Finding the right
balance

Creating a work-life balance, a gender balance and corporate
social responsibility balance are three of the issues on the mind
of Roger Dassen. The Deloitte Netherlands chief executive tells
Carolyn Canham how cultural change is needed.

Roger Dassen says he’s not a good example when it comes to
work-life balance. But the Deloitte Netherlands chief executive is
adamant it is possible for young up-and-coming accountants to make
partner without putting in the long hours Big Four firms are
notorious for.

“If you had raised the question in my firm ten years ago – can you
become a partner on a part-time basis? – I bet you that 90 percent
of the partners would have said it can not be done,” he says.

Today, Dassen says the facilities are in place to allow for
part-time work. People just need to be convinced it is not just
rhetoric. “If you think about it, it is a significant shift in
culture,” he explains.

“I believe 40 or 50 percent of the partners today would say ‘this
is a business imperative, if we do not facilitate different
work-life styles and combinations, we’re just excluding ourselves
from a huge population of talented people so we shouldn’t do that’…
30 percent or 40 percent will say ‘yes, we should enable that’, but
that’s more out of political correctness. And about 10 percent
would say ‘it can’t be done’.”

Dassen has been with Deloitte since the regional firm he began his
career with merged with the Big Four firm in 1991. He says Deloitte
doesn’t find it difficult to recruit enough talented people. “It’s
not hard to get them. It’s hard to keep them,” he says. “Our
recruiting position on the Dutch market is phenomenal. In the past
year we have been able to recruit some 1,200 people, which I think
is a phenomenal success in the Dutch marketplace – it’s a tiny
country, 16 million people. The key thing really is to retain
people and there are a few things that we need to address.”

One challenge is keeping young auditors interested. “For the
auditors, the key problem that we have is in the first two years.
Because of the organisation of the audit process, there is a lot of
ticking-the-box exercises on the check list and guess what, the
young people get to do that work. So these people get away from
college, they have been flooded with conceptual thinking, great
theories, you know, really inspiring stuff, and then you go through
a check list. So unless you are able to show those people what
purpose this checklist serves – what is this checklist in the grand
scheme of things? They’re going to get bored.

“Obviously, there is a lot of time pressure on people, not just the
juniors, but also the seniors, so where they cut corners is on the
coaching side of life. And that’s the behaviour that we’re in the
process of changing.”

A second challenge is retaining staff in a “fairly intense” labour
market.

The third challenge? Work-life balance. Dassen says Deloitte needs
to work on its success in diversity, particularly gender diversity,
which in recruiting is close to 50:50. “But the more you go into
the higher ranks, you see it drops, and that’s a bad message. We
lose more women after four or five years… and there the key thing
is indeed the whole notion of the work-life balance and the only
solution there really is culture. Everybody agrees that the
facilities are there… but we really [need to] inspire trust in
people, that your career is not jeopardised if you slow down for
family reasons,” he says.

Dassen believes that for all the efforts to retain staff, firms
have to accept that Generation Y change jobs more quickly than
their predecessors. “Here in the Netherlands, if you walk from
[Ernst & Young] to Deloitte, people still regard that as an act
of disloyalty as it were, which is a bit nonsense, but that
connotation is still there. I think that with Generation Y we still
have to learn to see that that’s more common that people migrate
for good reason,” he says.

He says incentives to encourage Generation Y employees include “a
lot [of] coaching, giving them instant feedback and reward, but
it’s also… purpose beyond profit”.

Dassen says an example of “purpose beyond profit” is through
displaying leadership on issues such as corporate social
responsibility. Deloitte is set to release the second edition of
its corporate social responsibility report, Impact.

“The energy that this has unleashed within the firm is just
phenomenal… it only took one e-mail, I think, for 50 people to say
‘this is great and we want to be part of this process’,” he says.
“That truly has released incredible energy within the organisation
and I believe that if we channel that in the right way, you know
you really can set yourself apart from others.”

Dassen tells how Deloitte issued a report 18 months ago on public
safety, which found the country lacking in security in an event
such as a terrorist attack, sparking a debate in parliament.

“If you can do that and you can do that on socially relevant things
it is great, and it makes your people feel great, it makes your
clients feel proud and you do give something back to society,”
Dassen concludes.