As Richard Hattersley’s article last week so cogently informed us, one-third of accountants feels stressed every day. In some ways, one almost wonders what is wrong with the other two-thirds.
In most cases, stress is in the mind. For many of us, it can be a strong motivating factor, which actually helps accountants reach peak performance. We have all met countless last-minute managers over the years that do not stop functioning until deadline looms.
The key issue here is to control stress and ensure that it does not begin to overwhelm an individual’s sense of self-worth and ability to work and play in a reasonably measured combination. There’s no question that stress can kill or at the very least, make life unpleasant.
Having spent far too many years working in practice at an assortment of firms from the very small to the (almost) very large, this columnist has probably spent more days under a degree of stress than those where there hasn’t.
On a couple of occasions, I had the misfortune to join firms that did not really have the same outlook on life as my own, making stress a constant. The key message here which most of us only learn the hard way is to cut your losses.
The profession is crying out for staff. So if you’re in a job that you absolutely hate, it should be easy enough to swallow your pride, leave and find something much better. As an added incentive, there is a strong possibility that you will get a pay rise as part of the new package.
Beyond that, stress is almost always either self-imposed – as a personality trait or way to maximise achievement – or the result of pressure from outside, either colleagues or clients.
Ironically, it was only last week that this column suggested working to rule on the basis that almost all outside pressure of this type is artificial and has no underlying basis in real goals. Of course, if you need to get tax returns done in time for 31 January or an audit completed before a statutory deadline or announcement to shareholders, you are almost certainly going to get stressed out.
In most other situations, the only stress is attached to plucking up the courage to tell the unruly partner/manager/client that much as you would love to work through the night, you have no intention of threatening health and relationships to meet a random, completely unnecessary deadline.
The problem that Richard identified in his article, which was based on an independent survey, is actually more to do with human psychology than genuine need.
Most of us are unwilling to say no, meaning that we answer e-mails at four in the morning when there is no rational need to do so, stay in the office for hours until a balance sheet actually balances, although it could just as easily be left until the next morning or worry about things that didn’t need worrying about in the first place.
Gurus will undoubtedly wish to spread alarm and earn themselves nice fat fees. But most of us can overcome the majority of stressful situations in the accountancy arena by stepping back, taking a deep breath and behaving completely rationally.
I know that this is easier said than done but from long experience, I can assure you that this strategy almost always pays off.