Speaker and coach #TalkingAnxiety
Columnist
In association with
Share this content

Dear Nick: ‘Is anyone else exhausted?’

AccountingWEB’s resident agony uncle supports an accountant who is weeks behind on their compliance work and is already dreading January.

4th Dec 2020
Speaker and coach #TalkingAnxiety
Columnist
In association with
Share this content
An image of an overworked businessman
istock_overworked_sorbetto

Dear Nick: "Is anyone else exhausted? Clients seem to want more, and their ability to empathise with the fact that we've barely been able to tread water ourselves since March seems to have evaporated.  More than a few clients telling us they're disappointed our service standards have dropped as they are waiting longer for their accounts and tax returns.

Normally this time of year, I've just had a nice holiday - recharged and ready to tackle the ramp up to January. Not had the chance for a holiday this year, and not much point as I don't see sitting on a rainy, rocky beach in SW England with the risk of a Treasury announcement on any given day much of a break.

It seems like any time Rishi Sunak opens his mouth, we get put back two weeks in our schedule of work.  I estimate we're at least a month behind in our compliance work, and I'm already dreading January."

The response

Nick responds: We are all experiencing an underlying feeling of anxiety, dread, and fear right now – compounded by continual change as I outlined in last month’s article.

This ‘new reality’ we have all been experiencing is a myth. Today’s ‘new reality’ could look a million times different tomorrow.

The global situation is moving so fast right now that all we can do is evolve to keep up. Throw in family worries, health concerns, the conditioning nature of lockdown, and being in a permanent state of ‘survival mode’ and it’s no wonder why we are all exhausted.

You are working in an industry which is experiencing more, unique pressures than most. As you mentioned and I have stated previously, as soon as Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak announce the latest initiatives or tax changes, the expectation is on you to know this NOW! Literally, you have just watched the same press conference as your client.

I know when furlough was first introduced, the argument about whether to charge clients for this – or not – was raging intensely in the profession. And then, if you had previously done it for free, how do you start charging when the situation became more prolonged than we all had thought.

Change is inevitable. We cannot control the government, our clients, what people say or what people do. So what we need to work out is how to ‘manage the manageables’ – a process I use with clients to help overcome anxiety.

How does this work? Well, put simply, we focus on what we do have control over, which is surprisingly little! But, we can start to stack the odds in our favour. The two steps are as follows:

Set your boundaries

  • Work on building your ‘High Performing Day’.
  • Energy regulation – going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time = constant energy.
  • Incorporate healthy buffer zones between calls, meetings and events.
  • Set your working hours to ensure you have time for ‘recovery’ & downtime.
  • Build in regular movement, exercise and hydration.
  • Do something you love every day – that’s just for you.
  • Have the courage to get some time-out for yourself – everyone needs a ‘sanity check’!

Manage expectations

  • Communicate your boundaries to your family, friends and clients.
  • Advise people how you can help them – but most importantly how you can’t help them.
  • If the way you work has changed – inform your clients as an ‘upfront contract’ on how you want to be engaged with.
  • It’s YOUR business – set YOUR terms. 
  • If your response time has changed – communicate that upfront.
  • Set your pricing – get comfortable with it – communicate it with confidence.
  • Be prepared to lose!  Tough one this, but if we are not living life or doing business on our terms – then how can we expect it to come back to us?

These are all what I love to call ‘The BFOs’ – the Blinding Flashes of the Obvious!

These are things that we should know that we would advise others to do but rarely do them ourselves.

Trust me: it’s easier to give advice than it is to take that advice yourself. 

If we try to live life or do business the way that we have always done it, there is no guarantee that it will work in today’s reality, let alone tomorrow or even next week.

Especially with regard to clients, pricing and confrontation, most of the time the challenges lie with us; it comes down to the three Cs:

  • Courage
  • Confidence
  • Conviction

When we are struggling with mental health challenges, prolonged stress or anxiety, even low self-esteem or self-belief, it’s the three Cs that get dented.

That Groundhog Day we have all been experiencing, could turn out to be our biggest superpower, if applied in the right way.

As Dave Pelzer once put it, ‘live in day tight compartments’. I love that.

I know for me, most of my anxiety, stress and challenges come from regret of the past or fear of the future – there is so much damage to be done in assuming right now.

So, all we have is to build our own High Performing Day. So, set your boundaries, manage your expectations and start to communicate that to begin to live a life and run your business on your terms.

This is an abridged version of a dilemma first posted on Any Answers.

