When you think of PwC, you might have in mind a Big Four accounting firm. Maybe you think of a consulting firm too? This, however, is not how PwC and its employees would have it: they define the firm they work for in terms of its purpose. And PWC's purpose is not to monitor companies' balance sheets and tot-up their bottom lines. Nor is it to help clients work more effectively and efficiently. It's to "build trust in society and to solve important problems."
So says Laura Hinton, PwC's UK head of people. “It’s a global purpose and we’ve had it for about 18 months now," Hinton tell us. "People are really connecting with it – they like the concept that there’s a big reason to what we do.”
PwC's new(ish) purpose isn't the result of an epiphany or a product of corporate evolution. It came about after the professional services firm set out to establish precisely what its workforce wanted. Three years ago, PwC asked all its staff what they were looking for. The responses were reflective of the prevailing demographic.
“80% of our people in the UK are millennials,” says Hinton. “The average age here is 28....We had survey responses from 150,000 members of our millennial population globally."
Alongside the need for "a big reason", the survey unearthed millennials’ urge to break free from workplace norms. “They’re far more focused on flexibility,” says Hinton. “They’re prepared to work hard, but the rigid nine to five working pattern needs to be thrown up in the air.”
PwC therefore upped its focus on flexible and remote working. Nowadays, its meetings are as likely to occur on Google Hangouts as face to face. Teams sit down at the start of each project and discuss how they can balance the task in hand with the preservation of their interests outside work. “Someone might need to leave every Wednesday at 5pm for football, someone else might need to leave for yoga,” says Hinton. “Everyone has something that’s important to them – it’s not just around parenting.”
PwC's 28 year-olds also wanted a, "coaching culture." Like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, which have replaced ranked year end assessments with less categorical continuous feedback, PwC has set about creating a “coaching environment,” where its people receive ongoing constructive feedback from managers.
PwC's initiatives appear to appeal to more than just the Millennial population. The firm beat McKinsey & Co to the top place in our latest ranking of the professional services firms people want to work for. Aspiring employees rate it particularly highly for its interesting work, opportunities for promotion, culture and diversity.
PwC sees diversity as more than mere gender and ethnic heterogeneity. Hinton says they track data on disadvantaged applicants and are proud that the proportion of junior recruits who received free school meals is comparable to that in society at large. PwC was also one of the first firms to remove a UCAS point requirement from its UK graduate applications on the grounds that UCAS points are biased towards the children of the middle and upper middle classes.
Like banks, PwC has a reputation for working its staff long hours – particularly at the year-end in audit, when employees can put in 12 or 14 hour days to meet deadlines. Unlike banks, though, Hinton says the firm adheres to the European Union’s working time directive. This specifies that employees mustn’t work more than 48 hours a week on average. Hinton says this affords some flexibility: “Assurance projects can be pretty intensive at year-end, but they don’t last long.” – The implication is that if you work long hours for PWC one month, you’ll get to work shorter hours for PWC the next.
Also like banks, PwC has also been toiling to make its work more interesting. There are new visualization tools which allow due diligence reports to be presented as fancy graphics rather than pages of text. There are also predictive analytics which attempt to pinpoint the data sources consulting clients are most likely to be interested in. Hinton says these free-up employees to do more analytical and insightful work.
And if, after all of this, you still want a rest from your job at the world's preferred professional services firm? Hinton says PwC also offers sabbaticals and client secondments. The firm is also focused on moving people internally: 18% of PWC's workforce moved to different teams last year. Once you join, you'll never want to leave.
View the complete 2017 Ideal Employer Rankings