Adviser: All work and no play . . .

The age profile of members of the accounting profession shows that many of us
are in our mid 40s or early 50s – the age when, traditionally, we face a
mid-life crisis and ask ourselves whether we are truly content with our current
lifestyle and work.

So what is it about working in the profession that attracts so many bright
people and retains them so long? Or was Michael Palin right when he was so
derogatory about accountants in Monty Python.

It would be wrong to suggest that every working day is crammed full of
excitement and adrenaline-pulsing thrills, but for most of in practice every day
is a challenge, and more importantly a varying and stimulating one. Each client
is an individual, with problems specific to their circumstances, and there is a
real sense of achievement when a client leaves the office happier than when they
came in.

I would really love to turn our workplace into one where people have more
fun, though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the atmosphere is depressing or
anything – but it is so easy for a long-hours and high-pressure culture to
squeeze out the quality of personal relationships that make coming to work so
enjoyable, and which encourage us to work in an office rather than work from
home. Let’s face it, a lot of our work could be done for home almost as well.

So what are the things that encourage a fun atmosphere? First and foremost it
does boil down to the kind of people you recruit. Some people are energisers,
and some sap energy; they may be quite competent, but they are genetically
rather negative and take more than they give. So recruit energisers.

Given the current recruitment market, of course, beggars can’t be choosers,
so we have to be practical. Employers can help significantly by having an
appraisal system in place that encourages staff in their personal development,
and not one that is an annual chore carried out simply because one feels that it
should be done. People who are learning and growing are generally much happier
than those repeating work they have done before.

Choose clients you like working with – the fun, creative, exciting clients,
or simply clients that are genuinely nice. Nothing gets people down more than
being forced to deal with people they don’t like, and it’s astonishing how
consistent the team’s view is of a particular client.

And then there are all the other relatively cheap and extremely valuable
events. I’m not just talking about the after-work drinks or dinners. Some of our
most successful events have been sports events such as mixed netball or cricket.
We haven’t yet moved on to some of the other ideas I’ve heard about, like French
lessons or book reading circles.

So next time you ask yourself whether an alternative career beckons, think
hard and long about whether the grass may appear to be greener on the other
side. And whether there are more things you can do to make your workplace a more
fun place to be.

Mark Spofforth is ICAEW council member and partner at Spofforths

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