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Ernst and Young death fall of young woman at Sydney’s EY tower lifts lid on Big4 workplace culture

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Employees at the world’s top four international consulting companies dub their workplaces ‘The Meat Grinder’, where their careers are chewed up – and the debris spat out.

Day-to-day life at the Big4, as accounting giants EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte are known, has been thrown into the spotlight by the tragic death of a senior EY associate in Sydney over the weekend.

The woman, now known to be 27 and not 33 as previously reported, plunged from the terrace on the roof of the 10th floor of the EY tower in the CBD onto the glass awning over its entrance around 12.30am on Saturday.

Staffers, both past and present, have since lifted the lid on the stressful environment often experienced at the Big4 firms – with some claiming most only last two years in the ‘churn and burn’ offices. 

The allegedly toxic environment at the Big 4 has been thrown into the spotlight by the tragic death of an EY worker in Sydney over the weekend (pictured, the company’s Sydney office)

The Sydney staffer had been at work until around 7.30pm on Friday when she left her office in the golden skyscraper before returning again around midnight.

It was also originally thought that she attended work drinks between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, but Daily Mail Australia now understands she was at the office until this time.

This leaves a near-five hour gap in the woman’s movements.

Around 20 minutes after arriving back at her office at midnight, the woman apparently used her security swipe card to access the restricted open-air terrace area – and then tragically fell to her death.

Daily Mail Australia understands EY are drawing up plans to redesign the rooftop guardrail on the terrace to create a new barrier to prevent any repeat of the tragedy.

The dead woman’s husband was on a flight from Singapore to Sydney at the time she died and had the terrible news broken to him after he stepped off the plane.

Social media has been inundated with so-called survivors claiming they regularly worked around the clock to the point of exhaustion and beyond to hit deadlines

Social media has been inundated with so-called survivors claiming they regularly worked around the clock to the point of exhaustion and beyond to hit deadlines

Daily Mail Australia understands EY are drawing up plans to redesign the rooftop guardrail on the terrace (pictured) to create a new barrier to prevent any repeat of the tragedy

Daily Mail Australia understands EY are drawing up plans to redesign the rooftop guardrail on the terrace (pictured) to create a new barrier to prevent any repeat of the tragedy

The police investigation is continuing and there is no suggestion EY – the trading name of Ernst & Young – or the worker’s superiors were in any way responsible for the death of the worker.

One ex-employee posted online: ‘Another one for the meat grinder.’ 

The incident has exposed the intense working conditions at many of the massive multinationals, especially during the auditing season of July to September.

The Big4 dominate company report audits where they are called in to independently verify the accounts of companies for the annual financial reports.

But former staffers say employees are frequently pushed to their limits to complete the scrupulously detailed reports in a very short turnaround time, requiring hours of allegedly unpaid and unrecorded overtime.

Social media has been inundated with so-called survivors claiming they regularly worked around the clock to the point of exhaustion and beyond to hit deadlines.

But while billable hours are recorded at average levels of just 41-42 hours a week, the reality is allegedly often double that – or worse.

It was also originally thought that she attended work drinks at Sydney's Ivy nightclub (pictured) between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, but Daily Mail Australia now understands she was at the office until this time

It was also originally thought that she attended work drinks at Sydney’s Ivy nightclub (pictured) between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, but Daily Mail Australia now understands she was at the office until this time

‘Partners don’t want to charge clients too much, because it will incentivise them to go somewhere else,’ revealed one insider. 

‘In order to look good, they under-quote and overdeliver. This means some poor Senior Analyst has to spend her week grinding out slide decks, waiting for clients to deliver data, travelling, running standups, coordinating juniors, and that all adds up. 

‘And that’s just one project, usually they’d be running consecutive engagements in order to make their utilisation target (because the partner won’t let her charge her actual hours, therefore she’s showing as under-utilised even though she works 14 hour days).

‘It’s a truly hellish game of financial arithmetic that the firm employs to seem profitable, when they’re really just covering their true labour costs. 

‘It’s also why average tenure is about 2.5 years. It’s a churn and burn business.’

One blasted:  ‘The cruel working culture needs to be called out and make the news.

‘From personal experience, it’s career suicide to work less than 10 hours per day at EY. No joke. Not exaggerating at all.

‘Average work hours were 8am – 7pm, sometimes until 9:30pm. In other teams, I heard people were there until 2am in the morning.

‘Also no one stays for the pay. The pay is s*** at all of the big 4 consulting firms.’ 

The dead woman had been at work until around 7.30pm on Friday when she left her office in the golden skyscraper before returning again around midnight

The dead woman had been at work until around 7.30pm on Friday when she left her office in the golden skyscraper before returning again around midnight

A report by auditing software company Caseware found auditors can work 12-hour days as blue chip companies ready annual reports for release by September 30. 

An EY partner admitted there was ‘sometimes work outside of the standard 7.5 hours,’ but insisted this didn’t occur ‘throughout the whole year’.

