Professionals in drink and drugs and debt


SOME TIME ago Accountancy Age ran an article on alcoholism in the accountancy profession. In the following couple of weeks a number of people emailed us anonymously offering thanks for bringing attention to the issue.

Then, out of the blue, a contact of mine in a large mid-tier firm did the same. I was taken aback. It would have taken enormous courage to make that approach because he was essentially outing himself and his problems.

This week the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) revealed that increasing drink and drug abuse, debt and health issues had prompted the body to recruit 10 new staff to handle the mounting workload and the shocking array of personal problems that were emerging in the profession.

The clear implication was that work related stress was behind the worsening situation. On reflection we shouldn’t be surprised by  this. Accountancy has always been a profession where ambitious people have pushed themselves. The potential rewards can be great. The cost can be awful too.

Performance targets, long hours, demanding clients all play their part in creating stress. But the financial crisis would have added to this. Employers would have felt forced to ask more of a reduced workforce. Anxiety and uncertainty about job security would have amplified the strains.

Oddly, morale is easily overlooked by employers, but it shouldn’t be. Demoralised staff are almost always less productive, almost certainly less creative. A failure to care can also breed resentment resulting in departure at the first opportunity which, of course, brings its own costs in terms of recruitment at best, lost clients at worst. Recourse to drink and drugs can only have the same effect.

Managers need to have morale on their minds. Many of the solutions are not difficult and revolve around making people feel valued and not isolated. Astonishingly many managers fail to spot the need.

In a profession like accountancy and in the age in which we live that’s almost unforgivable. Plus if you plan to exploit any upturn in the economy, you need your staff as well as your finance to be in good shape. Professionals in pieces are unlikely to provide the energy their employers might want.

As for me I wish we had written more on stress after my contact came forward. We might have helped him and others a little more. This time will be different.


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