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I was gripped by the TV this month as the 2012 Olympics got under way. Here in London we were inescapably swept up by Olympic fever, and it was superb to see most Brits getting behind Team GB, (who came in with the highest gold medal total besides the inevitable US and China – pretty good going!) and giving support to a whole heap of athletes from other national teams as well.

The profession, too, saw gold at the London games. Association of Chartered Certified Accountants student Ed McKeever was a member of Team GB and scooped a gold medal with an impressive run in the 200 metre kayak singles race (see also: ACCA student McKeever wins gold at Olympics).

Image of The Accountant editor Nicola Maher

McKeever is not the only accountant who participated in this month’s games. Other athletes who are also qualified accountants include Spain’s Alexandre Fabregas (hockey), Cuba’s Yaritza Abel Rojas (judo), the US’s Gwen Jorgensen (triathlon) and Great Britain’s Iain Mackay (hockey) to name but a few.

This got me thinking about the flexibility that studying for an accounting qualification can bring. And while it is a bonus that professional bodies can be so accommodating, this flexibility is a perk that may well be an incentive for newcomers to the accounting profession, particularly those who aspire to compete in their chosen sport at international level.

Accounting firms too are known to be flexible with the athletes on their staff. The work/life balance is an important issue for the profession and these individuals – although somewhat extreme examples in the sense they have careers on and off the sports field – are proof a balance can be achieved between work and other pursuits.

Climbing the career ladder

Flexibility is not only a "nice-to-have" incentive; it is also a business imperative, because if companies do not facilitate different work-life styles, there is a real likelihood of excluding a significant pool of talented people. This is something the accounting profession really cannot afford to do as there is already a shortage of talent globally (see also: Looking for the right professionals).

More accounting firms have begun to look at their policies to ensure it is possible for young up-and-coming accountants to make partner without putting in the long hours firms are notorious for. But there are still countries in the world that are lagging behind, mainly due to cultural differences, and they need to take heed and begin addressing the issue.

More needs to be done in the way of finding and attracting talent, but in this day and age it is clear that providing staff with more ways to manage their work-life balance is going to go a long way toward fixing the problem.

Nicola Maher