"Working twelve hours a day, it is impossible not to make mistakes"

EY workers explain working conditions in a company after the 84-hour work weeks complaint

3 min
One of EY's offices

Pandora's box was opened by an internal email sent to their bosses by second-year junior auditors working at the Barcelona headquarters of the consulting firm EY, which spread like wildfire throughout the company, which in Spain has a staff of nearly 5,000 workers. The email, made public by the newspaper El País, denounced working weeks of these employees of 84 hours (the equivalent of 12 hours a day from Monday to Sunday or 16 hours from Monday to Friday), and all for salaries of 24,000 euros a year (about 1,300 euros for 14 payments). The letter includes complaints like this: "We have worked until late hours continuously from Monday to Sunday to get ahead a job that at no time we have been valued as it deserves". Or this one: "We have decided that it is time to intervene and raise our voices against working conditions that we consider far from the minimum acceptable".

Official spokesmen for the company, which Friday met for more than three hours with the thirty or so auditors who supported the mail, tell ARA that at the meeting employees admitted that the "punctual" peaks did not reach 84 hours a week but 55 hours and that these hours are compensated in overtime or vacation. "Several things have been added: the stress generated by the pandemic, that they have been in the company for a year and a half and during the last year they have worked from home without being able to internalise the way of working, and that there has been some mismatch in the workload", they say. The ARA has contacted eight employees or ex-employees to detail the working conditions, of which five have refused to talk (some have declined at the last moment) either because they are afraid of reprisals within the company or because it affects them in their current work. In fact, when an auditor joins EY, they sign a confidentiality agreement that prohibits them from explaining anything that happens internally. Those who have spoken out have asked for anonymity to avoid employment consequences.

"From December to March it's hellish. You can stay working until two in the morning and have no weekends", explains one of EY's employees in Spain, who works from 9am to 7pm. During this period known as the busy season is when there are more work peaks because the annual accounts of client companies have to be closed. "Apart from the hours, you have a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility that often does not correspond to you and that for the salary you get it clearly does not compensate", he adds. The pressure, he says, "always comes from the manager. If you make the slightest mistake, you get an avalanche of criticism, which you are constantly reminded of, but working twelve hours a day, it's impossible not to make mistakes. All of this, he continues, "makes people say enough is enough, and there is a constant rotation of staff". In his team, made up of a dozen people, three have left in the last year. When asked if he sees himself working for the company for a long time, he is clear: "Next year I want to leave, my colleagues say exactly the same thing", he explains.

Another of EY's employees has been luckier. Although he makes it clear that, like everyone else, he has had to work "long hours", he has always had good clients and has felt that the team supported him. "But I sympathise with colleagues who have not had the same luck", he adds.

The toll that has to be paid

One of the keys, says a former EY employee, is that you have big clients. Smaller firms with fewer resources tend to take on second-year juniors (acting as seniors), with less time to do their planning and a smaller, more inexperienced team. "In addition, these companies often don't give you all the necessary information correctly, and this makes you burn out very quickly", he adds.

Sources in the sector assure us that what happens at EY is not an exceptional situation. "They are vocational jobs and do not expect to have a schedule of 9 to 17 hours", they explain. In fact, they add, in the job interview and it is made clear that the conditions are demanding, and with the pandemic, working from home, even more so: marathon days and a lot of pressure. "It's the military service you have to do to end up working for a big company and get a considerable pay rise", they say.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, first-year analysts at investment bank Goldman Sachs made a very similar complaint that was leaked on Twitter. In their case they were working up to 105 hours a week and complained that they were lucky to get five hours of sleep a day. "I only have four hours to sleep, eat or shower", said one of the workers.