In this blog, we discuss who we are both in and out of the office (digital and in-person).
Unsurprisingly, the accounting industry is full of people who call themselves an accountant. But what do we mean by this? Am I an accountant because of my qualifications? Does God imbue us with such glorious qualities? Or is being an accountant something I do? Is it who I am, or what I do?
Most people define themselves by their occupation, but the relationship between identity and employment is influential within the accounting industry, we explore why this might be.
What is an occupational label?
There is no such thing as an accountant, empirically. We cannot point to something in the world and say, “that is an accountant”. It is a social/occupational role that people perform. It is not a thing in itself, but a role. In simpler terms, accounting is an activity (verb) performed by a person (noun). We label those who perform the task of accounting as accountants. It makes life easier and simpler. However, the act of labelling does not transform role into person, or person into role. “Accountant” is nothing more than terminological labelling of a group of activities performed in conjunction with a pre-defined social and occupational role.
So why bring any of this terminological nonsense up? What does it mean? It reminds us that we and everyone we work with at first, foremost and always people. We all have our inner life, inner dialogue, and inner story. We are friends, parents, siblings, children, members of society. Reminding ourselves of this can help foster a sense of authenticity in ourselves and our connection with those we work with.
An Accounting Team isn’t a thing either, nor is an Admin Team. These are both terms given to a collective of people performing a similar role. So, looking at this differently as a fictional entity, seeing that a team's concept is just that, a concept, not a thing - it reminds us of the humanity within the team. A team is a collection of human beings. We must treat a team with respect and a sense of humanity. One Individual in a team is still a person. One hundred individuals in a team, are still made of a team of individual people.
Stories we tell ourselves
Those of us that have read some of Yuval Noah Harari’s works (Sapiens, Home Deus, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century) will know we tell ourselves stories all the time, so much that society depends on them. This is not a terrible thing. In fact, it’s essential. Money is a story we tell ourselves. It is a concept we invented, as are companies and corporations. There is nothing in the world that we can point to and say, that is money or that is a company - globally and objectively. The difference being we all agree to believe in them, which makes them seem real. This is not too dissimilar to the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.
Beyond the label
This is a tricky question because each person is a unique collection of values, beliefs, attitudes and actions. Equally, we are complex because we all always play a role in our lives. In sociology, Erving Goffman introduces the idea of the certain performativity of social roles. Meaning that we are, always, interacting with others via a social role. If you are a parent, you cannot escape performing that role when interacting with your children. The role may change over time and be different for each parent and child relationship, but there is a set of behaviours and attitudes associated with the parent's role that cannot be escaped.
The same is said for a spouse, tennis partner, or audience member. When we go to the movies, we perform the role of an audience member; we know how to perform it and sit silently in the theatre to watch it. We experience angst and aggravation if someone else in the same theatre does not perform the expected role. The behaviour may be completely fine in a different setting, but a particular role is expected in that setting. So, what is all this saying concerning the accounting industry?
Strength of Occupational Role Identification
Being an accountant is performing a role. Once that role ends for the day, a different role is adopted. But accountants associate strongly with the occupational role. It's a role of trust, responsibility, a level of expertise, and social standing. If an individual can claim some attributes of the occupational role, then why not. Provided it is done so knowingly, subjectively and with a sense of authenticity then there is no problem. The problem arises when one loses one’s own subjectivity (humanness) into objectivity (functionality). In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, this is to act in “Bad Faith”, to be inauthentic.
This, of course, is not exclusive to accountants. However the strength with which people who do accounting work self-identify as accountants is strong. We ask "Is there a connection between the type of person that chooses to do accounting work and the occupational role characteristics of an accountant?" Obviously, there is - otherwise, they would have become lawyers, doctors, or something else instead.
This blog is to prompt further questions and further thought, not to conclude, summarise or classify. We hope that it prompts you to think about who you are, the roles you perform and why; and, importantly, remember that everyone else is doing the same thing as well. Our roles only give us role importance, or role respect, not individual personal respect; that is entirely different.
Who are you behind the role? What other roles do you have? Do you perform the right role on the right stage? Do you perform the right role on the wrong stage? Are you in the same performance with the right people on the right stage?
Clarity Street was conceived from years of engaging with Accounting firms on a daily basis and a constant desire to make Accounting firms & SME’s more efficient and profitable.