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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.

2nd Nov 2020
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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.

Replies (15)

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By RaxJ
03rd Nov 2020 10:22

I have noticed that my workload has tripled since working from home. When we were in the office, managers were quiet, but now there seems to be email after email, call after call. There wasn't any urgency when in the office, but all of a sudden there is a huge drama since working from home.

Bad management is leading to a lot of stress i feel.

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By Mr J Andrews
03rd Nov 2020 10:36

Reading this article , I'm thankful that I do not fall into the category of .....''average accountant seemingly succumbed to a kind of workaholic addiction.....''

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By flightdeck
03rd Nov 2020 10:45

I don't like working from home, was OK at the start (novelty). When home is work, and even with good balance, it feels like I never get away from work :-(

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By uktaylor
03rd Nov 2020 11:00

I have worked from home for nearly 20 years so I am used to it. However the work load was quiet in March now increased with 20 questions all of the time. Having two adult children and a husband at home doesn't help. I am used to working in a quiet place until at least 4pm. Working late nights where needed. I am aware it is not healthy and look forward to much needed time off, likely to be February 2021.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
03rd Nov 2020 11:16

It's a learning process and not everyone is suited to working from home.

A lot of accountants also fall into the trap of trying to take on too many clients and this is coming back to bite them. Now is the time to take a look and see whether you like your current life/work balance and make changes.

If you are new to working from home, you need some self discipline, and to set some basic rules- unless working 24/7 is for you....

If you are constantly being contacted by a manager, ask them politely to restrict their calls/emails to essentials and provide a list of what they consider is urgent and needs doing this week- and then allow you the time to get it done. Also, learn how to not respond to emails and don't pick up the phone if you are in the middle of something else.

Managers/owners: just because you work all hours and send an email at 12 midnight, do not expect your employee to have read it and responded by 9.10am- they might be working on something else, or have other things to do first. And the employee is not as invested as you are.

Working from home takes some getting used to, and for many employees after the novelty wears off it won't be for them.

As for stress, it is usually of your own making. If it isn't going to get done in time, say so. If you have too much work on, you took too much on and aren't really providing best service to your clients.

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By johnjenkins
03rd Nov 2020 11:14

What do we do when we start up on our own? Use the dinning room table, perhaps, then onto a shed, perhaps. Once a reasonable client base has been achieved we move on to office premises. So why on earth would we want to go back to working from home? Some will relish working from home but they are few and far between. Accountants are essential services and most work from standalone computers, so working from home would be rather limited, unless you're into the high tech communications stuff (I'm not). I worked all through last lock down from the office with no problems. Increase in workload yes but manageable.
This will only last until next March at the latest cos eventually the world has to get back to normality and except with normality comes more hospitalisations and deaths. The alternative would be for the whole world to go into lockdown for a month to eradicate the virus. That's not going to happen. So don't panic, just ride it out.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By wilcoskip
04th Nov 2020 20:37

"Accountants are essential services and most work from standalone computers"

Agree completely with the first part, but am genuinely interested as to how true the second part is anymore. Most of our clients use Xero, and the majority of the accounts prep/tax prep/PM solutions are either cloud-based or at least accessible via a hosted desktop or remote data option. So just how many of us need to be at a certain computer at the end of 2020?

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By JD
03rd Nov 2020 11:20

It is pretty obvious that WFH will have nothing other than a detrimental effect, other than for the happy band of individuals who work on their own account anyway, can pick up laptop and work from anywhere.

The moment you have a team and are WFH, you have to spend a lot of additional time and cost managing your team and work being done, the flow of client information and records between different parts of the team, additional IT and software costs to make everything work, the reduced quality of work because everybody now works as individuals, rather than as a team and increased risks, not least with GDPR.

The current overselling of WFH, is no different than the fools that have been overselling of Cloud

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By Self-Employed and Happy
03rd Nov 2020 11:44

Our Business is based at home (eventually we'll move and build an office on some land next to said house), you just have to compartmentalise / separate stuff.

When you are off on lunch then....you are exactly that, away from the computer. Do you all turn up at 7.30am at the office and stay to 8pm? No, you go home. So at home time turn the computer OFF!!!

You aren't getting paid extra to kill yourself, I actually know some accountants round here that have furloughed staff!!! Which means extra work is done by the remainder.

We both have an office each (reasonably sized bedroom each), if you are being made to work from home it is MUCH better to temporarily set yourself up with a space preferably in a corner (if you don't have extra rooms), no TV in the background and nobody else around to disturb you.

For the people suggesting that workload has tripled, either your company has furloughed people, the company you work for is inefficient, the company is completely ill-equipped to deal with the future in terms of technology or staff capabilities/training.

If I owned a larger firm with employees I would see this as an absolutely ideal opportunity to streamline the business practices (look to see what managers will actually cope with the new age of accountancy / technology) and ensure from a technological and staff perspective I am able to take advantage of where my competitors fail.

Never be scared to NOT respond to an email from a manager or to respond with a NO because I am doing x,y,z.

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By CazzyT
03rd Nov 2020 11:41

I read it as

"stressed alcoholics"

Perhaps that is just me

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
03rd Nov 2020 15:51

Work as you did before.

Maybe it comes with age as I certainly had trouble with the idea in 1994 when I first worked for myself, back then I seemed to spend very late evenings/weekends wading through client records at home whilst we had one newborn and one 2 1/2 year old to also juggle(I was made redundant from industry so set up as a practice).

Maybe as we get older we value our spare time more (less of it left to look forward to in the future) but operate to a timetable, sit at desk at x, break for lunch, finish at y, ignore e mails after z and develop some hobbies you can do to fill what were your going out hours. (Mine tend to revolve around the garden and DIY with a model railway to fill the winter months when the garden will be too cold even for me)

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
03rd Nov 2020 18:44

I think the reason I am a lot busier in the last 6 months is

1. A lot more work due to Covid

And, erm, that's it.

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By Malcolm Veall
03rd Nov 2020 21:41

Surely the real cause of the stress is the extra workload - it is now 21:40 and another furlough claim painstakingly calculated and keyed in employee by employee - the client needs this claim in so that the funding will be available to pay their team.

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By jamiea4f
03rd Nov 2020 22:21

I worked from home (mostly) for 10 years but now work is work and home is home and never the two shall meet. It also helps me focus on work stuff while at work and not be distracted by Loose women or whatever.

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By seeroo
04th Nov 2020 21:54

I was already a workaholic so this has been nothing but good for me. Still working a lot but at least now I'm comfortable and not hangry. I have more time for things at home that I wouldn't before due to no commute and manage to fit in some exercise as well. I get a lot more done without the constant distractions of the open plan office.

Managing and supervising staff through Microsoft Teams seems to be working. We have video call meetings to catch up and we can share screens while on a video call if we need to help each other with anything. I don't micro manage my team so they've learned to take responsibility for their own work. We have more to do due to covid but we're getting through the work a lot quicker. We're also good at throwing ideas around on teams when one of us has a problem.

I have been going into the office some days and those days are a total write off where nothing gets done.

I do worry about some of the quieter members of the team at home not engaging as much as others and I do think to keep the team bond together we need to be in the office some days. I think 5 days a week in the office is now looking quite old fashioned. Part time working from home also solves a lot of the environmental and traffic problems that we have in our cities.

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