According to CABA, one in three (31%) accountants felt stressed every day at work, even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, with a handful of lockdowns under their belt, a financial storm to weather and clients’ despair resting on their shoulders, it’s easy to see why accountants may be feeling overwhelmed.
But stress in the accounting profession poses an array of problems. CPAs are crucial to the smooth running — and rebuilding — of the economy. In other words, CPAs are essential to the UK’s recovery from the pandemic. Not only that, but productivity can take a hit when stress levels are high.
Accountants need to look after their mental health to ensure they’re in the best position to perform their work. In this article, we explore the impact of stress at work and how you can manage it better in your firm to prevent burnout.
Stress in the accounting profession is nothing new. In fact, it’s likely inevitable. But failing to differentiate between good and bad stress can create toxic working environments to the detriment of the business and employees.
‘Good stress’ is energising and can motivate you to reach your full potential and meet goals. For example, it’s the feeling you get when you’ve worked hard on something you’re passionate about. Setting (realistic) deadlines, learning new skills, and being part of a positive team are all sources of good stress. However, the line between healthy and chronic levels of stress is thin.
When things begin to feel insurmountable, and the demands of your work exceed your ability to handle them, ‘bad stress’ kicks in. This takes its toll on a person’s physical and mental health, impacting every facet of their life. In the workplace, it contributes to plummeting engagement rates, absences and burnt-out employees.
Burnout and stress are often used interchangeably — but there’s an important difference. While stress is a natural mental and physiological response to a real or perceived threat (i.e., our flight or fight response), the World Health Organisation defines burnout as ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’
Burnout occurs when employees feel overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted and unable to meet the constant demands of everyday life. They begin to lose motivation in their role. Burnout saps energy and reduces productivity — eventually leading employees to leave the job they once loved.
Although burnout affects everyone differently, according to Mental Health UK, there are some general signs you should look out for. Remember, this isn’t a checklist. You don’t need to suffer from all of these symptoms to struggle with burnout:
- Feeling tired or drained most of the time
- Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
- Feeling detached/alone in the world
- Having a cynical/negative outlook
- Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
- Feeling overwhelmed
There is only one way to get ahead of burnout: effective stress management.
Eliminating stress isn’t feasible. But, we can find better ways to manage it and prevent it from becoming overwhelming:
Break the Stigma
For years in the financial industry, it was thought that working hard meant playing hard. But, long hours, tight deadlines and pressure to perform actually led to exhaustion and employees hiding behind a facade even when they were struggling.
It’s time to break the stigma around mental health issues at work. Accounting firms need to create a culture of open dialogue and build an environment where employees can reach out for help when they need it.
Senior figures within the firm must lead by example: be honest when you’re stressed, show empathy and open the lines of communication.
Switching off is hard sometimes — especially with technology and remote working blurring the lines between personal and professional lives. But, overworking can increase stress and reduce general job satisfaction.
By implementing a shut-off time and encouraging your employees to be strict with their working hours, you can transform their outlook and reduce the build-up of stress. It’s as simple as telling your employees not to answer emails after 6 pm, even if it only takes a ‘few seconds’.
CPAs need to have meaningful time away from their job to rest and refuel to feel more energised when they return to work.
When we’re healthy, we’re better equipped to handle stress to prevent it from becoming unmanageable. Unfortunately, CPAs may find it difficult to set aside time for physical health due to a heavy workload. By instilling a culture of wellness in your firm, you can promote a healthier way of living and working.
For example, consider providing discounted gym memberships, offering healthy snacks when you’re in the office and implementing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). An EAP is a tangible way of providing mental health support to employees by giving them a safe space to seek advice and guidance from a professional.
Taking a comprehensive approach to wellness at work will ensure employees are supported, healthy and prepared for the challenges they will face.
Manage Stress with Support from INAA
Here at INAA, we connect accounting firms who aim to deliver quality professional services around a shared vision to make global business personal, and take personal business global.
With every industry change, our collaborative association of international businesses is committed to being a part of the conversation around auditing and accounting.
Join today to start building powerful business relationships.