'Always-on' culture leads to accountant burnout

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The ‘always-on’ culture of the modern world has wreaked havoc on workplace wellbeing. The knock-on effect from this burnout culture has led to a plunge in concentration levels and an increase in presenteeism, according to the accounting charity CABA in a new report on the importance of holistic health and wellbeing at work.

As accountants prepare for the prospect of self assessment season, this report from CABA highlights the impact a negative workplace can have on productivity and wellbeing. One of the key findings sees 74% of employees acknowledge poor wellbeing as having a negative effect on their concentration.

As a consequence of this, 63% of people see themselves as less productive, while a negative workplace has forced 40% of people to take time off work that wasn’t the result of physical sickness or a holiday.

Bearing in mind the pressing deadlines self assessment season presents, the lack of productivity a negative workplace creates can only exacerbate these annual time pressures. 

Wellbeing influences every aspect of a business

For practitioners with a team, CABA’s wellbeing consultant Lucy Whitehall hopes the results will encourage employers to address any wellbeing imbalance. Writing in the forward, Whitehall urges businesses to regard employee wellbeing in the same light as pension provision or profit and loss account.

“Employee wellbeing influences every aspect of a business. Profitability, sustainability, customer engagement, talent attraction and retention are all impacted by how well, or not, employees feel,” she said.

One reason for the shift in the working population’s health is the inescapable proliferation of technology. While geographical communication or client accessibility barriers have lowered, Whitehall argues that the 24/7 culture created by better software and devices has blurred the distinction between home and work lives.

“This societal shift has wreaked havoc with employee wellbeing, with study after study highlighting how workplace culture is pushing employees towards burnout,” she said. “After-work emails are leaving employees emotionally exhausted, which in turn is affecting their home life.”

Practical wellbeing tips

Given how wellbeing affects the bottom line, CABA has assembled an employee-wellbeing strategy. Based on insights and best practice from member firms, the practical advice includes:

  • Listening to your employees will help you develop a strategy that gives them the support they need
  • Make space for employees to look after themselves, such as healthy eating initiatives and flexible working hours
  • A healthy work-life balance needs to be modelled across the organisation. For example, people need to see others leave on time or stay home when they’re sick

The Practice Excellence response

Data from the 2017 Practice Excellence entrants shows firms are investing more effort into workplace wellbeing. As Brighton-based firm and PEA17 innovative firm of the year Crunch realised, sourcing highly skilled and professionally qualified staff is a challenge.

That's why Crunch has responded with a series of dedicated workplace culture initiatives such as free breakfasts, a cycle-to-work scheme and gym discounts.

“Taking a proactive approach to workplace happiness has also allowed us to maintain a unique, engaging company culture, despite rapid expansion and scaling,” Crunch chief Darren Fell told AccountingWEB earlier this year. “Our 2016 staff survey found 80% feel positive about their managers and 85% love the benefits we offer.”

And in many cases, firms have offered flexible and remote working. Jon Dudgeon, co-founder of Blu Sky tax said: “Our staff are our most valuable asset – if they have a healthy wellbeing then so should our business… our hosted desktop solutions mean our team can work from anywhere, whether that be home, office, Newcastle, London, or abroad (for the really keen).”

About Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

Replies

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16th Nov 2017 10:11

Not sure a firm which has set up a system where their employees can work anywhere ( including abroad) should be lauded as a model employer in an article which quite rightly highlights the dangers of the 'always on ' work culture.

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to killer33
16th Nov 2017 11:05

Thanks Killer33. That’s a fair point. If done wrong, there is a chance remote and flexible working could be disastrous for an employee's work-life balance.

What I wanted to illustrate with the Dudgeon quote was how some firms have realised employees no longer need to be physically behind a desk or start at a certain time – removing the hustle and bustle of the daily commute. Or if an employee wasn’t a morning person, they can adjust their working hours.

It also creates the culture of trust amongst the team – something that Blu Sky extends to an office dress down policy and social events.

Done right, remote working gives employees freedom. For instance, Dudgeon’s co-founder is able to soak up the sunshine (perhaps even work poolside) from his home in Fuerteventura.

But, yeah, in the wrong hands it could be problematic.

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to Richard Hattersley
16th Nov 2017 11:43

Agreed.

Is the person who logs on Sunday afternoon to complete a task seen as a dedicated employee by the partners? Or are they seen as struggling to cope with the demands of the job and heading for a fall.

