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Sun, sea and emails: Switching off when on holiday

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When is a holiday not a holiday? For some accountants, it’s when there are emails still to be sent. 

24th Jul 2023
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For accountants, especially those in practice, the line between work and leisure can easily become blurred.

According to research from the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (Caba), 87% of accountants take their work worries home with them, while a further 32% spend much of their leisure time worrying about work.

The high pressure environment and lack of room for error has led to a significant mental health crisis in the accounting sector, with Caba highlighting that over half (55%) of practitioners were struggling with stress issues related to their work.

Holiday blues

This struggle to ‘switch off’ from work requirements recently became apparent in the Any Answers forums with user Beancounting admitting they were going to “monitor emails” whilst on holiday and raised concerns about keeping up with physical post. 

While some offered pragmatic advice, others in the community were quick to point out the importance of taking a break from work in order to recuperate from the stresses of the profession.

“Beancounting, you are on holiday. Try to switch off and forget about work completely; including not checking emails. Set up an auto 'out of office response' if it troubles you,” wrote user Geoff.

Crouchy also implored the original poster to take a proper break from work, reminding beancounting that “everyone deserves a holiday and a break from work.”

“If you have any clients that can't appreciate that, you're better off without them,” they continued.

This advice was echoed by Any Answers regular Leywood. “Whether or not you still have a small team, or they are away with you, stop looking at your phone whilst you are on a break. 

“NOTHING is that urgent. You get no extra respect for dealing with things whilst on holiday, in fact I would suggest you get quite the opposite with clients expecting immediate responses every time they contact you." 

Manage expectations

Key to breaking free from the dominion of emails is learning to manage expectations. 

ClaudiaLowe, for example, advised: “For a couple of weeks before I go away, I add a line to my email signature, saying that I am on holiday from x until y and will have very limited access to my emails (regardless of whether I am in central London with 5g or the rainforests of Borneo with no internet whatsoever).”

While SXGuy recommended getting the “house in order before you leave” and then there isn’t anything that can’t wait two weeks. 

Rest and recharge

Yet, while many community members understood the need for a break, Paul Guess, mental wellbeing expert at Caba, argued that this mindset was still woefully underrepresented in the accounting profession.

“The demanding nature of the accountancy sector often leads to long working hours, tight deadlines, and high-pressure situations. Without proper self-care, this can take a toll on your wellbeing. Persistent stress may lead to burnout, which will reduce job satisfaction, productivity, and potentially cause errors in your work.” 

Not only would a lack of work-life balance worsen the symptoms of burnout, sacrificing your holiday time by checking emails can leave you with little time to rest and recharge.

Guess continued: “It’s important that we never consider taking a holiday or a break as a luxury. It’s necessary for preserving mental and emotional balance. When you work throughout your holiday, you deny yourself much-needed rest, relaxation, and the chance to rejuvenate.”

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By Hugo Fair
24th Jul 2023 19:35

The stress / fear that accompanies not-switching-off (at the end of each day let alone for a whole weekend or, gasp, a holiday) isn't peculiar to accountants ... it's a corollary to being self-employed and/or a business owner.

It's an understandable if unfortunate mindset ... like the taxi-driver last week who was moaning to me that his wife doesn't 'get it' (that being on holiday means no income)!

But we're professionals and it is ONLY a mindset ... as my wife used to remind me (beavering away all night up to the point of setting off for the airport):
- you (and your staff and clients) don't live in chaos throughout the year; you have plans and (mostly) stick to them ... so what's suddenly different just because we're on holiday?
- without tempting fate, what are the chances that any of your (in)actions whilst we're away will result in someone's premature death?

It's tough because we care (about clients, about staff and about our reputation) - but taking control (of yourself) is just a habit and one to which you will enjoy submitting (eventually).

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