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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between management controls and the work-life balance (WLB) of junior accountants working in four multinational accounting firms using semi-structured interviews. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The authors interviewed junior accountants, asking them about their firms' time budgeting process, their views on organisational culture and their experience of WLB. Findings ‐ Time budgeting controls and the dominant discourses of "efficiency" and "career" form a web of control within these firms that sustain the long-hours culture. Drawing on the work of Foucault, the authors argue that the web of control is particularly strong because it is not imposed externally by a clearly identifiable source of power. Instead, the interviews revealed how junior accountants actively produce the web of control in order to secure their identity. This is particularly apparent when they speak of their career. Research limitations/implications ‐ This research sheds light on the relationship between management controls and WLB. Management controls are effective in large multinational accounting firms because they work through the emergent identity of young professionals. Originality/value ‐ The link between management control systems and WLB has received little attention from accounting academics. This research offers important insights into the way management control systems and organisational culture may impact the lived experience of WLB within multinational accounting firms.