‘Burnout crisis’ plaguing accounting sector, experts say

‘Burnout crisis’ plaguing accounting sector, experts say

Market participants have warned of further talent struggles as a result

‘Burnout crisis’ plaguing accounting sector, experts say

Legislative changes, the after-effects of the pandemic and the worsening economic climate are compounding an already demanding accountancy profession, causing levels of stress, depression and burnout in the sector to rise, according to market participants.

The frequent technical developments combined with the considerable workload and “critical nature” of the work itself are largely responsible for exacerbating the “burnout crisis”, says Androulla Soteri, global director of people at Baker Tilly International.

“Hitting chargeability targets while trying to remain technically up to date, especially when the individual is in general practice, against the backdrop of economic downturn, has impacted almost the entire workforce in the industry.”

Key pressures

The link between the economic downturn and accountants’ mental health is supported by new research conducted by caba, a mental health charity for the ICAEW community. The study found that more than two in five (42%) working accountants and students are struggling financially.

Of that number, two thirds (66%) feel anxious, while three in five (59%) are stressed and a third (34%) are depressed, the study found.

Soteri also believes that the pandemic has “hit the profession hard”, arguing that successive lockdowns and work from home mandates have resulted in individuals “reassessing their priorities in life”.

She points to research published earlier this year which found that 59% of professional services employees find flexibility in when they work remotely to be very or extremely important.

“Things that were acceptable pre-COVID have become fundamentally unacceptable,” says Soteri. “People simply do not want to go back to the old ways of working – they want flexibility and choice.”

Workloads are a particularly prevalent issue in the industry, with extensive reforms and increased regulatory requirements contributing to “one of the most challenging environments in years,” says Emma Rawson, technical officer at the Association for Taxation Technicians (ATT).

“All of these changes will not only increase the client workload for agents, but also require them to invest a significant amount of time in familiarising themselves with the new rules.”

There is a perception among the ATT’s members that “this is only going to get worse”, Rawson adds.

Shrinking labour market

Such issues may serve to “intensify the talent crisis” the market currently faces cause some people to leave the profession and deterring others from entering it, Soteri says.

New research published by the Institute for Public Policy Research has found that mental health problems account for 60% people who are out of work due to sickness.

This suggests that a rise in mental health problems across the country is a key contributor to the UK’s shrinking labour market, the research adds.

“In the war for talent, which is still very much alive and kicking despite concerns over recession, any negative differentiation has to be avoided,” Soteri says.

“Failure to deal with mental wellbeing has a negative impact on existing staff turnover and morale as well as potential new joiners.”

This is echoed by Rawson, who refers to the accounting industry as a “buyers’ market at the moment for those looking to move jobs”, adding that it’s “increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd” as an employer.

A greater focus on values

In order to safeguard against these issues, Rawson says firms must ensure that they “focus on what makes them a good place to work”.

“Although pay is always going to be important, especially in the current economic climate, it’s not everything. Flexibility and work environment are also likely to be key.”

this is Research conducted by Deloitte for its 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey substantiates such claims. Both Gen Z and Millennial respondents to the survey cited ‘good work/life balance’ and ‘learning and development opportunities’ as their top two reasons for valuing their current employers.

Firms are “living with the consequences of having put clients first until now”, according to Soteri, arguing that “it’s really clear now that people come first”.

“In our industry there is wide disparity between what firm leaders believe the culture is versus what the people feel the culture is. If your people feel that their mental wellbeing is being compromised, then that is part of your culture.”

Additionally, she suggests that firms must make more of a concerted effort to embed wellbeing culture into the organisation, with measures such as mental health KPIs in performance reviews and appointing a full time mental health leader.

“Leadership must make it crystal clear that help is at hand, and it is easy to access.”

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