Take a break from your practice and client demands
After the year the profession has had, many accountants are craving a well-earned rest. Alistair Hayward-Wright talks taking a break in your practice.
It’s been an uphill battle for many during the course of the pandemic. Accountants have had to face the treadmill of furlough and government grants on top of Brexit and their normal workload, leading many to consider throwing in the towel to end the “relentless” pace of work.
“Christmas week was the first time in 11 years we shut as we had not had more than one day of last year due to lockdown and extra work,” member 0098087 told AccountingWEB.
Working non-stop to meet intense and demanding deadlines is unsustainable if it’s in a constant state; accountancy is no exception to this rule. Everyone, including accountants, should be taking breaks where they can to ensure they don’t reach the point of burn out where they become too exhausted to work.
Burning out can be defined as ‘ruining one's health or becoming completely exhausted through overwork’.
In other words, becoming burned out means you’ve used up all the resources you have and are no longer able to give anything else as a result.
Burning out is recognised as something more intense than stress, for example. People often reach the point of burning out after prolonged periods of stress that haven’t been properly addressed.
“In my experience , the harmful mental and physical effects of the always on work culture are quite insidious,” commented AccountingWEB member killer33. “It is possible to cope with this pressure for many years without recognising or perhaps acknowledging the early warning signs of burnout, anxiety and depression. The cold which you can't quite fight off, or regularly waking up with an unexplained pain in the back are easily dismissed as just the norm for a busy professional.”
One of the most crucial ways of addressing this stress and preventing burnout is by allowing yourself time to take a break.
Communicating with clients
Alistair Hayward-Wright, MD of Hayward Wright, is a big advocate of taking breaks to avoid burnout and establish a proper work-life balance.
“I’m very conscious of the sole practitioners. It is really difficult,” he told AccountingWEB. “But you’ve got to make that break and take that time off.”
For Hayward-Wright, the key is in the planning and preparation. Approaching clients a month or so in advance and informing them of what’s going to happen ensures that there won’t be any surprises. They’ll have time to adjust accordingly and they’ll be more likely to leave you alone during your time off.
“It’s all about transparency,” he commented. “Clients that don’t respect that, I’d argue you don’t want them as a client.”
“When you take a more relaxed approach to it and step back from it you start to see that. The clients that are more difficult over stuff like this probably aren’t taking breaks themselves.”
He explained that suggesting breaks to clients can even be a good icebreaker to introduce them to this way of thinking.
Planning your breaks around your workload, for example avoiding holiday at the end of the month, will also help in maintaining balance with your work commitments and time to yourself.
Hayward-Wright also recommends updating your clients to ensure they don’t forget your upcoming break.
Finding what works
Everyone will operate differently at work, and will therefore need to take different amounts of time out. Allow yourself the space to figure out what makes you work best, and what makes you want to come to work.
AccountingWEB member ArianBloodwood found that taking a week off every month worked perfectly for their practice: “I find I just have to otherwise I make mistakes and I'm constantly miserable,” they said. “Now I always have my break dates for the next 6 months up on my website. And a link to that page in my autoresponder during the break week.”
Here's an Accountant's Indecent Proposal.
Would you let another firm owner babysit your practice for a week if it meant you could have a break? Thoughts?
— Paul Meissner (@PaulMeissner_) February 16, 2021
Checking your phone
Once you’ve organised time to have that break, controlling the urge to constantly check your phone for work updates or clients in crisis is crucial to the impact of your time out.
“We all need a complete break at some point, so my phone is completely off,” member gainsborough told AccountingWEB. “I won't check emails daily unless there is something urgent going on at the time (maybe a claim or return deadline).”
There are ways you can let your clients know when you will be back if they try to contact you, for example by changing your voicemail message or setting up an automatic reply on your emails.
Although switching off entirely might be unavoidable for some practices, creating that distance while you’re having a break is what’s going to ensure you reap the full benefits of your time away.
Hayward-Wright recommends getting the balance right. For him, switching off his phone entirely does more psychological harm than good: “I’m sitting there thinking, what if something’s gone wrong?”
To avoid this train of thought whilst maintaining distance on his breaks, he sets aside five or so minutes each morning to check if anything urgent has happened that needs attention. The rest of the day is then his to spend as he pleases, without having the distraction of worrying thoughts creeping in.
It can be daunting if you’ve never approached your clients and co-workers with the idea of taking regular breaks in your practice, but as we move towards a new way of remote and cloud-based working, it’s more important than ever to look after your work-life balance.
“You’re not productive or working at your best when you’ve been working for so long without that time away,” commented Hayward-Wright. “Breaks are incredibly important.”