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Burnout: Signs to watch out for and how to avoid it

4th Apr 2024
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Bright was created in 2021 when Thesaurus Software Ltd. and Relate Software Ltd. decided to join...
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The number-crunching lives of accountants and bookkeepers come with their own set of pressures – deadlines that won't budge (especially during busy season, who wants bags of receipts dumped at your door at the very last minute?), and client demands that require an encyclopaedia of expertise. 

The fact that you’ve been trained to be incredibly analytical, data-driven and to hold all of your clients’ answers, doesn’t help either. However, even the most detail-oriented and competent person in the industry can feel under pressure at some point.  

Also, since the pandemic, office and home lives have started to blend. What was once a very defined separation boundary has since become blurred, with accountants finding themselves glued to their laptops well after working hours. Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association has said that 98% of accountants feel stressed every day which speaks volumes about the state of the industry. 

April is also Stress Awareness Month, and this initiative is all about getting the message out there to help people build resilience and deal with the negative impacts of stress. According to Caba Analysis, 55% of accountants suffer from burnout (compared to 41% of employees in other industries) with 80% believing that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the industry. Also, an AAT study found that 90% of accountants experience stress, and 43% have taken time off due solely to stress

Now, while it may sound like stress just comes as part of the job, by gaining the right skillset to mitigate these negative effects, you can improve your mental, as well as your physical, wellbeing. Let’s run through some of the signs to watch out for when it comes to burnout, and more importantly, what you can do about it. 

Signs of burnout 

Burnout isn't just an everyday reaction to a bad day at the office; it’s a result of long-term exposure to workplace stresses becoming too much to handle. Here are some of the main signs that you (or someone on your team) might be heading towards the path of burnout. 

  • Absenteeism and presenteeism 

Do you find yourself calling in sick more often? Are you at your desk, but emotionally miles away? Maybe you’ve been finding that tasks take longer to complete, the quality of your work has diminished, or that errors have started to creep in more than normal? Absenteeism (when employees are absent from work) costs UK businesses £6b per year, and presenteeism (when employees show up to work but aren’t in the right frame of mind and make mistakes that can require costly rectification) costs £28b per year. The good news? For every £1 you spend on employee wellbeing, you get £5 back on your investment in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover. 

  • Mood changes 

Do you find that you’ve been more irritable than usual? Are team members asking you if you’re okay more often? Do you find yourself putting distance between you and your colleagues or isolating yourself more? Burnout can lead to significant mood changes that can affect not only your personal relationships but your professional ones too. 

Also, it’s important to note that while these signs can be due to workplaces stresses like a toxic culture and limited flexibility, it could also be due to personal issues, like an illness or a major life change. 

Just starting out your firm? 

A study showed that less experienced accountants are more likely to suffer from burnout, as the fear of their business going belly up is at the forefront of your mind. However, if you don’t get your work-life balance in check now, you won’t have the skillset to switch off once your firm grows or know how to encourage staff to do the same. 

So, now that we’ve covered the signs to look out for, here are three ways you can avoid burnout from happening in the first place. 

Three ways accountants can avoid burnout in their firms 

1. Reflect on how your firm operates 

While you think everything might be hunky dory, this mightn’t be the case for the rest of your team. For example, you might feel that staying on an additional hour past designated working hours is standard practice, but your team might have other arrangements made (like gym class or collecting kids) and from this, end up resenting you and the work that they do. 

So, take a step back and examine your firm’s environment. If long hours and working through weekends are expected and not a rarity, then it’s time for an internal cultural shift. Employees need space to breathe, process, and separate from work. Start by looking at the time your team’s time logs, and you can use the likes of a time-tracking tool or a practice management software to do this. 

If you notice your team is constantly logging in extra hours, have a chat with them about any potential bottlenecks, what they believe their expectations are regarding overtime, and how their personal life is being affected by this. Then, adjust accordingly. 

For example, if you’re using outdated solutions, maybe switching to more streamlined cloud accounting solutions could be the remedy for this. If it’s a company culture issue, start implementing more flexible working arrangements and be the example your team needs to see – log off once it hits 5:00 pm and avoid sending messages on the weekends.  

2. Create a non-judgmental environment 

Once you’ve cracked the code on how your firm operates, the next step is to create an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable to have open communication. This prevents your firm from slipping back into its old ways and helps keep you more in tune with your team’s wellbeing. 

You can do this by implementing a non-judgmental environment, where wellbeing is as valid as any other topic. This can lead to improved team performance and innovation, and can be done by making check-ins a regular part of your routines. Simple conversations can be huge empathy generators, like “How was your weekend?” or “How are you feeling lately?” and can demonstrate that you value your team as people, not just as workers. Employees can leave breadcrumbs in their responses too, so by communicating with them regularly enough, can paint a bigger picture of their overall state of wellbeing. 

3. Invest in wellbeing activities 

An extra measure you can take to prove your dedication to your employees’ wellbeing by setting up some wellbeing initiatives. These could be free meditation classes, a yoga session over lunch, or even a talk from an expert in the field. You could also set up an Employee Assistance Program, and depending on which provide you choose, they could offer these kinds of benefits year-round, for a fraction of the price. 

Free webinar: Managing stress in the workplace 

By addressing and taking measures to prevent burnout, you’re claiming back control and starting a new chapter of productivity for your firm. This Stress Awareness Month, we’re taking extra steps at Bright to help you create an environment where you can thrive, not just survive. 

Recently, we were joined by mental health expert, Kirsty Birch, to discuss the signs of poor mental health that accountants and bookkeepers need to keep an eye out for in their firms. The theme this year for Stress Awareness Month was “Little By Little” which  highlighted how even the smallest steps towards self-care can make a big difference. Kirsty sprinkled this theme throughout the webinar, and dived into the true cost of stress and ignoring wellbeing at work. Watch back the webinar in the link below. 

Watch back webinar with Kirsty Birch 


eleanor vaughey   


Written by Eleanor Vaughey | Bright




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