Replies (30)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By AnnAccountant
05th Dec 2020 10:11

Ah, the fashionable Exhaustion Olympics. AW is now no more than a bunch of Mumsnetters arguing over whether teachers or nurses have it worse. People should take charge of their lives - though I suspect many derive more pleasure from the victim role they cast themselves in.

Thanks (2)
Replying to AnnAccountant:
avatar
By AC71
07th Dec 2020 10:04

Agree 100%. Yes I was busier earlier in the year due to clients bringing in their records earlier than usual plus all the furlough work.
I rolled up my sleeves proverbially and got on with it, and now going to have the most chilled December and January I've ever had.

Thanks (2)
Replying to AC71:
By Duggimon
08th Dec 2020 09:43

Smashing, good for you both. We've had more work and less staff for eight and a half months now and so have loads still to do.

Just because someone is struggling with something you're not struggling with doesn't mean they've done anything wrong and your implication that they've just not worked hard enough is insulting.

Thanks (23)
Replying to AnnAccountant:
David Ross
By davidross
08th Dec 2020 09:46

Does "Nick" really exist or is he a vehicle for peddling this touchy-feely b*****ks?

Whilst some high-street firms may have lost time because their staff went home, anyone worth their salt will have adapted - we work in the ideal profession for distributed working.

I confess that my wife who runs the payroll business and normally does about 40 hours a month has put in many extra hours - but it is surely only payroll where that has happened? It would be appropriate to call in extra help, and charge more, for this.

Otherwise I am further ahead than ever (assisted by having adopted a CRM last year and by being more forceful demanding records from clients). Our holidays were cancelled, we just used the time to get ahead.

Thanks (1)
Replying to AnnAccountant:
avatar
By nezd76
08th Dec 2020 10:04

This really is the most self obsessed, blinkered view on the current situation that anybody could respond with. I assume that you're a sole trader working from home, as anybody who has an office, staff and a reasonable client bank spent most of the early part of the year putting measures in place to keep everybody safe both practically and mentally. There were huge amounts of client anxiety about their businesses and the future, huge effort to ensure that policies, procedures and systems were in place to ensure safety. Yes people were working from home so work was being churned out, some earlier than it would be usually and by people that would not normally do it, but then came the periods of self isolation and the inefficiencies that caused, plus actual illness, some with Covid and the countless lost days to ensure that staff were able to focus on their recovery. January is always busy, but mostly manageable. However, this year with everything that has gone and continues to go on, you're really disrespecting a lot of hard working professionals with your response to this genuine issue. From my small businesses perspective it has not been easy trying to follow the guidelines, do the right thing to protect staff, clients and anybody needing to enter our offices, but we've done it as best that we can and yet we're still looking at the end of January with a sense of dread. We'll get there because we've got a great team who will pull together, but that doesn't come without further cost to the business and the individuals, be that financially, mentally or to their families. We're not victims of this, but this year has not by any stretch of the imagination been an easy one to navigate and the challenges aren't over yet!!

Thanks (15)
Replying to AnnAccountant:
avatar
By Bruce Roberts
08th Dec 2020 10:06

AnnAccountant wrote:

Ah, the fashionable Exhaustion Olympics. AW is now no more than a bunch of Mumsnetters arguing over whether teachers or nurses have it worse. People should take charge of their lives - though I suspect many derive more pleasure from the victim role they cast themselves in.

Wow! Such an unsympathetic view. We are managaing but those that had no slack built into the work environment before Covid hit will be finding it very tough. Take charge? How? Employing additional staff is a possibility but there is a considerable lag before new staff actually save time because they need to be trained or have to become familiar with software. Sack clients? Not an option many would contemplate and a real blow to clients in the current circumstances. Cut corners? No thanks, that is a recipe for bigger problems later. Most of us are just keeping heads above water but those that are sinking do deserve a little more sympathy.

Thanks (11)
Replying to AnnAccountant:
avatar
By New To Accountancy
08th Dec 2020 10:15

Aweb, please send AnnAccountant and AC71 disengagement letters.

Thanks (4)
avatar
By the_drookit_dug
08th Dec 2020 09:43

Not exhausted, just fed up of all the Covid related guff.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By New To Accountancy
08th Dec 2020 09:54

Aweb has been the most phenomenal support throughout CJRS and Covid in general for me.

Thank you to you all.

