Reports of dark work culture at Big Four Australian companies after death at Ernst & Young Sydney

The 33-year-old attended a work social function at The Ivy before heading back to the offices. Photo / Supplied

Warning: Conflicting Topics

The suspected suicide of a 33-year-old Ernst & Young employee, who was found in the financial services firm’s Sydney offices, has sparked a conversation about workplace culture.

In addition to Ernst & Young, which trades under the EY name, Australia has three other major financial services companies: KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Deloitte.

According to The Australian, the EY worker was found shortly after midnight on Saturday. The identity and position of the woman have not been disclosed. Police are not investigating the incident as a suspect and believe her death was related to self-harm.

Before her death, the woman attended an EY social function at The Ivy bar and nightclub from 5:30 p.m., before returning to the offices from 7:30 p.m. Police were called to the office from Sydney CBD at around 12:20 am following a report of welfare concern.

Although there are reports that she was escorted out of The Ivy for being intoxicated, EY security footage did not suggest visible intoxication, The Australian reported.

In a statement shared with, EY CEO and Regional Managing Partner David Larocca said the firm is “deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic events of the weekend”.

“We are assisting police with their ongoing investigation, which has confirmed that there were no suspicious circumstances,” Larocca said.

“Our hearts go out to the family and we have reached out to offer our support and condolences.”

A “comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review covering health and safety, security and social events” was also initiated, and advice was offered to all staff and team members.

In the wake of the death, posts on online forums have highlighted the “high-pressure, workaholic culture” at Big Four financial services firms.

“I had a lot of nights and weekends so I can definitely see what he may be experiencing. I took a six month leave of absence to mentally reset myself. I finally quit after that,” wrote one Reddit user, who claimed to be a former employee. of Big 4. signature.

“Working for B4 (Big 4) can often feel like working in a sweatshop. They don’t care about your well-being. They only care about production, production, production,” read another comment.

The Herald does not suggest that the work culture at EY contributed to the employee’s death.

12 hour work days

Currently at their peak period, employees on financial audit teams are busiest from July to September.

According to a report from auditing software company Caseware, auditors may work 12-hour days during this time as ASX-listed companies prepare to release their annual reports by September 30.

The hours worked by junior employees were also called into question during a 2019 parliamentary inquiry into audit quality. Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill asked senior members of KPMG, EY and PwC about the practice of “burning the midnight oil when they get to reporting periods”, with “young people carrying the can”.

However, senior members of the companies kept employees working between 7.5 and 8.4 hours a day.

PwC insurance managing partner Matt Graham said the financial services firm’s records put the average hours worked per week at between 40 and 42 hours.

“That includes the spikes, the time off and all of that,” he said, via the Australian Financial Review.

Deloitte’s Jamie Gatt also disagreed with Senator O’Neill’s claims, saying, “I don’t think that’s the reality.”

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

In 2021, EY’s Hong Kong arm came under fire after a leaked email reported that a manager told employees to work from 9:30am to 11:30pm, as well as on weekends.

“I think midnight is common in peak seasons; it depends on self discipline and responsibility,” the email read.

“For the weekends, I hope that at least one day we spend the whole day (from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm) in the office.”

‘Dedicate your life to them’: Big 4 payment launch

Earlier this month, TikTok user @gowokegobrokeaus slammed Deloitte for “modern slavery” after they released their pay rates for employees on their Audit & Assurance (A&A) and Consulting teams.

A&A graduates of 2023 can expect a salary of $65,000, while consultant graduates earn $67,000. Upon completion of the program, analysts receive $65,000, while consultants receive $75,000. The numbers are based on the lowest entry in each category and apply to customer service roles in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth and Brisbane.

However, TikTok user @gowokegobrokeaus said the pay rates do not equate to the “12-14 hour” workdays expected of graduates.

“They basically demand to dedicate your life to them,” he said.

“And how much do they pay? $20 an hour? Tell me how that makes sense.

“That’s why I hate big business and why people are turning away from big corporations in record numbers, because they’ve realized they’re screwed.”

In April this year, PwC also revealed salary bands for roles in its financial services team. Graduates were paid a minimum of $69,000, with that number rising to $74,400 for senior associates and $97,600 for manager roles.

PwC Transparency Report Disclosures

Earlier this month, it was revealed that PwC Australia had investigated 31 allegations of workplace misconduct during fiscal year 2022. The Big Four firm reported nine dismissals and 21 substantiated claims, including 11 cases of bullying, harassment and misconduct. conduct, six cases of sexual harassment and four data breaches, the company’s second transparency report revealed.

PwC also spoke about allegations made by a whistleblower during a Senate investigation into job security that migrant staff at its Parramatta-based Audit Skills Center were required to work 80 to 120 hours a week. They also said the company offered its largely immigrant employee base lower wages and less training than its colleagues.

Dubbed ‘Worker X’, his presentation said it was “as if a team had been created overseas, residing in Australia”.

In response to these claims, PwC said they have since conducted a “detailed review of this center”, identifying a key finding that people “felt disconnected from the opportunities people had in other PwC offices”.

“We implemented a number of changes, including a stronger on-site presence for PwC partners and business leaders at the hub, and introduced a number of initiatives to better align the employee experience with that of all our people in Australia,” they wrote in their transparency report. .

Where to get help:
Life line: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 SUPPORT (available 24/7)
Youth Line:0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
kids line: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WhatsApp: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm)
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
Anxiety Helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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