High levels of accountant stress: how to recognise the signs and keep your best talent on board

stressed man

According to research conducted by accountancy wellbeing charity, CABA, accountants are burning out at an alarming rate.

Two in five accountants feel “too drained” to work, with their career, studies, a feeling of constant pressure, and the COVID-19 pandemic all cited as causes.

While COVID-19 won’t have made things any easier, it’s worth noting that stress was already a problem within the industry pre-pandemic. A startling 98% of accountants experienced daily stress at work back in 2019.

Accountant stress is a problem that we simply cannot ignore — particularly if we want to hold on to top accountancy talent and help employees to feel happy and productive at work.

To tackle the issue, we need to understand it. So let’s start by taking a look at why accountant stress is such a big problem.

Why are rates of accountant stress so high?

Accountancy has always been a stressful occupation. And yet, it’s become even more pressurised in recent years.

  • Hours are long and demanding. With the introduction of work-from-home, the work/life line has become increasingly blurred too.
  • There are regular legislative changes. From Making Tax Digital reforms to GDPR updates, Anti-Money Laundering rules and Brexit, there’s always something new (and complex) to get your head around. 
  • Pandemic measures are complex. Accountants, in particular, have been hit hard during the pandemic thanks to all the additional paperwork involved with furlough claims and COVID-specific grants and relief schemes. 
  • You have to meet strict deadlines. Busy seasons mean additional workload and mounting pressure.
  • Mistakes have serious consequences. When an accountant has an ‘off day’ they could end up costing their client. The job allows no room for error.
  • Clients can be demanding. Accountants have to juggle competing client priorities and the client’s own stress regarding their finances.
  • Brexit has UK accountants stressed. 

Looking at this list, it’s no surprise that many accountants are experiencing burnout – something that can seriously affect your mental health and should be recognised. Nevertheless, too few of them are seeking the mental health support they need.

That’s why it’s so important for employers to recognise the signs of accountant stress and step in to offer support where it’s needed.

Unique pandemic challenges

For many accountants, the pandemic offered up challenges that many other types of employees didn’t have to manage. Accounts often felt the added pressure of having to figure out 

How to recognise the signs of burnout

So what does accountant burnout look like? It varies from person to person, because everyone experiences stress differently.

However, by looking out for the following behaviours, you can begin to identify employees who may be struggling.

Keep an eye out for employees who are:

Working longer hours

If you see that one of your accountants is arriving early in the morning and not leaving until everyone else has clocked off, they may be feeling overwhelmed by their workload. Look out for team members sending emails well into the evening, too, when they should be enjoying some downtime.

Looking tired and lacking in energy

Stress makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Accountants who regularly look visibly tired may be lying awake at night worrying about work.

Stress can also affect physical health. So if someone who was previously healthy is taking lots of sick days, burnout may be the reason.

Not taking breaks or holidays

It may be part of your company culture to eat lunch at your desk, but if an accountant stops taking the breaks they had enjoyed previously, they may be struggling to keep on top of the workload.

Similarly, if you’re through the busy season and an accountant still isn’t booking in any annual leave, then ask yourself why.

Withdrawing from their colleagues

Again, it’s worth remembering that some people are more introverted than others. However, if a previously chatty employee stops speaking up in meetings or going for after-work drinks, stress could be the reason.

Less focused than usual

Stress makes it hard for us to concentrate. If one of your accountants starts making silly mistakes out of the blue or struggles to make decisions, they could be feeling distracted by their worries.

More sensitive or irritable than usual

When you’re feeling stressed, it’s harder to moderate your emotions and feel resilient. Look out for accountants who get easily upset or angered by things they would once have coped well with.

What can you do to reduce accountant stress?

If you feel that accountant stress is a problem at your workplace, it’s time to do something about it. Stop accountant stress before it becomes account burnout; it could save your employee a lot of anguish, and your company a lot of time and money. 

You can take both preventative and reactive action to support your accountants and help them feel more confident and positive about coming into work.

feel more confident and positive about coming into work.

Reactive action for accountant stress

If you spot that a member of your team is feeling stressed — or someone comes to you to tell you that they are reaching burnout — there are a number of different things you can do to help.

Be supportive

Accountants who feel run down often fail to seek support because they are worried that it will affect how they are perceived and promoted at work. Therefore, it’s really important for managers to be reassuring and supportive.

Simply listening and recognising an accountant’s stress can make a big difference.

Come up with an action plan

Once you have a clear idea of what is making your employee feel stressed, you can try to do something about it.

That might mean coming up with a long term plan for how you can reduce accountant stress in the workplace (see preventative action below), along with some short term solutions to alleviate the stress your employee is currently experiencing.

A few short term stress-busting solutions?

  • Redistribute workloads
  • Suggest that the employee starts work a little later for the next few weeks
  • Suggest a week or two away from work entirely.

Provide counselling

It’s not always easy to cope with stress on your own. A counsellor can provide your employees with the strategies they need to reduce their stress levels more effectively.

If your workplace doesn’t already provide this type of support, talk with HR to see what can be done.

Preventative action for accountant stress

Addressing potential problems before they start to affect both employee wellbeing and workplace productivity is a much better option than waiting for a major problem to arise.

By taking preventative action you help to reduce staff attrition and sick days while maintaining a happy and healthy workforce.

Encourage a good work-life balance

Don’t grow a company culture where employees are expected to regularly work beyond their standard working hours. Encourage employees to switch off their smartphones and/or laptops when they’re not in the office. And encourage employees to take all their allocated annual leave.

Support workplace wellness initiatives

Exercise and healthy eating help to reduce stress levels. So you might like to offer reduced-price gym memberships, provide healthy snacks in the office or even host yoga sessions during lunch breaks.

Show appreciation for their work

Some level of pressure is inevitable when you’re working in accountancy. Managers can help that pressure to feel more manageable by showing appreciation for the hard work employees put in.

Building a positive work culture — with good communication and regular praise — prevents managers from unknowingly adding unnecessary stress to the situation.

Be open about mental health and wellbeing

Give your employees a chance to speak up about how they’re feeling, rather than sitting on their problems.

You might like to set up regular one-on-one meetings to check in with how employees are feeling. Holding sessions and training around accountant stress can also help to open up the conversation around mental health and wellbeing.

Don’t overwork your employees

Sometimes there is too much work to go around. When it isn’t just a case of redistributing workloads, you have to consider recruiting someone new.

This is where crooton can help. With our high-tech recruitment solutions, we support companies to search, screen and hire candidates with ease.

Check out our options for accountancy and finance recruitment here and help futureproof the success of your business and protect your employees’ wellbeing.