Thanks (7)
avatar
By debrahuzzard
08th Dec 2020 10:04

yes agree Nick, of course the normal response from self satisfied "trolls" letting us know how perfect they are. As a one man band having taken on a new block of payroll work at the end of last year, I seem to have been in "January mode" with no break all year, you think you are coping but it mounts up to the point I am half seriously thinking of bringing retirement forward!! so thank you for your article Nick, good to know I am not alone. and it is not about which profession has had it toughest, of course it is tougher being a frontline NHS worker but just because other people have things worse does not mean there have not been issues for our profession. COVID has made extra work for many if not most people still in work, we are all trying to support our clients but sometimes we have to remember to look after ourselves as well.

Thanks (11)
avatar
By johnjenkins
08th Dec 2020 10:15

Nick it's called adapting to a given situation. When you have stability and normality for so long you get into a rut or even become complacent. It can be a nice rut. So when things change, covid, Brexit etc. we have to come out of our comfort zone. Some of us find it easy, some more difficult. So instead of just relating to our clients when they have difficulties we are now having to relate to ourselves. So we apply the same rules, not really rocket science.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Mr J Andrews
08th Dec 2020 10:18

The obvious fictitious ''accountant behind with compliance'' should more time getting on with his workload rather than allow an article which, if practically followed would lead to a month of Sundays to sink in - only to find that more wasted time has been spent detracting from the Practice.

Does anyone else cringe when they see we now have an agony uncle . A resident agony uncle at that.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By North East Accountant
08th Dec 2020 10:53

Walk a mile in someone else's shoes AnnAccountant and AC71 and then see if you think the same.

We're doing OK after a fantastic team effort but many aren't so surely a bit of empathy wouldn't go amiss.

Thanks (8)
By scrasey
08th Dec 2020 11:07

wow. amazing how unsympathetic some are on here. I don't think the accountant behind on their compliance work is fictitious. I've got my local competitors sending referrals to us because they are up to their eyes in it. We are working a lot of extra hours and as my staff are full time I don't have the luxury of a part-timer I can just ask to increase their hours. The furlough claims are time-consuming but so are the queries from clients trying to survive. It also takes time to stay current with the latest guidelines etc. it's not a lack of adaptability that has impacted some of these practices. We all adapt to change, but the pace of change, amount of extra work etc. puts incredible demands on people. For example, early in the pandemic, my wife was having cancer treatment. That meant we had to shield for 12 weeks. Making it virtually impossible to recruit, to retrieve books from the office and only being able to hold client meetings by zoom. We're surviving and will manage the silly season, but I can easily see why some would struggle. The lack of empathy and smugness by some is staggering.

Thanks (11)
Replying to scrasey:
avatar
By johnjenkins
08th Dec 2020 11:40

You have a valid point. You cannot plan for health issues. The point I was trying to make was that we should take the advice that we give to our clients who are in similar position. Of course some of us don't and therefore end up in a scenario that leaves them struggling.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By norstar
08th Dec 2020 11:56

Oiks like "AnnAccountant" rather forget that there is more than one type of accountant. A nearby "firm" engage four staff, all self employed and the owner spends most of his time abroad, pretending he's in the office to clients. His business model is built around extorting huge fees from clients for little work, losing them and getting fresh meat from his networks. Good for him. He didn't know what MTD stood for but gets away with it. His staff leave the office to walk the dog and seem utterly relaxed.

We on the other hand have 500 clients, mostly small. The upside is that we're not exposed to one industry. The downside is, when something like COVID comes along, that's a lot of people to be contacting you for help.

We haven't got many staff and cope with the client base with excellent CRM and being organised. However COVID meant that we lost a quarter of our staff who were unable to work remotely due to childcare etc. That - and the COVID work has put us behind. That's not something you can fix instantly because as others have pointed out, taking on staff involves training and as a small practice, it's really hard getting decent folks.

We are also finding that HMRC are causing significant work for us that gets in the way of productive work. Penalties issued incorrectly, appeals not processed so they proceed to DMUs and Bailiffs. Non refund of tax - honestly, it's not getting to the point that they are acting fraudulently, sending a client a statement demanding £417 in 2019 when their system shows £7600 unallocated and awaiting repayment since 2017. Nothing showing for this credit on said statement... CIS not refunded etc etc. All the things that cause a client to pick up the phone and ask for help. We estimate that currently, 20% of our time is spent dealing with this nonsense.

Added to all this I (and most staff) haven't had a h0liday since March as they were all cancelled.

So AnnAccountant and other smug gits, good for you but as they say on social media "be kind".

