A stressed profession: Why accountants should take a deep breath

That’s it, I’m done!
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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.

About Philip Fisher

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10th May 2019 10:42

Wise advice Philip.

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10th May 2019 10:52

I would agree that stresses in the mind. Having suffered for many years in a stressful practice I know what I’m talking about.

One person may cope perfectly well under a high level of stress whereas another may not.

What is important is that your managers and partners understand your stress tolerances.

Some years ago I worked in a medium sized practice in Leeds City centre. I was struggling with a new culture and an excessive workload and what I think was an unsupportive managing partner who really had no idea what stresses he was putting on to his staff. I use the word staff rather than team purposely.

Having suffered several panic attacks and a breakdown at work I was invited into the senior partner’s office to discuss.

Today, many years later, I am still quite amazed at one of his responses in that meeting. He said that if I was in a race and I came in second that it was no good saying that I have tried my best. He said, it is about winning that is important.

When you are struggling, you need a little support. A friendly word and some practical help over a difficult period would have made a great difference and most probably have got me up and ‘running’ again. However, knocking me further when I was already down was not helpful.

I hope that all the talk and public recognition of mental health issues will make my story a less popular one in the future.

I now work for myself. I am much more profitable and happier. To me, culture and support are extremely important and need to be recognized more amongst managers.

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10th May 2019 13:10

"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"

Really, why? Perhaps a course in time management may be of use to you.

I also think that there is a world of difference between 'pressure' and 'stress'. Too much of the former may lead to the latter, but pressure in itself needn't be stressful and actually can be invigorating.

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10th May 2019 20:51

Quote:
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.

I really hope so. Not because of stress, but I may have other reasons to be looking elsewhere before the year is out.

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10th May 2019 23:30

Good article. Enjoying initial stages of GoProposal as a tool as encouraging to quote what worth and re quote where needed.

Or in some cases just disengage. What causes stress, clients, staff? Amongst other things.

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By Alf
15th May 2019 09:35

While you may be right that the majority of people just need to step back and take a deep breath, there are a significant number of people for whom stress can literally feel overwhelming, due to a range of non-work factors (eg long-term illness in the family, financial pressure, marriage difficulties, dysfunctional childhood of some sort etc etc).
For these people taking a deep breath is unlikely to be enough.
While there are probably steps that they should take themselves (eg CABA courses, support groups, therapy, medication etc) a supportive work environment will undoubtedly be beneficial for both them and their employer

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