Auditors from Big 4 financial services firms criticize working conditions at Deloitte, PwC and EY

Former employees of ‘Big 4’ financial services firms have criticized the entrenched unhealthy work culture and pressures auditors are subjected to, with 80-hour workweeks, poor pay and chronic stress and burnout among top concerns.

In Australia, these leading firms include Ernst and Young (EY), Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and KPMG.

Sarah*, a former Deloitte employee, joined the firm as a graduate of its financial statement audit division. She says it was an “unspoken rule” that busy periods would see her working up to 70 hours a week for six days.

Despite this, she recalls that her salary as a graduate was only $55,000 not including retirement.

“I would say I was paid very poorly for the hours. I think someone who works at McDonalds would have been earning more than me per hour,” she told

“If I had to split it up, I probably wouldn’t have been getting more than $15 an hour.”

Lachlan*, who has worked at PwC and EY, described the culture at Big 4 as an “iron person context”. He also believes that it would take years to break the “entrenched” corporate culture.

“You survive or you leave,” he told

“Each level punishes the next level down. They see it as: ‘If I had to do it, then you have to do it’ and it propagates the same kind of bad behaviour.

“In saying that there are fantastic partners who care about their staff. However, the good ones end up leaving because they are punished because they treat the staff well and as a result, they are not as profitable.”

The complaints were sparked by the tragic suspected suicide of a 33-year-old Ernst and Young (EY) employee, after her body was discovered at the firm’s Sydney CBD offices in the early hours of Saturday morning. does not suggest that the work culture at EY contributed to the employee’s death and the identity and role of the employee within the company has not been disclosed.

On Wednesday, the accounting firm confirmed that the woman had left the George St offices at 7:30 pm on Friday and returned shortly after midnight. This was about 20 minutes before the police were notified of a “mental welfare report”.

The woman was previously believed to have returned to the EY building at 7:30pm, after attending an event planned by the company at The Ivy, a prominent Sydney bar and club.

The woman’s death has sparked widespread debates about workplace culture and pressure on employees among the Big 4 financial services companies.

‘Almost impossible engagement goals’

Since Tuesday, has received several complaints from former auditors at all Big 4 companies, citing a 70-80 hour work week as the norm. Despite this, charging overtime is not.

While total working hours nearly double the normal 40-hour workweek are common, KPMG, EY and PwC maintained that employees worked an average of 7.5 to 8.4 hours per day, representatives said in a parliamentary inquiry in 2020.

At the time, PwC said the financial services firm’s records put the average hours worked per week at between 40 and 42 hours.

“That includes spikes, time off and all that,” the rep said.

Similarly, EY said that while “there was sometimes work outside of the 7.5 standard hours”, this did not occur “throughout the year”.

However, KPMG said it was “very difficult to give an average” of working hours recorded by staff.

However, former employee Lachlan told that auditors are actively discouraged from recording the full number of hours worked on each client. The total number of billable hours an auditor has spent on a case is recorded, but Lachlan said he advised workers to spend time well beyond their billable figures.

“They claim that staff only work slightly above normal hours, but what they don’t say is that they set unrealistic budgets that force staff not to be paid for time,” he said.

“If you put too much on your time sheet, then you get questioned because you have to account somewhere.

If staff went over budget for a client, they risked being put on performance review.

“When staff went to human resources for advice, partners were informed and staff were typically put on a list for layoffs or performance reviews,” he said.

Professor Emeritus in the Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance at Macquarie University, James Guthrie, said junior staff members bear the brunt of these expectations.

“They give graduates and younger employees $25 to $30 an hour and charge them $150,” he told

“What they have to put in place is a rule that they only have to work the number of hours required in their contract.”

Peak audit periods

The auditing industry is currently in its peak period. This comes as ASX-listed companies prepare to release their annual reports before September 30. The period between January and March is another busy period for companies that end their fiscal year on December 31.

Sarah said that employees were expected to stay every day except Friday during these periods. However, during off-peak periods, she said she would be in the office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“During peak seasons I would arrive at 8:30am and leave around 11pm and get home at 12am and do the same thing Monday through Thursday. On Fridays we would go out at a more reasonable time,” Sarah said.

“If they worked the weekend, they would be working together as a team, which would maybe be a full extra day at the office.

“I would say my worst week was about 70 hours.”

No amount of money is worth it’

Another former PwC senior associate, Sebastian*, said he was paid around $67,000, once retirement contributions were removed from his total salary of $74,400.

“It’s hard work, and they sell you on ‘what it does to your CV’ and ‘you can become a partner…’. The first I agree with the second, well yes, if you sell your soul to the firm and do not accept a life outside of it, ”he told

“I know a lot of partners at all Big 4 companies and no amount of money is worth what they sacrifice.”

Working in consulting and advisory, Sebastián said that the work never stopped. He recalls that he regularly worked 80 hours, including one year when a project required him to work through Christmas and New Year’s.

“I heard one of the vendors comment, ‘They’re consultants. They’re used to working all day,’” he said.

“I saw it as an investment”

However, stints at the Big 4, particularly for graduates and junior staff, may hold a silver lining.

While Sarah remembers getting burned out during her five-year stint at Deloitte, she says having that credential helped her future employability.

“I saw it as an investment. There was a prestige to working with the Big Four and that’s why people are drawn to it,” she said.

“I hated my life during that period and was excited to get out, but looking back I can see I learned a lot from it.

“That’s why people are always looking for Big 4 recruits. There’s a standard that we’re forced to get the job done faster and in less time and under more pressure and stress.”

As well as extending deadlines for auditors, Sarah says assigning more staff would also reduce the burden on existing team members.

“The more team members, the less workload for each individual,” he says.

However, the industry is also currently in the midst of a shortage of workers. According to CommBank Accounting’s May 2022 Market Pulse survey, at least 93 percent of companies have experienced difficulty finding quality staff. A decline in overseas staff and immigrant employees is a major problem.

“This becomes an issue of why the Big 4 aren’t hiring more and putting systems and processes in place that support the new generation of accountants,” adds Professor Guthrie.

EY staff respond: ‘They’re not addressing it at all’

For current EY employees, the hope that the recent employee’s death sparks a conversation about workplace culture and workload.

Some employees have criticized the firm’s response to the woman’s death.

In comments shared by EY employees with The Aussie Corporate Instagram account, a current member of staff said: “There is a black cloud hanging over us at EY and it was very strange because people were lining the event. Either they say ‘it’s so sad’, or they just don’t address it at all.”

During a pre-planned company-wide call on Wednesday, they said the death was “overlooked,” before leadership discussed the separation for the remaining 50 minutes.

Yet another EY worker said he thought leadership was twice as far as he could go.

“Although no one on my team knew the person, three different partners called me on Monday to check on him and have an open discussion about what happened.”

As it stands, staff have been made aware of an “incident” that occurred over the weekend and resulted in the death of an employee. In an email seen by, staff were notified on Monday morning that a “police investigation is ongoing, we have been advised there were no suspicious circumstances.”

“As a result of this tragedy, we are conducting a wide-ranging and comprehensive internal review that will include health and safety and social events,” the email said.

“Jono Nicholas, our lead mental health advisor, will play an important role in helping guide and advise us as we move forward.”

In a comment to, EY said a 24/7 employee assistance program had been offered to all staff and their families, as well as counseling services in the place. Police investigations continue, although investigators believe there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. contacted Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG but did not receive a response prior to publication of the article.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewers.

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