The laziness debate: Less can be more

Accountant exhausted in the office
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I was fascinated to see Mark Telford launching the proposition that “accountants are lazy” on AccountingWEB a fortnight ago.

The headline could be regarded as somewhat misleading since Telford has actually written a positive piece proposing that many firms could be more adventurous and, as a result, more profitable.

In fact, it could reasonably be argued that his headline should actually have been “accountants are cowardly”.

Telford might also have been more judicious by including something like “some” or “most” as a prefix to the provocative headline.

In my experience, there are certainly a good number of accountants who would struggle to deny that they are lazy. If they could be bothered to do so. Perhaps this writer has been lucky in a long career because, overall, the vast majority of accountants with whom he has come into contact have been diligent and incredibly hard-working, which is the point of this article.

Far too often, the problem that we face is not laziness but the consequences of overwork. While accountants are not nearly as bad as solicitors when it comes to burning the midnight oil and feeling an obligation to sit around in the office until long after the rush hour has dissipated or, in some cases, almost become the morning rush hour for the following day.

Far too many of us rush around like mad people, desperate to show clients and colleagues, not to mention ourselves, that we are martyrs to the cause.

There is the crux of the matter. Working longer hours does not necessarily generate greater productivity.

This accountant has frequently stayed in the office, working late with the sole intention of solving a particularly knotty problem. He has also watched colleagues do exactly the same.

A good lesson was learned in relatively youthful days when trying to balance sets of figures seemed a good alternative to getting home in time for Coronation Street or EastEnders.

Frankly, given the choice between those three activities, the numbers still win hands down. However, on a number of occasions, the problem eventually overwhelmed the solver who was forced to retire hurt and return to the fray the following morning.

That is the moral of this story. Twelve hours later, many of those spent asleep, the columns of numbers that just would not behave -- despite three or four hours of tearful effort -- sorted themselves out within minutes, and occasionally even seconds when a fresh brain was able to look at them in the cold light of day.

The same logic applies to efficiency. While not aware of any formal studies, it would come as no surprise to learn that the majority of PI claims result from work carried out when individuals were not functioning at their best due to tiredness.

On a grander scale, if someone struggles into the office when they are ill, concerned that otherwise they might be regarded as shirkers, it will probably achieve two goals that are not on anybody’s agenda. First, they are likely to be absent from work for far longer when they finally collapse. Secondly, they may have the good fortune to share their flu or measles with colleagues who, in turn, follow the same pattern.

While it makes perfect sense to berate genuinely lazy accountants, who are either failing to fulfil their own ambitions or, much worse, taking advantage of colleagues who really do put in the hours, it is also necessary to establish a climate that is most likely to achieve the optimum result.

That may mean sending some colleagues home at the end of their contractual hours on the basis that in the longer term this will lead to better, safer output. On the same basis, perhaps some of us should be spending more time with our own families and less with our colleagues to maximise profitability and welfare.

About Philip Fisher

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14th Feb 2019 15:36

Work smarter, not harder.

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