Are big firm CPAs “insecure overachievers”?

My top story in the latest issue of Cloud Accounting Weekly comes to us courtesy of the Harvard Business Review:

In an article titled “If You’re So Successful, Why Are You Still Working 70 Hours a Week?” the author claims that professionals working at elite services firms are “insecure overachievers,” and that firms deliberately target and hire this type of person.

“Insecure overachievers” work long hours because it’s difficult to measure the outputs of a knowledge worker. So the only way they can stand out is to leave the office last every day. Though they are “exceptionally capable and fiercely ambitious,” they are “driven by a profound sense of their own inadequacy… [that] typically stems from childhood.”

Naturally, the article opens with a quote from a manager at an accounting firm:

“I really became a robot,” a manager at an accounting firm explained. She and her colleagues worked extraordinarily long hours, but, she said, “I thought it was normal. It’s like brainwashing. You are in a kind of mental system where you are under increasing demands, and you say to yourself that it doesn’t matter, that you will rest afterwards, but that moment never comes.”


I have to stay, that quote struck home for me. As a former manager at a large public accounting firm, and former founder of a startup, I’ve felt the pressure to exceed expectations at every turn. And although there were often external pressures to put in long hours, the biggest challenge was the pressure that I put on myself.

It’s been there for as long as I can remember. From the moment we had graded assignments in school, I had an intense need to get an “A” on all of them. Not being at the top of the class was unacceptable.

So it’s really interesting to see research, not just anecdotal evidence, demonstrating that there’s a specific personality type drawn to accounting (and professional services in general).

I’m also really excited to be working for a company that’s building a solution to the problem of overwork in the accounting profession.

At FloQast, our Close Analytics module gives managers and financial controllers an at-a-glance view of whether or not the monthly close is on track, how much each team member has on their plate, and who is ahead or behind on their tasks each month. Thanks to increased visibility, there’s no need for ambitious accountants using FloQast to work long hours — the number and complexity of tasks and reconciliations they close out in the application speaks for itself.

So, my fellow accountants and CPAs, what do you think? Are we really “insecure overachievers”? Or is that an insult?

Regardless, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that overwork is a problem in the profession. I’d love to hear your ideas for whether or not it’s a necessary evil, and if not, how we can put an end to it.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. For more of the top cloud accounting links I clicked on this past week, check out Cloud Accounting Weekly.

Blake Oliver

Blake Oliver, CPA, is an entrepreneur, accountant, writer, and speaker who specializes in cloud accounting technology. In 2016 and 2017, Blake was named a “40 Under 40” in the accounting profession by CPA Practice Advisor. He is the Senior Product Marketing Manager for FloQast.