Managing Director Beam Development & Training Ltd
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Dear Lianne: 'Has anyone else had enough?'

Wellbeing expert Lianne Weaver responds to an AccountingWEB member who feels they can't cope with their practice anymore.

1st Apr 2021
Managing Director Beam Development & Training Ltd
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Overwhelmed
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Dear Lianne: Is it just me or has anyone else had enough? I don't know how much longer I can cope.

Normal workload, Grant advice and support, Furlough claims, VAT reverse charge, Brexit etc etc… We need to be able to get back to a normal level of workload, review all of our clients and increase fees, ask others to move on.

Our two bookeepers do all VAT processing, payroll etc, but clients just seem to be getting more and more demanding and impatient - I don't think for one minute this is specific to us, as we have good working relationships with most clients, and previously, where there are issues, they are told to move on.

We feel we cannot increase our fees under the current climate, but do charge for grant and furlough claims.”

Lianne's response

The accountancy profession has always had a reputation as being challenging for our mental health and resilience. However, many in the profession will agree that the past year has felt relentless in its challenges, both personal and professional. 

AWEB member murphy1’s question really demonstrates the situation many will have found themselves in – feeling overwhelmed, over-demanded and over-stretched, while possibly being under-appreciated and under-resourced. Many have been left struggling with thoughts that they can’t cope or maybe even whether they’ve had enough of the whole profession.

I can assure you that you are not alone in this nor is accountancy the only profession experiencing this at such high levels – doctors, police and social workers are expressing similar feelings too. 

One thing that struck me with murphy1’s post is a really common thought that many of us have from time to time: “I don’t know how much longer I can cope”.

This is a powerful thought that many of us experience and it often serves to make us feel weaker and even more stressed than before. Whilst the circumstances we may find ourselves in are undoubtedly challenging, we do always have an element of control in the story we tell ourselves. 

As human beings, we are wired to create stories in order to understand the world we are in and often these stories are unhelpful and untrue. We believe these to be factual accounts of events, rather than recognising that they are stories that we could challenge.

Our brain’s primary purpose is to keep us physically safe – for this reason, it’s wired to focus more upon the negative than the positive. This is known as the negativity bias (see previous blog).

Think of the brain as Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive – every negative experience we have is given more importance by the brain in a bid to prevent us from getting hurt.

This works in physical terms – if you touch a fire once you do not need to go back the next day and see if it still hurts by touching it again. However, in emotional terms, our need to focus upon the negative means that we can often become hyper aware of the bad things and unaware of any positive things. 

When we consider that we tell stories to provide meaning to events coupled with the fact that we focus more on the negatives, it makes sense that these stories we tell ourselves are unlikely to be positive.

The fact of the matter is that life will always throw events our way – whether we perceive that event to be negative or positive largely depends upon the story we tell ourselves. 

The great news is that we can always choose a different story if our current one is causing us pain and suffering. Right now, murphy1 is certainly coping, even if it feels hard.

However, the belief that they “can’t cope” is doing more harm than help. Practice choosing a new story such as “this is hard but I am strong”, or “I can cope”, or “I will get through this”.

Here are some of my favourite tools to help whenever you are feeling overwhelmed or as if you are unable to cope:

  • Change the story: ask yourself what is the story I am telling myself – if it makes you feel awful, choose a new one.
  • Look for the good: due to the brain’s negativity bias, we are all far more likely to be able to notice the bad things over the good things. Challenge yourself everyday to find three things you are specifically grateful for, even if it’s ‘a lovely cup of tea’ or ‘a client who was kind’.
  • Talk: talk to someone trusted about your fears and concerns. When we keep things inside we can quickly lose perspective, but sharing them with someone we trust can help us start to see things a little clearer. 
  • Thoughts aren’t facts: pay attention to the thoughts you are having and realise that we don’t have to believe everything we think. Unless measurable, our thoughts are more likely to be opinions rather than facts, so we do not have to believe them all.

Times have certainly been challenging and relentless but please know you are not alone and there are certainly ways in which you can help yourself to feel more in control. 

