has caused this to become part of the culture as well.


According to De Vries, this study exposes problem areas that must be addressed in order to increase the quality of audits in the future: “It is up to the sector to work on these issues. Until now, high work pressure has been a neglected topic in the industry, but it does indeed lead to reduced professional skepticism, diminished focus, a check-the-boxes mentality and a ‘just get it done and go home’ approach in the auditing process. This obviously does not help the quality of the work.” The researchers argue that it is time for this to change. A large group of those surveyed in the study also expressed that they were considering quitting the auditing profession within two years as a result of the heavy workloads.

Training and professionalism

The study shows that because of the high pressure they face at work, young professionals routinely do not spend enough time on study and training. The attention paid to “coaching on the job” at senior trainee level is alarming, and at other job levels it is barely adequate. De Vries explains: “Professional development is not a priority within the sector and among young professionals in particular, but it is clearly important for the future of the profession. Young professionals are also expected to be professionally skeptical, but the opportunities to facilitate this within auditing organizations are not being fully exploited at the moment, in my opinion.” Herrijgers adds: “Educators and auditing offices have the shared task of monitoring the work-study balance. In doing so, they must ask themselves how standard study hours can be guaranteed both during and outside of the busy season.”

Striking at the root

The researchers want to encourage the sector to tackle the root causes of high work pressure: “Current efforts are focused more on treating the symptoms, while not enough is being done to address the causes. This means people should not only introduce health-themed weeks and offer sports facilities, but also take necessary structural measures.” De Vries and Herrijgers say this will allow the auditing profession to more effectively retain current and future young professionals and better safeguard the quality of audits.

The full study is performed in a Dutch context by Drs. Marlies de Vries RA (Nyenrode Business Universiteit) together with NBA Young Profs. It is available in Dutch.

About Nyenrode Business Universiteit

Nyenrode Business Universiteit works on a sustainable future by stimulating our students and participants to grow into responsible leaders. We do so by offering them a combination of academic theory, practical relevance and personal development. Nyenrode is the only private university in the Netherlands, founded in 1946 by business and for business and has traditionally been internationally oriented. We offer intensive academic education, short-term and longer-term programs in the fields of business, management, accountancy, controlling, and fiscal law. We also undertake scientific research in these areas.

About NBA Young Profs

As a committee of the NBA, NBA Young Profs is the network where young accountants share experiences, express their opinions and contribute to the development of accountancy training and the auditing profession. NBA Young Profs members represent the interests of young professionals both within the NBA and in society as a whole, promoting the voice of the young generation of accountants and engaging in the (social) debate on the auditing profession in order to influence its future.

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