EY Oceania today released the findings of an independent and comprehensive review into its workplace culture (the Review).
The Review, undertaken by independent experts Elizabeth Broderick & Co (EB&Co.) was a deep examination of workplace culture, work practices and psychological health and safety in EY Oceania’s two largest Member Firms, Australia and New Zealand.
EY Oceania commissioned the Review in September 2022 following the tragic death of our colleague Aishwarya Venkat in the firm’s Sydney office. Aishwarya’s death saddened and shocked people across the organisation and was a catalyst for EY Oceania to understand the workplace experiences of its people more deeply.
EY Oceania also wanted to better understand the workplace experiences of its people following COVID-19, a period of unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty for many, and to help inform meaningful actions to build a more inclusive, safe and respectful workplace.
EB&Co. has confirmed this Review is the most comprehensive examination of workplace culture ever undertaken in the Australian professional services industry.
More than 4,500 current and former employees of EY across Australia and New Zealand participated in the Review via an online survey, confidential one-on-one interviews, written submissions, and group listening sessions, enabling EB&Co. to gather information to identify what is working well, areas for improvement and actions EY Oceania can take to continue to promote an inclusive and respectful workplace.
In parallel to the Review, EY Oceania has already initiated a number of measures to support wellbeing and workplace culture. These include an immediate increase to the capacity and capability of Mental Health First Aiders, Welfare Contact Officers and other front-line support; increased awareness of reporting mechanisms; a redesign of its complaints handling process and greater transparency of behavioural expectations and consequences, shared publicly through the annual Value Realised Scorecard.
The Report included the following key findings:
- Overall, the vast majority of people feel safe in EY Oceania workplaces and believe people behave in a respectful manner towards others. Over nine in ten of our people agreed that they always feel safe in their workplace (94%) and that people behave in a respectful manner towards others (92%).
- Some 74% of people report that they rarely feel excluded in the workplace, suggesting that a significant minority at times do feel excluded.
- However, positive experiences are not experienced by all, and negative experiences have a significant impact on individuals, teams and the firm.
- Despite initiatives to advance a safe, inclusive and respectful culture, in the last five years 15% of people have experienced bullying, 10% indicated they had experienced sexual harassment, and 8% of people experienced racism.
- Long working hours and overwork are a critical issue, having a negative impact on individual wellbeing, team cohesion and retention with 46% reporting that their health has been negatively affected as a result, and two in five people considering quitting.
- 31% of people at EY are working 51 or more hours in a week, at least one week out of every four; approximately one in ten (11%) are working 61 or more hours in a week, at least one week out of every four.
- There is a relatively high level of confidence that EY Oceania can address many of the issues explored in the Review with 78% feeling confident the organisation will make meaningful change in relation to sexual harassment, 74% in relation to racism, and 70% in relation to bullying. However, only 31% of people are confident EY Oceania can change a culture of long work hours and overwork.
- The Report identifies that many of these issues are known challenges across professional services firms in Australia, particularly balancing productivity and wellbeing, and that these issues lend themselves to shared learning and shared problem solving across firms.
EY Regional Managing Partner and CEO Oceania, David Larocca said:
“There are findings in the report that are distressing and completely unacceptable. Bullying, sexual harassment and racism have no place at EY Oceania and I apologise to anyone who has suffered as a result.”
“The purpose of this independent review was to enable us to listen and learn so that we can action the feedback. We are determined to ensure EY Oceania is a more respectful and inclusive workplace, where everyone feels empowered to speak up”.
“While the report shows many people have had a positive experience working at EY Oceania, it also shows that this is not everyone’s experience and that we have fallen short of the standard that everyone who works at EY has a right to expect. The impact of long working hours is also significant and taking a heavy toll on the wellbeing of many of our people.”
“EY Oceania accepts all of the recommendations made in the report and commits to their implementation. It is critical that all our people have the opportunity to reflect on what this report has told us, and that they are able to contribute to the meaningful action we take in response to these findings.”
“I’m heartened to know that the vast majority of people who participated want change, have confidence in our commitment to action this change and are keen to do what they can to accelerate cultural transformation”.
“I am grateful to everyone who participated in the Review and shared their experience. I thank them for their honesty and courage in coming forward.”
EB&Co. Principal Elizabeth Broderick said:
“Commissioning this Review is an important step to fully understanding the progress EY Oceania has made in building a safe, supportive and inclusive culture. An independent external review also exposes the hard truths about less positive aspects of culture.
“That the firm commissioned the Review, and immediately committed to making the report public, even in the face of potentially challenging findings, represents an act of courageous leadership and a deep desire to learn and grow.”
“The Review provides a strong platform for EY Oceania to shape its own workforce for the future, learning from the many voices who spoke to the Review team. These findings may [also] be a source of learning for other professional services firms across Australia and the globe.”
The Report includes 27 recommendations to help EY Oceania make meaningful improvements to its workplace culture and positively promote the wellbeing of its people and five experimental pilot initiatives with comprehensive measurement and evaluation frameworks based on the principles outlined in the Report to enable EY Oceania to scale up those identified as successful.
EY Oceania accepts all the recommendations and will now work closely with its people to implement them.
The recommendations include:
- Revision of Key Performance Indicators to strengthen leadership and recognise contributions to improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
- Increase accountability for staff retention by charging the costs of excessive turnover to service lines.
- Further leadership development to support staff wellbeing, including greater engagement between people with diverse lived experiences and their leaders.
- Continue to build awareness across the firm of the impact of harmful behaviours through evidence-based training.
- Reduce overwork and excessive hours through more accurate project scoping, resourcing and costing.
- Endorse the development of an industry-wide code of practice for the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms through the Australian Public Policy Committee.
- Improve reporting to create a more transparent and trusted process and track outcomes for all parties in a complaint to monitor its impact and identify areas where additional support may be required.
The five experimental pilot initiatives are:
- Margin relief to assess Partners on revenue measures but not profit margin, enabling resources to be allocated to complete client engagements within time and quality parameters while reducing the need for long additional hours.
- Utilisation relief to reduce targets for people participating in any experimental pilot.
- Enhanced time off in lieu to expand access to all EY Oceania people, including allocation of additional people to increase capacity.
- Improved project management support by increasing administrative and financial management support.
- Measure and reward contributions to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives
Mr Larocca will co-chair an EY Oceania Implementation Taskforce with Kate Hillman, EY People, Place and Culture Leader, Oceania which will include representation from EY Oceania’s Executive Leadership Team, current Diversity Networks, Partners and its Leadership Advisory Forum, an existing group of representatives from all levels of the organisation.
The involvement of EY Oceania’s people will be fundamental to the development of initiatives to support meaningful change. The Implementation Taskforce will oversee this, supported by comprehensive evaluation and reporting.
The Report can be found here.
More information about EB&Co. can be found at www.elizabethbroderick.com.au