Replies (24)

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
02nd Apr 2021 13:35

Quote:
The great news is that we can always choose a different story if our current one is causing us pain and suffering
This sounds like the "just think positive" line often said to people with depression. It is astonishingly harmful, because dealing with depression is really not that simple. Someone hearing this line, but being genuinely unable to do it, will become more depressed because it is further "proof" that it is their fault.

Mental health is rarely open to quick fixes. It is highly irresponsible of AccountingWeb to publish an article that implies otherwise.

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Replying to stepurhan:
blue sheep
By NH
03rd Apr 2021 10:14

I agree, imo not the most helpful article.

I also think that you firstly need to be able to step back and question what this really is.
Is it the feeling we all get at times that we are under so much pressure we don't know if we can cope, but in reality it passes in a few weeks when we get the work done.
Could it be in that case that we could do something practical to alleviate the pressure? A chat with a colleague in a similar position can help, or other practical changes to the business.

On the other hand it could be a sign that there are more serious issues, and there are concrete ways of knowing that by asking ourselves specific questions about our behaviour patterns, personally I would have liked the author to deal with that which would have been more helpful

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Replying to stepurhan:
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By Rgab1947
06th Apr 2021 10:34

I read the article as to tools you can use to help you.

Once I ended up with a psychologist. Took 1 year to get over it all but almost from day one she gave various tools to help cope. Not the solution but tools. There is no "solution" just a long working through it.

No publishing is like saying "lets sweep it under the carpet". The woke culture is so annoying.

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Replying to Rgab1947:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
06th Apr 2021 12:57

There are tools in this article that may help some people.

But tools alone are not the solution. As you know from personal experience, those tools really benefit from guidance and feedback from a professional to be effective. This article just says "here are some tools" with an implied assumption this is all anyone needs. If it had even included a suggestion of seeking professional help as well, I would have respected it more.

Not sure what your reference to "woke culture" was supposed to mean. I've only come across it as dismissive short-hand for "I think this thing is bad" but the reasoning is often ill-defined. Care to expand?

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Brand and strategic digital marketing consultancy
By philippa101
06th Apr 2021 10:01

I do understand this article and the advice given. There are many of us who have to shift our mindset and our inner story to ensure that we are focusing more on the positive.

As some of the comments below say, however, there are just times when burnout is such that there is no more rational thinking to be had.

Whilst there are many ways or organizations who can give help, there's also the option of stopping, looking at the business and thinking about how you can get some quick relief e.g. an extra pair of hands. It's this quick stop and think that can sometimes be powerful. There must be many people out there who are struggling and who would value a few hours more. I wonder whether this would give as much relief as anything else?

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By eppingaccountant
06th Apr 2021 10:10

I think that this is a good article and that some of the replies so far are being on unfair on Lianne Weaver. Although I cannot speak for her, I don't read it as her giving medical advice about depression and therefore irresponsible of AccountingWeb to publish it, but simple steps that can be taken to improve one's attitude and approach to work pressure.

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Replying to eppingaccountant:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
06th Apr 2021 13:00

But it is addressing someone that clearly has mental health issues, so it cannot come across as anything but advice on those issues.

Also, and this is something that I really object to on AWeb, it was not even addressed to Lianne. As you will see if you click the link at the top of the article, the question is just an ordinary Any Answers question not directed to anybody. The implication that the poster addressed this to Lianne, indicating they see her as someone that can help, is just basic dishonesty.

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By DEan Merchant
06th Apr 2021 10:24

That sounded like the words of a bad psychiatrist who is completely out of touch with reality. None of the suggestions will actually get the work done Small one person practices generally do not have the facilities to delegate the extra workload. Getting a strategy together regarding time management is probably the only thing that will help.