However in Hong Kong, a leaked EY email revealed employees were told by one manager to work from 9.30am to 11.30pm, as well as on weekends.

It added: ‘I think midnight is common in peak seasons – it counts on the discipline and responsibility of yourself.’

Another ex-worker revealed: ‘They work their managers and below so hard. 

‘Once told my director I’m struggling with the workload because we have had a few resignations in the team and she told me, “It is what it is”. 

EY has promised a 'comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review that will include health and safety, security and social events' led by their chief mental health advisor in the wake of the tragedy

 ‘From personal experience, it’s career suicide to work less than 10 hours per day at EY. No joke. Not exaggerating at all’, one staffer complained (pictured, inside EY’s Sydney office)

EY has promised a 'comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review that will include health and safety, security and social events' led by their chief mental health advisor in the wake of the tragedy (pictured, an EY careers event in Australia)

EY has promised a ‘comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review that will include health and safety, security and social events’ led by their chief mental health advisor in the wake of the tragedy (pictured, an EY careers event in Australia)

‘Those who don’t persist with the late nights get pushed out due to “bad ratings”.

‘You have a lot of people kissing ass, playing politics and manage to snake their way to the top and everyone else like this poor migrant worker gets worked to the ground and pushed to their limits. 

‘Big4 isn’t what it was many years – its reputation has gone through the gutters and they really take their people for granted.’

Others said senior management and partners pushed junior staff to their limits to maximise revenue returns, often piling more work on top of already busy schedules.

‘Working for B4 can often feel like working in a sweat shop,’ added another. ‘They don’t care about your wellbeing. 

‘They just care about output, output, output.’

Others said senior management and partners pushed junior staff to their limits to maximise revenue returns, often piling more work on top of already busy schedules

Others said senior management and partners pushed junior staff to their limits to maximise revenue returns, often piling more work on top of already busy schedules

One admitted they were still hanging on but ready to quit any day now: ‘I’m so mentally exhausted and unwell.

‘[But] they put me on so many engagements on top of full-time project. 

‘Partners won’t care about you as they only want to make more revenue and take more money. Disgusting. I’m so ready to leave.’

Another added: ‘As an auditor myself working at a Big 4 and having worked for two other Big 4, I definitely know how stressful it is during year end audits. 

‘I hope that this tragedy sheds some light on this issue and that firms provide more support to employees especially during this time of the year.’

EY has promised a ‘comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review that will include health and safety, security and social events’ led by their chief mental health advisor in the wake of the tragedy.

But workers insist the claims of support ring hollow.

‘They were always carping on about “work life balance” which was just BS!’ raged one.

‘I couldn’t believe it when one day a woman who had given birth the day before, had come back into the office on the way home from hospital (partner dropped her off and took bub home) so she could finish off paperwork and contact clients and reschedule meetings etc.

‘I remember staff ringing their kids at night from the office to say good night to them.’

Australian corporate world blogger The Aussie Corporate has previously highlighted the problems many face admitting to mental health issues, fearing it could harm their careers in the future.

‘The root problem is the demanding work culture itself,’ he posted in the wake of the tragedy.

‘Yes we work long hours but there needs to be clear boundaries and proper warning systems in place.

‘It’s a bit ridiculous that it takes traumatic events like these to effect change (which is yet to be seen) but here’s to hoping this has sounded alarm bells in the upper echelons of management everywhere.’

Others said it was possible to work around the high demands without burning out, while others said the same conditions did not apply in other areas of the company

Others said it was possible to work around the high demands without burning out, while others said the same conditions did not apply in other areas of the company

Others said it was possible to work around the high demands without burning out, while others said the same conditions did not apply in other areas of the company.

‘I work in tech consulting at EY and colleagues and I have been talking about how this sounds like it happened to another company,’ posted one.

‘Had absolutely no idea people got worked as hard as everyone is saying. Never seen any evidence of it in consulting, never had any pressure to work late, never worked with any toxic people. Absolutely blows our minds that this is the same company.

‘I love working for EY and I love my team – but now I’m seeing it’s not as rosy in other service lines. So glad I’m not in Audit. Jeeeesus.’

The senior associate, now known to be 27 and not 33 as previously reported, plunged from the terrace on the roof of the 10th floor of the EY tower in the CBD onto the glass awning over its entrance around 12.30am on Saturday

The senior associate, now known to be 27 and not 33 as previously reported, plunged from the terrace on the roof of the 10th floor of the EY tower in the CBD onto the glass awning over its entrance around 12.30am on Saturday

Another added: ‘Just wanna say it is project dependent. Auditors have a tough gig cos of workload + client load.

‘If you get on to an 18 month delivery/implementation/run project the workload can be significantly less if you manage client and director/partner expectations and take control to manage-up with your selected priorities. 

‘That is a skill, not a given, and takes confidence through experience to work politically to set those boundaries with people you perceive as more powerful (in reality they rarely are).’

Daily Mail Australia has contacted PwC, KPMG and Deloitte for a response to the claims. 

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