Founder and Author The Accountants Millionaires' Club
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5 signs your role in the Big 4 leads to burnout

9th Sep 2019
Founder and Author The Accountants Millionaires' Club
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Working in a Big 4 accounting firm comes with a whole lot of respect and rewards but it’s not without its challenges either. The biggest one is surviving the demanding pressure day after day whilst somehow keeping your mental, emotional, and physical health intact. Is your Big 4 firm leading you to accounting burnout? Here are 5 signs that it may be.

What is Big 4 burnout?

Big 4 burnout, accounting burnout, consulting burnout…different terms that all mean the same thing.

But what does it mean? “Burnout” is a state of complete physical and emotional exhaustion. It is often accompanied by a reduced sense of accomplishment and a loss of personal identity.

Many accountants experience burnout at some point in their careers because of the long hours and constant high pressure of working in a Big 4 firm. It starts with struggling to cope with workplace stress. Over time, they are left feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to function or cope with everyday life.

5 signs of accounting burnout

We all experience stress at some point in our jobs, it’s normal and our bodies react to that stress by working extra hard. So how do you know when you’re just tired or stressed or overwhelmed or when you’re burning yourself out?

Here are 5 signs of Big 4 Accounting burnout:

1. Chronic exhaustion

Having a lack of energy or feeling tired can be normal, but feeling this way every day is not. Over time, this can lead to complete emotional and physical exhaustion. You then feel drained, depleted, and devoid of any energy. Chronic exhaustion can also be accompanied by insomnia and feeling a strong sense of dread about the day ahead. These factors further exacerbate the exhaustion. (Discover how to get a great night’s sleep!)

2. Cynicism

It is not unusual to be irritable or have a few strained relationships at work. However, when you become a lot more cynical, critical or pessimistic (more than is normal for you), this can be a sign of that you’re burning out. Many accountants reported becoming impatient with co-workers or clients about little things that don’t warrant that response. Others said that they started to feel like what they were doing didn’t matter anymore.

3. Poor work performance

When we’re stressed, our attention narrows to focus on that particular negative element that we perceive as a threat. In the short term, this helps us deal with the problem, but if we’re exposed to stress over a longer period of time, our ability to focus and concentrate on other important things is drastically reduced. This greatly affects productivity and work performance which leads to feelings of apathy and hopelessness, as well as causing tasks to pile up which only worsens the situation.

4. Alienation or depersonalisation

There’s a difference between being extroverted and alienating yourself. It's as much as there’s a difference between prioritising work that has a deadline over going with your colleagues to lunch and avoiding work-related activities altogether. If you lock your office door and pretend to not be in it’s likely that you’re suffering from accounting burnout. This is also true if you find that you’re isolating yourself at home, too.

5. Physical abnormalities

Chronic stress, anxiety, and exhaustion manifest in different ways, so it may lead to physical symptoms as well. Be aware of headaches, stomach pain, intestinal issues, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and viral infections, especially if they are occurring a lot more than normal.

Don’t dwell on burning out (but don’t dismiss it either!)

A high-stress job such as working at a Big 4 accounting firm doesn’t always lead to burnout. If stress is managed well, there may not even be any ill-effects, but it’s important to be aware of it.

It’s important that you listen to your body and look out for the major signs of Big 4 burnout - chronic exhaustion, hating your job and the people you work with, and feeling like you are less capable at work - as only when you identify that you are burning out can you start to reduce the stress before you reach the point of no return.

For ideas on reducing stress and symptoms of burnout, you may want to check out 13 reliable ways to deal with work burnout as a lawyer.


"This article was originally published on the How To Make Partner Website"

Replies (2)

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By Justin Bryant
09th Sep 2019 10:46

I've worked at 2 Big 4 firms, PwC and Deloitte and that was a piece of cake, as you only need to be a narrow specialist in the Big 4 (that is basically their business model and is why they are so profitable as you usually need several narrow specialists (e.g. PAYE, VAT, Stamp Duty, CT) working on just one project, each at insanely high charge-out rates), whereas in a smaller firm you need to have much, much broader knowledge and therefore it's much more demanding generally all else being equal. All ex-Big 4 people I know who work in smaller firms agree with that.

On the plus side I am now streets ahead of my Big 4 contemporaries in terms of technical ability etc. as shown when I meet old director/partner ex-colleagues, who know basically nothing outside their area of specialism when I discuss all the latest general tax/business issues.

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By indomitable
13th Sep 2019 15:28

Every job or profession has the same, not just the big four. Don't agree with the premise of this article which seems to imply it's only in the big 4 that people get burnout. There is burn out in every job in every profession.

More important is to teach people to be resilient and say no to unrealistic demands from any employer.

Your health and sanity are far more valuable than any perceived career progression or monetary incentive

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