DEB48C Dublin, Ireland. 15th Sep, 2013. Flightfest 2013, A unique fly past of both modern and old aircraft along the river Liffey in Dublin, Over 100,000 people lined the quaysides to see the British Airways Airbus A380 flying at around 1000ft along with A B17 and numerous other planes. © Ian Shipley/Alamy Live News Live News
© Alamy

The barbed office farewell that goes viral is now so commonplace there seems to be room for a sub-genre: the barbed office farewell by audit trainees at the big professional services firms.

The latest comes from Oliver Alcock, a Durham University graduate and former trainee auditor at PwC, who two months ago spent his last day detailing why he had not made the grade.

“I haven’t particularly enjoyed much of [my] time at PwC largely related to exam stress and having a low boredom threshold,” he wrote, listing things he “didn’t do” (“learn anything in a PwC training course”, “consistently pass exams”) and some he did (“a tour of Stoke-on-Trent’s finest supermarket pharmacies”, “claimed a lot of mileage money”).

That there is a small but expanding archive of failed accountants’ emails to their bosses is no surprise. Major firms have to recruit vast numbers simply to cover the attrition rate as more senior colleagues parlay their experience into jobs elsewhere. The law of averages (possibly one of the modules Mr Alcock failed to complete) suggests there are bound to be more disgruntled former would-be auditors than, say, unhappy ex-trainee sailmakers.

Mr Alcock would be wrong to assume, though, that a rude email sent in his 20s will fade into the wallpaper of public resignation letters. For one thing, the Daily Mail picked up the story. A job-seeking graduate I interviewed a few years ago had the misfortune to be acquitted on a colourful charge that caught the Mail’s eye: her court appearance still pops up on the first page of any online search of her name.

By voicing his laddish insouciance about his failure to pass his exams, Mr Alcock has not only transgressed Lucy Kellaway’s law of “I quit” etiquette — “A resignation statement is not a time for truth, it is a time for politeness and for causing minimum upset” — he has done his peers a disservice.

The manner and tone of his incontinent email allows older critics to fit him to the stereotype of “entitled millennials”, unable or unwilling to buckle down and do the basic tasks their elders did. Plenty of graduates take up high-profile traineeships with their eyes open, ready to be worked hard for a couple of years so they can add Goldman Sachs, McKinsey or PwC to their curriculum.

Many people the same age as Mr Alcock do not even reach the threshold of the big groups. About 45,800 applied for 3,000 entry-level roles at PwC UK this year. It is normal, even inevitable, that some trainees will hate the job; it may even be understandable that a few should wilfully squander “the opportunity of a lifetime”, as PwC UK calls it on its recruitment website; but to moan publicly about how rubbish the experience was when others are fighting for the chance to try it is unforgivable.

PwC says it wishes Mr Alcock well and “hopes he finds a career that is right for him”. But there is a lesson here, too, for all voracious graduate recruiters — and it is not only that they should take a close look at a process that let the plainly unsuitable Mr Alcock through.

Large companies make vast play of how they are becoming more purposeful, socially aware and work-life balanced, in part because they know this is a good way to attract idealistic younger recruits. Mr Alcock may be an untrustworthy witness, but the fact he described the PwC programme as a “meat grinder” and spent part of his stint in “three business units gradually getting further and further away from the work I signed up for” shows how big the gap can be between glossy promises and gritty reality.

If companies do not bridge that gulf, or explain to bright-eyed trainees why it exists, then the kind of cynicism Mr Alcock unwisely voiced will fill the hole. That cannot be good for employers or employees.

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Millennials’ workplaces are different too / From David Tuckwell

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