Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Job Burnout in Public Accounting: Understanding Gender Differences

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Job Burnout in Public Accounting: Understanding Gender Differences

Article excerpt

Although the proportion reached parity in 2010, public accounting firms in the United States (U.S.) have hired more women than men over the past ten years. In 2010, 45 percent of professional staff" and 40 percent of CPAs in public firms were female (AICPA, 2011). Women have made significant progress in the profession; nevertheless, only 21 percent are partners (18 percent in firms with more than 200 staff) (AICPA, 2011). This imbalance clearly shows that women exit public accounting firms at a greater rate than men. Studies have investigated causes of women's decisions to leave the profession (e.g., Collins, 1993; Dalton et al., 1997), as well as the effectiveness of firms' initiatives to retain women professionals (e.g., Ahner and Kaplan, 2002;.Johnson et al., 2008; Kornberger et al., 2010). Studies focusing on public accountants have established job burnout as a significant correlate of job outcomes such as turnover intention (e.g., Fogarty et al., 2000; Jones et al., 2010); however, this extant research has not explicitly focused on gender differences in the burnout construct. In a study of public accountants, Jones et al. (2012) compare relationships between job burnout and job outcomes for women to those of men and find some variance in the significance of correlations. Although the Jones et al. (2012) study brings to light gender differences in how job burnout relates to job outcomes, job burnout is not the primary focus of their study and they examine it as a single construct.

According to Maslach (1982), burnout consists of three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, reduced personal accomplishment, and depersonalization. In a meta-analysis of these dimensions, Lee and Ashforth (1996) report that emotional exhaustion and depersonalization are strongly associated with turnover intention and job satisfaction. In a study of accounting professionals, Fogarty et al. (2000) also find that emotional exhaustion is significantly correlated with turnover intention and job satisfaction, and, not surprisingly, that reduced personal accomplishment is most closely associated with job performance. The purpose of this study is to explore gender differences in these burnout dimensions. A more insightful understanding of how burnout may affect men and women differently should assist accounting professionals in developing better coping mechanisms to deal with this phenomenon and assist their firms in supporting that process.

Data was collected from a survey of professional staff and partners in a public firm employing over 5,000 professionals in audit, tax, and consulting with offices throughout the U.S. There were 1,681 participant responses indicating gender: 836 women (49.7 percent) and 845 men (50.3 percent). Considering the firm as a whole, women and men report similar levels of emotional exhaustion, women report higher levels of reduced personal accomplishment and men report higher levels of depersonalization. These same patterns of reduced personal accomplishment and depersonalization are found among auditors; however, men in audit report higher levels of emotional exhaustion. The differences between women and men tax professionals are similar to those of the entire firm; in contrast, consulting professionals show no significant gender differences in any of the burnout dimensions. These results update and amplify extant research. The Fogarty et al. (2000) study is based on 188 participants, of whom only 31 percent are female and only 51 percent in public accounting. Although the Lee and Ashforth (1996) meta-analysis contains six to ten studies (with participants ranging from 1,231 to 3,788) that measure role stress, burnout, and outcome variables, none of the participant groups was specifically comprised of public accounting professionals. Accordingly, the results of the current study contribute to a better understanding of gender differences in the burnout experience and should be helpful to public accounting firms in their recruitment and retention efforts. …

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