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Burn Out By David Smith on Dec 3, 2020

Journey stairs

In any year, as we lead up to Christmas, a level of burn out starts to appear. Tax compliance work for accountants ramps up in these months. The pressure mounts. Stresses and strains in the practice become more apparent. And of course in 2020 the pressure cooker has been turned up a few notches.

It is clear that working from home is becoming less effective. Many Victorian firms have seen a reduction in productivity during their second lockdown. Many practitioners and their staff are finding it harder to cope with the isolation or trying to manage families and their work.

Not only have accountants been trying to manage their own businesses in this challenging environment, they have had the pressures of helping their clients manage their businesses and access government stimulus measures. This has added significantly to workload. The upside is that most accounting firms have held up pretty well financially but doubts still remain about the future as government stimulus is withdrawn.

And now the government wishes accountants to receive mental health training and will offer training so that accountants can better help small and medium business owners. The training will be provided by CA ANZ, CPA Australia and the IPA. I suspect for many accountants this is unfamiliar and challenging territory.

So as we move to 2021 a plan is needed. Since travel options have been limited many leaders and staff have been reluctant to take leave. It seems clear that firms will need to plan for a significant increase in leave being taken particularly when vaccines become widely available.

Many firms are looking to extend their shutdown over the Christmas period with the shutdown starting for some on 21 December. For those who haven’t taken much leave over the past year, leaders should insist on even additional leave for staff who clearly are showing the strain.

The bigger question is managing the medium to long term consequences of the challenges of 2020.

We are still to resolve how work arrangements will be organised post COVID-19. It seems clear that some employees at least will be seeking greater flexibility to enable working from home for at least part of the time.

I remain convinced that to manage remote workers (and those in the office for that matter) they need regular daily engagement with their manager to manage their workload. The agenda is pretty simple:

  • How are you feeling today? What is concerning you?
  • What are your priorities today?
  • Which jobs will you exceed your hours budget?
  • Which jobs will you fail to meet the delivery deadline?
  • What queries are holding you up?
  • What other help do you need?

Firm leaders need to also think of themselves. Perhaps a discussion is needed to schedule some extended leave for each leader so that the batteries can be recharged.

Perhaps as well, as the firm moves back in the office, the leaders need to get together and ponder:

  • Do we need to tweak how we’re managing the business?
  • Do we need to review the role of each firm leader to ensure we’re getting the best out of each leader and satisfying their own desire for involvement?
  • Is it now time to review the firm’s strategic plan and associated plans?

I have a suspicion that this exercise may reveal some significant change in thinking from some leaders. It is important that the firm uses 2021 as a reset to establish its plans for its post COVID-19 world.

So take some time out to ponder your own situation. What would you like to see happen in 2021. Would you like to see some changes to your role or the role of others? Do you need to take some extended leave? What other support do you need to reduce your stress and make your time at the firm more enjoyable?

And then look at the firm. What issues did 2020 highlight that need to be addressed? Is it time to revisit / reset your strategic plan? Start allocating some time to conduct the review.

David Smith conducts firm reviews and facilitates the development of strategic plans and business plans. Contact David at [email protected] to explore how he may be able to help your firm.


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