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A picture of burned matches in a row on a blue background AccountingWEB - Accountants tackle stress to prevent busy season burnout

Accountants tackle stress to prevent SA burnout


As the end of the year approaches and self assessment work begins to intensify, last week’s National Stress Awareness Day prompted accountants to reflect on the importance of stress management. 

6th Nov 2023
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Recent years have amplified the stresses of the accountancy profession – from almost a decade of Making Tax Digital (MTD) uncertainty to the challenges of the skills crunch and the increased scrutiny of anti-money laundering supervision, some accountants’ nerves are fraying. 

As seasons change, and the 31 January self assessment deadline approaches, accountants are now faced with the pressures of the annual client-chasing ritual and tackling piles of tax returns.  

However, accountants are not alone. Recent research from the Future Forum in 2023 found that 42% of workers globally are experiencing burnout, which is an increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) also recently reported that sick leave was the highest it has been in over a decade.

National Stress Awareness Day last week gave the accounting community a chance to pause and reflect on their approaches to managing the stresses of the profession. Unsurprisingly, the looming self assessment season was on many people’s minds.

Dealing with busy season

Shona Barker, tax director at Greenback Alan LLP and a mental health first aider, told AccountingWEB that a lot of busy season stress comes from feeling overwhelmed. As a way of managing the stress, she always keeps a running tally of outstanding work and how many working days are left. 

“If the numbers don’t stack up, I look at what I can do to change that, like renegotiating deadlines with clients, repurposing spare resources within a different team or delegating more work,” said Barker. 

Alongside trying to remain organised, Barker also revealed the importance of talking to others, sharing advice and realising that you are not alone. “Talking to others helps remind us that we’re all in it together and that busy season is only temporary,” she said, adding: “This, too, shall pass!”

Meanwhile, Paul Day, a wellbeing expert at Caba emphasised that despite the pressures of busy season, taking breaks is crucial. “I would advise you to try taking a break especially when you’re up against strict deadlines. You might think it’s counterproductive but taking time out can boost your focus and productivity.” 

Day encouraged being self-aware, identifying the signs of stress early on and taking action. “Use this self-awareness to your advantage so that you can complete more taxing and time-consuming tasks,” said Day.

Community insights 

The Any Answers community also had many years of experience in dealing with self assessment stress to draw on, with some techniques being more successful than others. 

AccountingWEB reader Justin Bryant took a more laid-back approach suggesting, “Don’t take yourself and/or life too seriously.” 

However, in the replies that followed, regular commenter Tax Dragon stated that this was “easier said than done”. They added: “Focus on what you can do something about and don’t stress about what you cannot change.” 

Grace Mock shared her tip of not being afraid to let clients go. “Sack the clients that cause the most stress. The first time I did it I was apprehensive, but the second I had sent the email, the relief was enormous!” 

Companies’ role in employee wellbeing 

There is, however, only so much that can be done on an individual level. National Stress Awareness Day should also be an opportunity for companies to look at long-term solutions for managing and improving employee wellbeing. 

Becky Norman, the managing editor of HRZone, said: “Organisations need to take a deeper look at how their structures, processes and resources (or lack of) are harming their people. They need to reconfigure to create a more sustainable, energising work environment that will ultimately lead to healthier and more productive teams.” 

She brings up the issue that arises with organisations using events like National Stress Awareness Day as a token gesture. “This is not about tossing another surface-level wellbeing benefit into the mix.”

This only underlines the importance that managing stress and mental wellbeing should be at the forefront of both employers’ and employees’ minds, especially during busy season.

What are your techniques for dealing with stress? Is burnout a concern for you before the starting pistol is fired for self assessment season?

Replies (4)

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By Self-Employed and Happy
07th Nov 2023 09:32

I laugh at this type of story every year.

98% done, well over 80% done by the end of August. Self Assessment stress in December / January is purely down to a lack of planning and not being hard enough on your clients.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
By Marlinman
08th Nov 2023 12:49

Me too.

Thanks (0)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
07th Nov 2023 09:52

With just over 70% of the tax season done, we are at 68% filed or waiting for payment/signature with 10% in not worked on and a little over 12% due to come in. Usual suspects who have missed our deadline last week but we will be down to 2-3% not in by end of the month.

Thanks (1)
By johnjenkins
07th Nov 2023 10:26

I love the January rush. Focuses the mind, makes you feel alive. If we can't deal with this sort of stress for a couple of months then it's time to get out of the kitchin.

Thanks (3)