High stress and burnout: a crisis in accountancy?

‘Accountants burned out amid never-ending stress’. That was the headline I saw the other day when browsing AccountingWEB.

And it really hit home to me. As a mental health first aider myself, it’s a topic that is very close to my heart.

Mental health struggles

Reading the article, my own experiences of working as an accountant in practice in the first half of the pandemic came rushing back to me.

I remembered so many emotions from that time:

  • High anxiety and stress
  • Overwhelmed
  • Hopelessness
  • Loneliness
  • No light at the end of the tunnel

Those were unquestionably the most difficult and challenging times in my working life as I sought to help many despairing clients whose businesses were teetering on the precipice. And at the same time there was the added difficulty of home-schooling.

Accountants look to exit

One accountant quoted in the article wrote: “I don’t know how much longer I can cope.”

I can empathise. Since COVID struck, accountants’ responsibilities have reached stratospherically high levels of importance. So many people have relied upon their accountant to keep them and their families afloat – to be their saviour.

That’s why I keep reiterating that accountants are, in my view, “THE UNSUNG SUPERHEROES”.

High pressure, huge responsibility

I recall the way work-life changed for many of us.

Overnight, I began working full time from home, and we started to share our mobile numbers with clients, which led inevitably to lots of late, out of hours calls, and very long hours.

The sense of responsibility and added pressure with clients saying ‘I am going to lose my business, my livelihood; I have no money to pay the bills or to buy the food’ increased dramatically.

Understandably, every client saw themselves as the priority and it was intense.

Constantly changing regulation – particularly furlough – added to the stress. My workload increased significantly, and I had a feeling that I can’t stop working, because there were so many people relying on me. Add the home-schooling to the equation, you are swimming in the “adrenaline rush”.

Lines between work and family time blurred. So many people needed help. There was no time for the time off.

How big is the problem?

Every accountant reading this will no doubt have had similar experiences – and throughout the whole pandemic to date.

Inevitably, pressure and stress on this scale for such a sustained period leads to exhaustion – or burn out, as the headline says. No wonder some feel like they can’t stick it out much longer.

And that’s a worrying thing for the industry – particularly the employers. With so many accountants’ mental health under immense strain, what will the consequences be?

Is a burnout crisis looming?

Burn out doesn’t just get fixed with a week off. Longer term problems can remain.

So, is accountancy facing an epidemic of mental health crisis?

What can employers do to minimise the impact?  I’ll explore this more in my next blog.

If you’d like to share your own experiences, get in touch with me. Or join me at the Clubhouse, every Thursday at 8AM.