How under-pressure accountants can manage stress

How under-pressure accountants can manage stress

As we near the tax-year end, stress levels for accountants can soar. Why is this – and what can firms do to reduce the pressure on staff?

Recent research has spotlighted that more than half (55%) of accountants report being under stress, compared with 41% of employees in other industries.

The findings published by caba, the occupational charity supporting ICAEW chartered accountants, also reveal that four in five (79%) accountants believe that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the industry.

Anything to do with money and finances can of course raise anyone’s blood pressure – but what exactly are the stress factors facing accountants and why is this often magnified during the traditional ‘busy season’ of the tax-year end?

Paul Guess, mental wellbeing expert at caba, says accountancy is an inherently high-pressure profession. “Many accountants face intense workloads, tight deadlines and demanding clients. During the busy season (January to March), they'll likely handle a massive spike in work volume due to various financial reporting requirements. Deadlines get shorter, clients get more demanding and the pressure to perform reaches a fever pitch.

Less experienced accountants may also be studying for multiple exams alongside their day-to-day role. “Without the proper support mechanisms in place, this is going to take its toll,” says Guess. “At caba, we often see an increase in requests for wellbeing support during this time as accountants look for ways to manage feelings of heightened stress. Burnout is common, so employees and fellow employees need to be on the lookout.”

Ways to reduce the stress

One way accountancy firms can reduce this stress, says Guess, is to build positive relationships with their employees and cultivate an open, nurturing environment. “Encouraging everyone to support each other rather than compete will lead to a healthier and happier working environment.”

Other simple methods of reducing stress and increasing productivity include giving staff clear information about what's expected of them so they can manage their workloads, while encouraging regular breaks, and sticking to office hours and taking holidays will help to avoid burnout.

Offering accessible support is also key, says Guess. “From signposting for counselling services to referring employees to health services, workplaces are responsible for looking after their staff's mental wellbeing.”

However, Guess adds: “Effective stress management is highly personal, and what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. But from our conversations with accountants worldwide, we've found that the most effective measures to manage stress are often the simplest.”

Firstly, he says, it's vital to practise self-care. This means exercising regularly, eating well, staying hydrated and establishing a regular sleep pattern. This helps to clear the mind and ease some of the physical symptoms associated with stress.

“Effective stress management is highly personal, and what works for one person won't necessarily work for another"

Meanwhile, taking time off work – even if it's just for an afternoon – can help us to relax, switch off and recharge our batteries. It's easy to feel more stressed and overwhelmed about your to-do list when you haven't had a break.

Mental health stigma still a challenge

Unfortunately, Guess believes a stigma around mental health and vulnerability still plays a significant role within the accountancy sector. “As a result, people don't feel comfortable speaking up about their feelings for fear of being judged or perceived as weak.”

He continues: “Sometimes all it takes is for someone to speak up and set a precedent. No matter how capable you are, everybody makes mistakes. Turning to trusted allies and supportive colleagues can provide much-needed relief and perspective. We need to create spaces in our lives and at work where people can share stories and gain support. By talking openly, we can start to change the culture of putting work before our health and wellbeing.”

The good news is that caba is seeing a growing trend for employers in accountancy to offer more support for employees in the workplace, but Guess warns: “Business leaders need to ensure that any wellbeing programmes are part of a wider shift towards a more nurturing workplace environment, rather than simply being a sticking plaster.

Busting the stress myths

Mental Health UK, a charity working to support people affected by mental health problems, says there are several common misconceptions about stress. Here are a few:

Myth 1 – there is nothing you can do about stress

People can reduce stress and its impact in many ways, including setting priorities, getting enough sleep, relaxation or physical exercises etc.

Myth 2 – stress is the same for everyone

What makes us stressed and how we react to stress is different from person to person.

Myth 3 – can always spot who is stressed

No, you can’t. Some may show their stress by being, for example, short-tempered. However, others may internalise it and become depressed or anxious.

Published on
March 4, 2024