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to killer33
16th Nov 2017 12:50

killer33 wrote:

Agreed.

Is the person who logs on Sunday afternoon to complete a task seen as a dedicated employee by the partners? Or are they seen as struggling to cope with the demands of the job and heading for a fall.

Or did they choose not work on Friday afternoon, so that they could go watch their kids sports day and are choosing to work on Sunday instead?

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to killer33
16th Nov 2017 12:55

killer33 wrote:

Agreed.

Is the person who logs on Sunday afternoon to complete a task seen as a dedicated employee by the partners? Or are they seen as struggling to cope with the demands of the job and heading for a fall.

Good point. I wonder if partners/employers address why staff log on over the weekend?

Interestingly, France saw the blurring of work and life as such an issue that it passed the "right to disconnect" law.

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to Richard Hattersley
16th Nov 2017 14:36

If they are truly are decent employers they would check and then could differentiate between a sensible reason for Sunday working, such as the suggestion above, or a warning signal of a struggling employee / workaholic .

I say this having worked for one Employer whose philosophy to staff retention/promotion was the pretty much the law of the jungle.

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to killer33
17th Nov 2017 10:45

Surely the important thing is not when they are logging on, but for how long balanced against output.

They might choose to work 40 hours Friday through Monday and have their "weekend" Tuesday through Thursday when there are fewer crowds around in shops, tourists attractions etc.

I enjoy wildlife photography, much better visiting a wildlife reserve in the week when the children are safely tucked up in school!

If someone is logging on for 14 hours a day 7 days a week for average output, then you might have concerns.

A truly progressive larger employer could lock employees out of some/all systems after a certain number of hours in a week/day, with duty manager over-ride required if there is a task that needs urgent attention.

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16th Nov 2017 13:11

Whilst there are undoubtedly many "exploitative" (is that a word?) employers, many people are also fools to themselves on this issue.

Just set yourself a few simple "rules":
1. Never respond to an email straight away. If possible, leave it at least half a day.
2. Never answer your mobile at weekends or out of hours (unless it's friends and family of course). In fact, hide it in the deepest pocket of your coat in the remotest part of your house.
3. When you really need to crack on, tell your receptionist to tell all callers that you're in a meeting.

Clients / employers will take advantage of "always on" because they can. In reality, as long as you get the work done, they don't need that facility and everyone's still happy at the end of the day (well, perhaps make that the end of the week!).

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16th Nov 2017 17:35

Very true. Working longer hours has been proven to yield diminishing returns, as productivity drops. Employees should all be encouraged to actually use their vacation days! (and not touch a computer on Holidays)

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16th Nov 2017 18:29

Well, we close early on Friday as so much stuff on for the family. So I sometimes like to work a bit on Sunday no interruptions a head start in the week. I like to start Monday ahead of the game. Our offices are open late Monday and Tuesday for clients so I cover that shift and take time off Wednesday.

Life has changed and there are many reasons people work at various times. Some of my best work is done later and it is not a sign of not coping.

I agree though you have to switch off. We now have a receptionist and it makes a huge difference to our day. The best decision I made and should have a long time ago.

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By DJKL
16th Nov 2017 18:54

I believe in Sweden employees who do not take holidays and work excessive hours are frowned upon, they appear to have a different society view on work/life/family, however this is maybe derived in part from the idea of Lagom, there is virtue in moderation.

Having said that having watched "The Bridge " Saga seems to take her work home.

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16th Nov 2017 20:06

I work for myself and have nearly 150 clients, but the best work life balance ever. I work from home and have just done a corporation tax submission. This last week has been fairly typical:

Friday 10th work in morning, tennis in afternoon then more work then down the pub.

Sat 11th practice admin, then 3 hours of tennis then some work then 50th Birthday do

Sun 12th 5 mile run, some work, tennis then tennis AGM and pub

Mon 13th gym in morning then work and client meetings, took daughter to swim club then AGM of charity I am treasurer for

Tues 14th client work in mornings, then haircut, then a run

Wed 15th 3 hours' tennis in morning then client work

Today badminton and gym in morning then client work

I am leaving out the x-rated bits here! When it comes to self-assessment I have 57 left to file out of an initial total of 200 or so in April.

I honestly think that the next 20 years or so will see a lot more people mixing and matching like this, spending more time with their families and so on. It's especially benefical at this time of year when many PAYE people just see a dark morning and dark evening instead of making the most of the sunshine.

