Working from home turns accountants into stressed workaholics
Philip Fisher suggests that since homeworking is becoming the norm, accountants should develop strategies and procedures to reduce stress.
It might seem counterintuitive but conversations in recent weeks with a random selection of accountants have suggested that rather than cutting the hours that working commitments take out of their lives, the new normal is increasing them. Things are likely to worsen as the new England lockdown will trap accountants in their home offices.
This must inevitably lead to concern, since the issue of stress has become increasingly prevalent amongst those in our industry, not to mention other professionals, over the last few years and that was without the imposition of a deadly virus.
In principle, given that we can tip out of bed straight into the office without the need to take much time over dressing smartly, commuting or dealing with the many of the minutiae of office life that take so much time without serving any obvious purpose, there ought to be more leisure hours available in the average working from home week.
I can almost hear readers moaning “if only that were the case”. Instead, the average accountant seems to have succumbed to a kind of workaholic addiction.
In the good old days (only seven months ago but it seems like a lifetime), most of us worked to a relatively fixed agenda, whether that was the much desired 9-to-5, 8.30 to 6.30 or even something a little more punishing. Outside those hours, we might answer the odd call or email but our time was our own.
Now, repeatedly, stories emerge of practitioners getting up earlier than ever to do a little work before the real day starts, filling the standard office hours as before. Then, after enjoying a bite of dinner, many return to the home office for a couple of hours of additional servitude.
This is not healthy. It will undoubtedly lead to additional stress at a time when we all have too much to worry about already.
The problem is likely to be compounded by a number of other allied issues. Inevitably, we miss the pleasures of working in a community, chatting with friends by the coffee machine or photocopier, receiving support on technical issues in real-time and possibly even popping out to the local sandwich shop where we can indulge in a chat with the friendly proprietor.
Those with heavy technical roles might also miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off colleagues with different skill sets and levels of experience, although theoretically that should be less of a problem given that we are all using technology so liberally.
At the other end of what is becoming a vacuum, many are beginning to realise that while a marriage or partnership works perfectly when you are apart for five days and together for two, constant confinement in close proximity for month after month can be little more challenging.
Chuck in the joys of spending plenty of time with the kids, whether this is a mewling baby, a needy five-year-old or a pair of moody teens, and life may not feel too rosy.
This explains why, even in the teeth of a deadly pandemic, some accountants are desperate to return to their offices, seemingly more interested in recovering sanity than improving service to clients.
There is no universal answer to this dilemma. Some will relish the joys of avoiding an unpleasant commute and cutting down committed hours considerably for the reasons outlined above.
Others may need to find new techniques in an effort to recover mental equilibrium. These might be as simple as fixing regular online chat with colleagues, more formal weekly or fortnightly physical team meetings in the office (if lockdown restriction allows), or something else that fits a individual’s particular needs and circumstances.
The starting point should be to recognise the issues both for yourself and your colleagues. From there, it might be possible to achieve a satisfactory solution that is beneficial to all.