Dear Nick: 'Is anyone else suffering from coronavirus burnout yet?'
The strain of helping clients around the clock has taken its toll on accountants during the coronavirus pandemic. AccountingWEB’s resident agony uncle helps an accountant who is on the brink of burning out.
The dilemma: We put self assessment season to bed at the end of January and breathed a sigh of relief, but now we’re faced with the Chancellor who has a really tough job drip-feeding policies to quite frankly desperate people who've seen their livelihoods disappear overnight.
I've personally had a steady stream of emails and phone calls asking what this means for them and how they can make ends meet in the short term. It’s been a heartbreaking week: nice people with viable businesses shutting the doors, not qualifying for any grants because they are not in the correct sector when the business next door is eligible for £25,000 because they are retail. They don't know if they will ever open up again.
Then to cap it all I've had the "what can I claim" brigade who are still earning but at reduced levels. A handful of these clients have made my blood boil, asking what can I make out of this crisis. I bet they stockpiled all the toilet rolls, too… Is anyone else feeling burned out?
Nick Replies: You're not only dealing with your own challenges and fears during the coronavirus outbreak but as an accountant, you are also shouldering the fears and demands of your clients.
With a groundswell terror filling your clients’ lives, coupled with money and taxation being a trigger for them at the best of times, you are now in a position of getting it ‘both barrels’.
Our old issues of MTD, Brexit and the recent busy period seem rather pale in comparison. You fill up your diaries with your work and family commitments, but where do you feature in your own life?
The reasons I reached the point burnout and breakdown were two-fold:
- Masks: I was afraid of showing how I felt, who I was and how terrified and frustrated I was.
- Recovery: I did not schedule any time to recharge, relax or even how that worked for me.
So, now, more than ever, accountants need to protect themselves. That old aeroplane adage of putting your oxygen mask on first so you can be stronger to help others applies more than ever right now.
But, undoubtedly, you are in the unenviable position right now with clients expecting you to know how to sort the claim or decipher the latest guidance the Chancellor has announced – as soon as it is announced.
They have unreasonable expectations, so manage their expectations and tell the truth about how you are feeling, how you are coping, and the timeline as you see it in terms of their question.
We don’t know how long this is going to last for or how this is going to play out – so don’t be afraid of saying ‘I don’t know’. Don’t fall into the trap of allowing them or yourself to assume an outcome to anything that is going on right now.
(Hear Nick Elston talk about burnout culture, anxiety and helping clients through a crisis in the latest episode of the No Accounting for Taste podcast)
It’s also important that you set boundaries. Allow time to disconnect, to recharge your batteries, however you do that, and ensure you get the space you need so that you can go again strong tomorrow. For example, give your clients a time window of when they can and cannot reach you.
If you are an introvert (recharge in your own company), you should ring-fence some time to yourself. If you are an extrovert (recharge in the company of others), immerse yourself in conversations with family, friends and social interactions. You can only run for so long before you stop.
I’ve put strategies in place to build my resilience and maintain my energy to be stronger and in turn be stronger for my family, friends and clients. But I burned out very quickly after lockdown. My anxiety and obsessive-compulsive traits were all triggered. But I have now gone from survival mode to evolution mode. That reframe and shift of focus has given me extra resilience, focus and determination.
Everyone is either in survival mode, where they’re working out how the business can survive, the bills can be paid, clients can be kept or they’re in evolution mode – working out a new way to do business, a new way to sell and retain clients, creating a new reality.
The sooner you can get from survival to evolution the better. When you are in evolution mode you’ll start to get the excitement back for a better time and future.
Remember: ‘every storm runs out of rain’. You may not see it right now, but if we can come through this – and we will – we can be smarter, stronger and even healthier for the experience.
Keep on keeping on – but go easy on yourselves too.
Nick Elston responded to the Any Answers question: ‘Are you suffering from coronavirus burnout yet?’
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Nick Elston is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the subjects of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing - from an experience sharing perspective - and delivers his talks to stages, corporates, boardrooms, factories, universities, schools and events worldwide. His coaching programme is called Life On Your Terms.