Thanks (9)
Replying to norstar:
avatar
By meadowsaw227
08th Dec 2020 12:16

We too are a small firm but only have enough clients we can comfortably cope with, us having foregone money for a relatively easy life.
Now with us working from home , computers on between 6.30 - 7.ooam and switched off between 7.30 - 8.00pm and sometimes even worked on a Sat/Sun if the weather was bad we can can log on and off as and when we like.
Coupled with no holidays/meeting with family/eating out etc etc we are way ahead of the ball.
July/August accounts done and awaiting signing, October/November accounts all in the office awaiting finalising/completion.
Our own vat return up to end of November done and filed by 10.00am 1st December.
We have had a couple of Covid scares and three separate lots of quarantine but still coped
.So whilst we may be "smug gits" we have just got on with it and not become "moaning gits"

Thanks (0)
Replying to meadowsaw227:
avatar
By AC71
08th Dec 2020 12:57

Yes, balancing the number of clients to cope with against income desires for my firm too came into its own this year. My staff appreciated the working from home and when they wanted to during the earlier busier period made the difference.
They're looking forward to enjoying Christmas for once. Whatever form that's in!

Thanks (0)
Replying to meadowsaw227:
avatar
By norstar
08th Dec 2020 12:57

Ah here we go again. "Enough clients you can cope with". We have the number of clients we can comfortably cope with - in a normal year. It goes without saying that if we operate in this way and are fine for 68 years but suddenly lose 20% of your productive staff due to extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, we're going to be behind.

Sounds like you don't have the staffing issue and having seen your questions asked, you sound like a one or two person outfit working from home with a few clients. No comparison - I have eight staff and support freelancers at the moment, so there's no comparison to your type of business. As you say however, you have prioritised an easy life over income. Good for you.

I'm hardly a moaning git. This was my first post on the subject on a relevant thread in response to a bunch of posts that show no awareness of what other people may be experiencing.

And if you're doing your VAT return at 10am on 1st December for November, you can't have many suppliers sending invoices for the November period. Guess that means you're too small for having to do standard VAT accounting too...

Good luck tho.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By AC71
08th Dec 2020 12:14

Some oversensitive people on here.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By AnnAccountant
08th Dec 2020 12:24

My point wasn't to say that some people are not tired etc.
My criticism was aimed at the seemingly fasionable hobby or wallowing in it online - perhaps doing so for years rather than cracking on and/or restructuring their life a bit.
Enjoy your wallowing and competing in how exhausted you are and how hard you have it. It is a fashionable sport so I'm sure plenty of others will join you. I have stuff to do and problems to solve

Thanks (1)
By 0098087
08th Dec 2020 13:31

Jeez, some people talk some rubbish. We are physically and mentally exhausted.

1 full day off since January.

Thanks (5)
Caroline
By accountantccole
08th Dec 2020 16:08

Blooming knackered! I'm taking breaks and trying to not do silly hours but feel like my brain has been in overdrive for the past 6 months, keeping up to date with the various grants and evolution of CJRS and currently looking at Brexit implications for a very international client base.
It has felt like tax season for too long and the end seems far in the distance.

Surprised by some of the comments - it is OK to have found this year a struggle, it's OK to feel tired and admit it. Payroll people rock in 2020/21!

Thanks (5)
avatar
By Paul Steward
08th Dec 2020 20:45

I am a sole practitioner accountant who has specialised in taxation. Two years ago I employed a temp who could not do admin (1/4 of the role) and I have been behind with billing since then. I hope to soon finally catch up. I used to live in my own rented flat; but, my lodger failed to pay the rent and had to go and then I had to move out into temporary accommodation. I have not had a proper holiday for 13 years! But, I am content and recently sat a tax exam paper (Inheritance Tax, Trusts and Estates) and hope to resit it next year and pass it then with the help of a revision course.

Judgmentalism is dangerous because people's life circumstances vary very widely. Some of my clients have been through ghastly circumstances. I know people locally who are disabled and still make the best of things. Today I chatted with a lady who is partly paralysed. She was giving money to a disabled Big Issue seller. She cares for people who have had strokes. If you read in the FT and The Economist what is happening in Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen, then one's own problems pale into insignificance in comparison. People in the West can be very self orientated. If you get behind with compliance, then you just need to employ temporary staff to cope. The focus has to be on ensuring that clients do not incur penalties providing they have provided information in a timely fashion per the engagement letter. If they have not, then simply allow them to incur penalties as they will only learn to take responsibility if they suffer adverse consequences for their irresponsible behaviour (viz - read the 'Boundaries' book). Be assertive and if necessary blunt so that they grow up!

