Is Accounting a Miserable Job?

Madsen, Paul
Piao, Jeffery
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Popular culture portrays accounting as a miserable job. Accounting research evaluating the boring “beancounter stereotype” argues that it is wrong and costly because it reduces the appeal of accounting to high quality students and exacts a psychological toll on accountants who are thus stereotyped. In this study, we empirically test the basic question: is accounting a miserable job? We use data from a variety of sources that enable us to measure workplace misery and model it as a function of work tasks and personal characteristics of workers across occupations. We find that accounting work is particularly sedentary, rigid, repetitive, constrained, and rules-centric; characteristics that are consistent with the accounting stereotype and that prior work outside of accounting has shown are associated with workplace misery. However, we find that accounting is not a miserable job. In univariate and multivariate tests, we find that accounting has misery values that are either near the average or are better than average for comparison jobs. This apparent paradox could be a positive consequence of accounting stereotypes, which may facilitate the matching of potentially miserable work with people who are most prepared to tolerate it. Indeed, we present longitudinal evidence suggesting that accounting attracts people with personalities suited to repetitive and rules-centric work and who have psychosocial histories that make them robust to stress. Workplace misery is costly to workers, employers, and society and accounting stereotypes have value if they facilitate informed career selection.
job satisfaction, burnout, accounting professionals, auditors
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