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By NH
17th Nov 2017 10:33

I have a very similar situation to Mr Mischief apart from I also care for my wife who has a long term illness so flexible working allows me to do this.
The always on culture works great for me, I work 7 days a week but never a full day.
However this is by choice, no one is putting pressure on me to do this. That said even when I was employed 20 years ago I used to call the office from holiday and worked more hours than I was paid for, so perhaps it is up to the individual to set the boundaries more than the employer

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By KH
17th Nov 2017 10:37

I hate to say it, but are smart phones just a bit too smart for the likes of us? I know they have an "on/off" button, but rather like the TV in most modern homes, nobody seems to know where the "off" button is. And worse, nobody seems capable of doing nought anymore ... like the old guy once said, "sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit" ... now there's a lost art.

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17th Nov 2017 10:40

The "always on" culture doesn't help, but also i think part of this is down to the responsibility placed on Business accountants. I dont know about anyone else, but i can never really switch off, im always thinking about improvements on solutions to issues, having access to systems and work files means I can act on those ideas if i need to. My pressure is not from my employer, more self induced

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to CStone1980
17th Nov 2017 10:50

I would add the constant meddling and changing of laws and regulation, new requirements, etc, RTI, AE, MLR, GPDR etc. means you cannot switch off, always have to be thinking about which clients it affects, how will you implement it etc. whilst negotiating the hamster wheel of filing deadline after filing deadline.

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17th Nov 2017 10:48

So, what is new?

Competent management training going back at least 2,000 years has taught that humans, need time off. Horses need time off.

They need real time off to function properly.

Fifty years ago when I started as a junior, people went home from the factory and the office so they were off-duty. It mattered. Office workers were instructed that they must leave their desks during lunch breaks.

Unfortunately in the white hot heat of the electronic revolution this age old lesson has been forgot.

Laws relating to working conditions have not caught up. The result is; You may not hammer iron for more than x hours per week, but your boss and all all and sundry are able to get you out of bed with a text or whatever at midnight.
It is the interruption which causes the damage, not necessarily the length of time "On duty".
At this time it is still all new, we are kids playing with toys.
Grow up, learn where the "Off switch" is.
it is as much abuse as sexual abuse. You do not have to let some person put his hand or your knee, or up your backside if you do want to. You do not have to switch-on when you should be switched-off.

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17th Nov 2017 11:15

There is a simple truth here the answer is in your own hands. As a business, you can and should set your own culture. The vast majority don't even consider this. Thus your culture is borrowed from those with the strongest personality (often not the owner) rather than what is the best for the business, or from external sources.

The result is invariably lower employee engagement, productivity, and a high attrition rate, and a long queue for the toilets at 4:50pm

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By codling
17th Nov 2017 12:17

Sorry, what did the article say again - I have lost track!!

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17th Nov 2017 12:52

My experience of flexible working in a major American corporate:
Mid-June - please can you help, we have been assessed for £1.5million by HMRC which we don't think we owed, but can't prove to get it back. We have six weeks to get in a claim but no-one knows how to do it! (I had warned management 6 years or so ago this could happen!!!)
Rest of June and most of July - work 90 hours a week trawling through a warehouse full of randomly boxed un-labelled documents and a backup computer database that is largely corrupted trying to match information (no overtime of course).

Late July - submit report for HMRC to management saying this is best I can do hope it works.

Mid August - take a day off to go to funeral of a friend -most management on holiday so not reported properly . Get official reprimand for taking unauthorised time off - lose one days pay!

December - learn that my report was successful with HMRC and that they got their 1.5m back. Receive commendation at the year end staff get together and £25 M&S vouchers in recognition. Make New Years resolution to take the sign saying "MUG!" off my forehead. Next time response - "get lost".

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By codling
17th Nov 2017 13:52

We are quite full on as a small partnership and clients do tend to take advantage.
Our office is on site by the house and a few years ago when entertaining a full house of relatives for boxing day there was a knock on the door and there stood a client with a box of records in his hand who said " Sorry to trouble you but I wasn't doing much today so I have brought my records round. Whilst I am here I do have a query...."
Needless to say he is no longer a client.
I do tend to ignore emails and phone messages at weekends now, even if I decide to do some work. It is surprising how much you get done when there are no interruptions apart from the cat wanting to be fed!
The business is tucked away in the country and one of the bonuses is that on a bad day you can always step outside into the fresh air to help declutter.
I do pity those who are stuck in a town centre office.

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