The lost art of getting away from it allby
As the divide between work and real life becomes increasingly blurred, Philip Fisher advocates severing links with the office this summer to boost long-term productivity.
If you can ever be bothered to read the guidance regarding extending the life of a mobile phone, one of the suggestions is to completely turn off the unit while recharging. As the holiday season moves into full swing, accountants could do worse than take this advice to heart.
Fifty years ago, an averagely affluent accountant would probably have taken a couple of weeks off in August to enjoy a well-deserved break in Spain or Italy or attempted a holiday that was a little more exotic in the Americas.
The cost of international telephone calls was prohibitive, while beyond carrier pigeons, the postal service and telegrams the only other means of communication were the new-fangled fax or telex. In other words, once an accountant was on holiday, he or she could forget about problems in the office for the duration.
Even a decade ago, some of us could skip the country and lie by the pool/climb a mountain/walk round the museum knowing that a call or email from the office was unlikely to spoil the fun.
In many ways, the advent of the pandemic has improved the quality of working life, redressing what was often a skewed work-life balance in favour of life – yippee.
We were no longer tied to desks in cramped office spaces that could only be reached at the end of claustrophobic commutes. Two or three days a week of homeworking has become the norm, with great opportunities to re-engage with the family, walk the dog and be available on the off-chance that the engineer from your internet provider will actually turn up on the day allotted.
It’s hard to believe that any of us would want to go back to the daily grind of 9-to-5 office working having tasted the pleasures of relative freedom, which as a welcome bonus often results in higher productivity, when properly managed.
The flipside to this argument comes during the holiday season. Clients have become used to contacting their obliging accountants at any time of the day or night seven days a week. While many have the grace to preserve the decencies, some will undoubtedly take advantage, seemingly just for the hell of it.
We all understand that when a major transaction is taking place, particularly if there is an international element, 9-to-5 gets blown out of the water and you may need to be on call around the clock for a few days or even weeks. That is not the same as having some bolshy client who always kicks up a rumpus over heavily reduced fees calling you just as the test match or EastEnders is hotting up on a Sunday afternoon, merely to demand a £200 deduction in their tax return, which would be classified as fraudulent if HMRC still looked into such things with appropriate diligence.
That kind of problem is multiplied in a manner that is colloquially referred to as exponentially if you have the temerity to take a two-week holiday in August, at a time when nothing of significance ever happens to the average accountant or his or her client.
Absent and uncontactable
This accountant’s rule of thumb has always been that he will (somewhat reluctantly) be willing to sort out a few minor issues on the first day of a holiday, typically spent at airports or on trains but, thereafter, his status should be marked down as absent and uncontactable. This seemed like a fair compromise, not leaving people in the lurch but allowing one to turn off completely.
Regrettably, in the days of mobile phones, tablets and global internet coverage, far too many of us may be tempted to take a sneaky look at office email accounts or answer a call that we know comes from a client or colleague and will almost certainly turn out to be something that could easily have been resolved on our return.
This August, be strong. Ignore the urge and leave your office phone and tablet or laptop at home. Enjoy your holiday and return to the office refreshed and invigorated for the long haul up to Christmas.
There is a valid alternative – but it could easily lead to divorce, nervous breakdown and enforced early retirement.