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By Mr J Andrews
06th Apr 2021 10:28

Rather a selfish call for help considering so many traders suffering financial woes - and ruin, coupled with their own degrees of mental stress.
I suggest this particular Accounting Web member pays attention to the general pandemic situation rather than call out the need for a return to normal. There are far stronger people out there in weaker positions putting others first.
Consider yourself lucky with two compliance bookkeepers and a good relationship with most clients.
And if you've still got time to take out for personal development and resilience training , good luck.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By Jimess
06th Apr 2021 11:34

The quote "walk a mile in a man's moccasins" comes to mind. None of us know exactly what is happening in another person's life experience/work experience and rather than seeing the post as selfish, I think it is a plea for support which, lets face it - we have all needed at some point or other in this last year. Every person's experience is different and the way every person might deal with that experience is different. For a sole practitioner or a small practice, having staff can actually add to the burden as you need to take time out to deal with staff issues, staff training, setting work etc etc when all you want and need to do is focus on your client work. Then there is the worry about what might happen to your staff/client work if you became ill with the stress, or if you just wanted to walk away from it all. It's a really, really hard balance. Yes there are so many people out there suffering in so many ways, but that does not make one person's pain any the less. I can relate to how the person in the OP is feeling, and it is very hard to turn those feelings around and it takes a lot of courage to ask for help. All I can say to the OP is be kind to yourself and remember that what is happening now is temporary, it can, and will get better - it just takes a little time, and there may be more setbacks yet, but keep doing your best, don't berate yourself when things go wrong and remember that there are probably a lot of Aweb members who are probably feeling pretty worn down and exhausted too - you don't need to feel on your own.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
06th Apr 2021 12:48

That is a really unhelpful attitude.

Just because someone may have worse problems, that does not make the problems the member faces any less real. With your view, only one person in the world should be able to seek help (since they will have "worse" problems than everyone else). Do you really believe that? If not, where do you draw the line and why?

In a more sensible world, people who are suffering anxiety, stress and depression should seek help from qualified professionals, not a brief article on an accountancy website.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By Paul Crowley
06th Apr 2021 14:10

This does come over as:
Grow a pair

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By Rgab1947
06th Apr 2021 10:28

I fired a client and boy did I feel good even though as a big client I took a financial knock.

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By KH
06th Apr 2021 11:25

I think the article is very good, and so are the replies ... depending on your standpoint you will see the issues quite differently. But this did remind me a well-known guru ... he always said that everyday we are writing our life story, and if we persist in doing things we don't like, then the future will end up being just more of the same. And yes, making big changes is not only challenging, it is extremely difficult ...but it our lives we are talking about, and there are no silver bullets ... there is only us, and what we do to change our life history and our life future ... and yes, right now I am also going through the mill, so I too will have to make some big decisions.

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By johnjenkins
06th Apr 2021 11:30

I suppose every bodies definition of an Accountant is different. Having said that it is surely our job to understand our clients, give them options (not take on their problems) and talk it through with them. We have to remain separate (I do know sometimes this is difficult) in order to give clients the best options. Once we start feeling we can't cope then we run the risk of not giving our clients the best possible advice and it is then time to step down. We all feel "what now?" but soon get on with whatever HMRC wants to throw at us. My advice to the Accounting Web member is to sit down away from everything and take stock. Ask yourself, is this a blip or permanent?

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By loverboyfullofjoy
06th Apr 2021 11:55

Got a big buzz after sacking my largest client 2 years ago, all he was causing was stress constantly wanting to avoid Corporation Tax and VAT. I have felt better since, but it does help that I am on state pension. This last year has been tough, especially this last lockdown with a personal problem of 16 years raising its head. I have got through it all by developing a long lost hobby of mine, writing poetry and getting better at it. I am able to deal with personal problems and feelings more easily writing them down in prose. May be others need a creative distraction to help them.

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By youngloch
06th Apr 2021 12:15

The hardest skill to master is learning how to say "no" to clients whether that be existing clients with their demands or even new clients when it can be hard to respond to new enquiries saying "sorry we are too busy".

Personally I think 2021 is the year to at least hope to create a bit of breathing space (will 2020-21 accounts be easier to prepare than normal?!) and then if the space is created choose what you want to fill it with.

I think for many of us after the last year we could probably benefit from NOT then filling that space with "work".

We should also remember what we learned from our economics papers in regard to the golden rule of supply and demand. If you want to find equilibrium then prices go up. Very hard to do when we are worrying about our clients but if the boot was on the other foot ask yourself what you would be advising a client to do?

