Accountants are at risk of becoming less productive or burning out due to the excessive daily stress of the job.
Research conducted by chartered accountants’ wellbeing charity CABA has captured the extent of the mental health crisis that has gripped the profession.
According to the study, a third of accountants admitted to feeling stressed on a daily basis, with the prevailing cause amongst 31% being the job itself.
The well-covered always-on nature of the job bleeds into accountants’ home life, and this is reflected in the results with 29% struggling to maintain a work-life blend.
Fingers must be pointed at the biggest instigator of this: emails. It’s become a cliché on AccountingWEB’s practice talk feature for accountants to plead guilty to checking their emails outside office hours. The results of the survey struck similar conclusions: two-fifths (38%) check their emails outside work every day, and a third (33%) even check their emails while sick or on annual leave.
Since so many chartered accountants feel their workloads are so severe that they need to check their emails out of office, it’s clear to CABA’s service director Kelly Feehan that “firms should be actively encouraging their staff to maintain a healthier work-life blend”.
But emails are not the root of the problem. Workplace frustrations such as being overworked (41%), office politics (33%), feeling undervalued (29%), failure to increase pay or rewards (29%) and having to attend too many meetings (28%) all contribute to the profession’s rising stress levels.
Stress levels are proving to be particularly higher with younger and middle-aged chartered accountants than those aged over 55. The research found that 43% of 18-34-year-olds and 45% of 35-44-year-olds feel stressed every day, compared with 15% of over 55-year-olds.
Concerned that young people within the profession are wrestling with stress and taking their work home, CABA’s Freehan called on the firm leaders to “provide tangible support that helps staff to form healthy working habits at the start of their careers if we’re to avoid the risk of fewer young people seeking opportunities in accountancy”.
So why are accountants overworked and under so much stress? Leadership coach Blaire Palmer, who will be judging the Accounting Excellence brand new Investing in People category, sees this behaviour when trust is low in a firm or organisation. "When there is a lot of oxygen for dysfunctional behaviours you start to see a crackdown on control," said Palmer.
“When organisations and the industry are under pressure and it is highly competitive, all the good talk about empowering employees and engagement and all of that good stuff goes out of the window, and managers revert back to more of a command and control model.”
Palmer says that this is based on the fundamental distrust that firm leaders have in the people that work for them. “You push all the pressure you have as the manager onto the people. All that pressure to perform that is on you, you then delegate out and keep a tight hold on it.”
According to Palmer, the number one shift that managers need to make to be more like leaders is to develop the trust in their people. “When you trust your people, you don't worry if you've sent them an email at 11pm and they haven't got back to you. You don't interpret that as neglecting your responsibility.”
She has heard firms claiming to have a culture of trust but then overrule employee decisions or step in when they don’t make the decision we want. Unsurprisingly, she added, “people don't feel valued when they don't feel heard and they feel like all the pressure is dumped on to them.
“Stress is not about how much work there is to do, stress is also about not being able to be yourself in the workplace, not being able to be authentic, not being able to speak openly and honestly and not having to hide who you are. The solution isn't always to give people less to do but to treat them like human beings and to be a human being yourself.”
Blaire Palmer is judging the brand new Investing People category at the Accounting Excellence awards.