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Part of the herd or black sheep? An exploration of trainee accountants’ suffering and modes of adaptation

Marlies de Vries, Rob Blomme and Ivo De Loo


Abstract: This paper develops a conceptualization of the modes of adaptation that first-year trainees working in accounting firms adopt when experiencing difficult, challenging situations that are beyond their control and that they believe pose a threat to their role as accountants. Drawing on insights from the literature on the psychodynamics of work and suffering, and based on an analysis of 430 reflexive accounts prepared by accounting trainees, we propose four modes of adaptation classified along a spectrum from compliance to resistance and from suffering to no suffering. The majority of the trainees showed compliant behaviours when encountering difficult situations that they found threatening. Approximately half of the trainees reported having suffered. Some trainees continued to have problems coping with the behaviour that they had exhibited. A limited number of trainees offered active resistance to reprehensible actions and events in their organization in an attempt to alleviate their own and other people’s suffering. However, their resistance often fell on deaf ears; exceptions to this situation were rare. In general, trainees tended to follow the behaviour of their seniors, even if this behaviour was at odds with what is expected of public accountants. We conclude that although there are possibilities to express dissatisfaction, there does not seem to be much active dissension in public accounting practice stemming from junior trainees. Existing recruitment procedures in accounting firms could play an important role in explaining this outcome.

Keywords: Modes of adaptation; Suffering; Compliance; Resistance; Trainee accountants (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1016/

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