I may have some free time in January to help any punters who have got behind with compliance since I have helped three accountants in the past. Having short term help can be efficient and cost effective. I wish all of the readers of Accounting Web a happy Christmas and the best for 2021. I have been grateful for Nick's article with its helpful comments. Paul Steward ATT, London SW15

Thanks (2)
Replying to Paul Steward:
avatar
By AnnAccountant
09th Dec 2020 21:44

When I got to the end of the first paragraph, I was thinking, "This is quite a funny skit".
It is humour isn't it? That isn't your real situation? I mean, a tax "specialist" who can't pass a tax exam and employs someone who can't do the simple job assigned to them.

Either way - brilliant mate. Keep it up - whether that is the comedy or the tax!

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Homeworker
09th Dec 2020 09:55

I guess I am fortunate, as I have been reducing our client base towards retirement, so do not have as much work as in previous years but I still have around 70 to get done. I have always managed to meet the deadline in the past but last January was a wake up call for me as I had a bad dose of flu (or possibly even Covid?) and really struggled.
I am now working flat out to try and get as much work in and done as possible in case I am ill again. However, although many clients responded to my request to send in work earlier why are there always a certain number who just cannot bear to deal with it until January? ..and it doesn't help that some of my work is done on a subcontract basis for another accountant who consistently leaves all his tax returns until January for me to do, despite numerous requests to him not to do this.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Homeworker:
avatar
By New To Accountancy
09th Dec 2020 10:09

I am also a homeworker and I've just sent out emails to clients saying I no longer accept January returns, I only have a couple but I'd rather lose them. This was because last night I was thinking I have vat returns PE December and CJRS claims from December that have to be done in January so I'd rather do that. The SA clients have had months and months so I'm just getting rid now.
I know how you feel.

Thanks (1)
David Ross
By davidross
10th Dec 2020 09:22

I have been delighted to see the generally robust response to this thread - and I joined in early in that vein. I thought I would point out that I have reason to sympathise with those who have a tough time, it is just that we could all do without the expensive c**p peddled by people who make their living as a 'speaker and coach'

30 years ago I was ruined and it took me years to catch up with my work. I did this by personal sacrifice and hard work. I process about 450 Returns for about 300 clients as a sole trader.

More recently I enter January with about 150 of the simpler cases to do, but this year I am only 30 away from finishing by Christmas. Again, I'm not whingeing, I have a happy life of which I am in control, but here is the point. Instead of "the three C's" and other hogwash, how can improve the lot of the accountant? Here are a couple of points from my experience;

• The biggest problem is failure by clients to send their stuff in timeously. Setting firm deadlines helps;
• I threatened to resign to a small group. Most begged me to keep them on, I lost a couple (hurrah!) and more than one said "so you want everything ON 30 November in future?"
• Introducing a CRM took some effort and work with the clients, but has paid dividends.

Let's build up the strengths of our colleagues, not encourage them to wallow

Thanks (1)
Replying to davidross:
avatar
By johnjenkins
10th Dec 2020 10:00

No doubt your fall and rise gave you the experience to help others which is now paying dividends. Have you ever thought about going on the "coaching and speaking" circuit? I'm saying this not to be facetious but your last paragraph shows a certain courage that others may benefit from.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
10th Dec 2020 16:01

I can only ever really feel it will be larger firms that are feeling the "hurt" of less efficient WFH meaning they are behind.

I think if you've always had a drive to ensure all clients comply with your dates or bin them then you'll never find yourself in a state.

Sure, payroll has taken longer due to all the Furlough etc, some in fact have really taken a LONG time, nurseries with part government funding, separate bubbles a few get Covid it's a nightmare.

Sure HMRC have been (not the advisors fault) utterly useless, today for example I spent 3 hours on the Self Assessment Chat and an advisor never became available, I had to go old school and spend 30 minutes on hold instead by ringing them.

We originally were offering each person very detailed tailored advice then moved away from that to like our Facebook page, we'll put ALL changes on there and if anything affects you directly we'll let you know. We basically learnt how to transmit the info we needed to the people we needed to with the minimum amount of effort.

All tax returns have been filed, we have no Accounts where the year end has p[assed and we haven't filed - ALL of them. Our business model is to keep December / January free (other than usual compliance work like VAT etc) so that we can focus solely on new business, give them a shockingly good service and set them up ready to bring everything in May for the next years Tax return.

If you are a small business then it shouldn't be a meltdown unless the efficiency within the business itself wasn't up to scratch or you have allowed yourself to become to bogged down with the Covid rule changes etc (which we did to start with trying to be beyond helpful, all that happened is that we started to get asked non accountancy questions so we had to put a stop to that).

If you go self employed you take on the risk, that risk can be anything from financial, social, mental health, there will be always up and downs.

Thanks (0)