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Stress in finance teams: What you need to know and what you can do about it

11th Mar 2024
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Stress and burnout are serious health risks for many people in overstretched finance teams and accountancy practices. 

CABA (the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association) found in 2022 that 55% of accountants were suffering stress and burnout. Nearly a third spent a lot of their leisure time worrying about work. 

A 2018 survey by recruiter Robert Half found 78% of chief financial officers were expecting stress levels to rise, with increased workloads and growing business expectations cited as key reasons.   

What’s more, many finance and accountancy teams have seen their workloads grow as staff have become harder to find. Research by iplicit among 1,000 senior finance decision makers points to some of the pressures: 72% of respondents take longer than three days to prepare month-end accounts and 17% take more than two weeks. The survey found 17% blamed a lack of resources. 

managing work-related stress

Signs that you may be stressed  

The International Stress Management Association UK points to a host of possible symptoms of stress, grouped into four areas: 

  • Psychological signs – including an inability to concentrate, memory lapses, being easily distracted, negative thinking and being less intuitive and creative. 
  • Emotional signs – such as being tearful, irritable or defensive, having mood swings or lacking motivation. 
  • Physical signs – including aches and pains, muscle tension, grinding teeth, frequent colds and infections, bowel problems and tiredness. 
  • Behavioural signs – including forgoing pleasurable activities, being prone to accidents, increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine or drugs, and poor time management.

How to deal with your own stress 

The NHS lays out some key ways to manage work-related stress: 

  • Identify what you find stressful. 
  • Focus on what you can change. 
  • Learn to deal with stress in the moment – for example, by taking three slow, deep breaths. 
  • Talk to someone you can trust – whether a colleague, friend, relative or professional. 
  • Build resilience – perhaps by learning techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to reframe your negative thoughts. 
  • Set boundaries and switch off from work. 
  • Look after your physical health. 

Haydan Firth, an accredited Life and Performance Coach, says tackling stress starts with giving yourself permission to accept that things have been getting on top of you. 

“You need to do a bit of a self-audit. Start with your body. Are you rested? Are you hydrated?” he says

“Something that’s really powerful and underutilised is the idea of getting more connected and grounded. Being in nature – green space and blue space – works wonders. Allow yourself to feel connected again. 

“There’s such power in getting out of your head and back into your body,” he says

“It’s important to identify what charges you. Is it being in nature, going out with friends, taking part in some outdoor experience, reading a book, or making a conscious decision to see a film that you really want to see? You want to go back to work on Monday feeling good, not just thinking ‘I got through the weekend’.” 

Jasmine Navarro, an award-winning wellbeing expert and founder of the coaching business Nava, stresses that sometimes, we just need to use the magic word “no”. 

“I see people around me who are so stressed and yet even in their social life, they’re saying yes to things when they really want to rest,” she says

She says we need to reflect on the self-limiting beliefs that may lie behind us saying yes when we want to say no.   

“If you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself, you’re probably not going to have healthy boundaries with other people,” she says

“You need to know how to communicate your needs and ask for them.” 

Prioritising self-care 

While there’s no shortage of advice on dealing with stress, prioritising it can be the hard bit. 

“When you plan your diary, the first thing that should go in it should be your self-care processes,” says Haydan Firth.

Jasmine Navarro advises people to start small when changing their habits. 

“Maybe it’s a little bit of deep breathing, maybe it’s writing a couple of sentences in a journal or going out to get some fresh air – or maybe it’s just regularly taking five minutes for yourself,” she says

“It’s not about changing everything overnight, because that never works anyway. It’s about changing one tiny thing each time.” 

Reviewing the finance function 

When a finance team is under pressure, the people in it can find themselves working long hours against hard deadlines.

The need to balance the books, compile and analyse complex data and present it in a digestible way all add to the strain. Everyone is aware of the importance of accuracy, but the likelihood of human error can grow with the volume of work. 

An iplicit guide points to four key ways to improve efficiency (defined as “maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense”) in the finance team: 

  • automation; 
  • improved consolidation processes; 
  • better internal controls and processes;  
  • and live reporting and enquiries, to ensure data is all available in one place.  

A look at workloads and working practices might help alongside a review of everyone’s relationship to pressure and stress. 

iplicit’s guide The Superhero FD: How to Save Your Finance Team from the Clutches of Inefficiency is available to download for free