Is loneliness the forgotten challenge of busy season?
Tax. Compliance. HMRC. Self assessment. Late. If we were playing word association for busy season, these are some of the phrases that would be likely to come up first.
But underneath the piles of tax paperwork, amid a frenzied scramble of client communications and flurry of late calls, has the most important dimension of busy season been buried?
I’m talking about the human element. The mental health impact. More specifically, the loneliness many accountants experience.
If you search for “busy season accountancy” on Google UK, page one returns no mention of the word “lonely” or the phrase “mental health”, nor even “stress”. None of those words register. But should they?
Delve deeper and you find, woven into the web’s deep tapestry, hidden among a maze of Reddit threads, discussions between accountants about loneliness in busy season.
It’s clear the subject has been discussed in forums in previous year. But isolation is amplified tenfold thanks to the pandemic. In fact, self-isolation is one of the buzz words of 2020. We have had to separate ourselves, stay our distance, remain at home – it’s become the law.
I can only imagine how many accountants have been tucked away in their home-office (makeshift or dedicated room), barely able to muster any human contact outside their immediate family, for those living with loved ones. On the other hand, for those living on their own, they haven’t even got the benefit of a colleague or two in the office to have a coffee with or a quick natter about the football or the latest TV show.
Technology may have eased this situation for some people during the pandemic, with video platforms becoming one of the few success stories in the past 12 months. While accountants now regularly converse with colleagues, clients, friends and family over video, it’s not the same as in-person conversations. The camaraderie between people in an office helps to boost morale - something that is much harder to do over a video call.
Many will be familiar with the experience of working late in the office on their own during January, trying to keep up with a dauntingly deep desk of paperwork into the early hours. Being so busy and having to work through a huge bundle of tasks largely on your own is bound to be, by its nature, a lonely experience.
Missing the hustle and bustle
AccountingWEB’s own pages reveal evidence for a link between home-working and loneliness, even before the pandemic, with this comment from a member who complained of feeling isolated when working from home: “I miss the hustle and bustle of the office and the general chit chat during the day.”
Another, who had just set up their own business, recalled that first year “was horrendously tough and lonely”.
The latest busy season has surely been one of the loneliest busy seasons for many accountants – and with demand for advice and workload only increasing due to so many businesses fighting for survival, you could argue the stress levels have risen to new heights. Especially with HMRC waiving late filing penalties at the eleventh hour, causing more questions over potential client implications rather than solving workload problems. It all added to already high stress levels for most accountants.
At IRIS we highlighted the survey by CABA – the charity for ICAEW accountants and staff - on mental health among accountants, which showed 98% were stressed even before Covid struck.
Indeed CABA recognised the great difficulties facing its members during the pandemic, dedicating a full article with guidance, and stating: “Most of us during lockdown will have experienced the sadness that comes from feeling lonely and disconnected.”
You don’t have to look far into the Reddit forums to find talk of depression and misery in busy season.
Loneliness had been until recent times almost a taboo subject in society and it is clearly a much wider issue than purely the way it affects accountants. Indeed, the fact the campaign for loneliness exists as an organisation says a lot. According to that same body, in total, 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to 25m people.
So, are you one of the 45%? How lonely was busy season for you? And do you agree that it’s the forgotten problem of busy season?
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Steve is Head of Accountancy for Commercial at IRIS Software Group; a technologist and chartered accountant (FCCA) who looks at how technology can simplify the modern working environment.
He joined IRIS in 2002, who’s career at IRIS has spanned many areas of the business including Customer Support, Engineering, Product Management and...