Personal experience is that clients have appreciated our hard work to support them in the last year more than ever before so now is possibly the perfect time to push for change.

Having said all the above I probably need to look in a mirror and say this to myself too because we all already know it don't we!

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By indomitable
06th Apr 2021 12:16

I am getting increasingly frustrated with 'accounting web'. Mental health issues including depression need to be dealt with and advice needs to be given by professionals, not on here.

This is supposed to be an accounting & tax forum. Anyone that is suffering or indeed feeling overwhelmed and can't cope needs to seek professional help, and not listen to the advice given unless they are from a properly qualified mental health professional

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Replying to indomitable:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
07th Apr 2021 11:28

I concur, we castigate posters on Any Answers for posting complicated questions without all the facts and accordingly encourage them to go and see an accountant, if there is a need to seek out a professional regarding one's finances there is doubly a need to consult one regarding one's mental health.

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By indomitable
06th Apr 2021 12:16

I am getting increasingly frustrated with 'accounting web'. Mental health issues including depression need to be dealt with and advice needs to be given by professionals, not on here.

This is supposed to be an accounting & tax forum. Anyone that is suffering or indeed feeling overwhelmed and can't cope needs to seek professional help, and not listen to the advice given unless they are from a properly qualified mental health professional

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By Howard Marks
06th Apr 2021 12:44

I've not even read the article in full but yes, I've completely had enough.

Worst 12 months of my career.

Sold up and can't wait to see the back of it now!!

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By Husbandofstinky
06th Apr 2021 13:16

The article at least raises awareness of the stresses and strains the profession has gone through this past 12 months and will continue to do so for quite some time after too unfortunately (SEISS & CJRS enquiries, support loan issues, etc). All Covid related and for some time after. Not a pleasant thought.

Some will get through this better than others due to both personal reasons, client issues and maybe as a result of pure luck too (HMRC enquries). All you can do is maintain your ship as best as you can. Too much? then time to perhaps off load a few of the more problematical and larger clients just to ease the burden? Some already have it would seem. By pure luck one of my larger clients is moving to another firm and I am not overley upset by this to be honest.

Getting through this I think will be a massive achievement for most and am looking forward (as with everyone else no doubt) to the back of it.

My major concern going forward are the potential post Covid enquiries and the constant tickering with the system HMRC seems obsessed with (MTD etc). The current system that continues to fall apart at the seams and is far from fit from purpose.

Definitely looking forward to retirement at some point down the line

LLAP

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Morph
By kevinringer
06th Apr 2021 13:46

I put up with 2020-21 thinking 'it'll be better in 2021-22' but I find I'm going into 2021-22 two months behind where I usually am. I started 2020-21 right up to date and despite working 7 days a week and taking less than a week's leave, I ended up two months behind. That does not bode well for 2021-22. We're still experiencing all the covid problems, though the rush of new measures has abated, we've got the CGT 30-day reporting, CIS reverse charge, Brexit and now the new IR35 and MTD digital links, in 12 months the extension of VAT MTD and 12 months after that ITSA MTD. No wonder so many have left the profession and so many more intend to by the time ITSA MTD starts.

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By buttercup books
06th Apr 2021 16:09

HaHa - I sent a client an email this week entitled "Cull or Cure" - and told him, either I cure you or I cull you - If I don't get bank statements for every account every month, you're out - ohh and by the way, you haven't paid me for 2 months.
I have been paid, he is closing several useless bank accounts and - the paperwork arrived on time - and I felt soooooo much better.

and yes - I've had enough. It's not the clients, it's not the work - it's HMRC - they are making completely unreasonable demands, massive new changes, forcing us to buy new software - which has put us totally at the mercy of the software houses - RTI, GDPR, Domestic reverse vat and that's not to mention all the Brexit, trading with europe - EORI and XEORI - when will HMRC recognise what we do - because they certainly couldn't do it without us.

The only time I can remember they recompenses us for the workload they imposed on us was 2004 - 2008 when they brought in online filing for payroll. They really ought to look at the sheer workload they have imposed - the hours wasted in research, the hours of staff training, the cost of implementation -

Sorry rant over, I have work to do, BB

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