Why you need to be more aware of employee burnout than ever

The way accountants work has changed forever.

Technology has created new efficiencies and ways to collaborate with teams and clients. And the global pandemic has accelerated the shift towards remote work.

There are many positives, but one striking negative is the increased risks of employee burnout.

The Economist reported that COVID-19 has reduced meeting length by 15% and removed time spent commuting. But this isn’t giving your staff more time in their day—it’s adding work. Total time spent at work has increased by 2 hours per day.

In the short term, this may mean greater output from your team. During periods like the pre-tax season rush, this might seem great. But in the long-run, things won’t be so rosy.

Employee burnout and workplace stress

When you think of stress, you automatically associate it as a negative. But stress in the right measure can be beneficial.

For example, physical exercise is healthy. It’s the process of putting your body under enough stress that it strengthens you, just as long as you don’t push too hard. 

Likewise, some workplace stressors might help you grow, such as:

  • Deadlines that are challenging, but not impossible

  • Demanding, but reasonable, workloads

  • Challenging tasks that force you out of your comfort zone, but ultimately learn and grow from

Too much or the wrong kind of stress though, can lead to burnout. Burnout is an "occupational phenomenon" recognized by the World Health Organization resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, feelings of negativism towards your job, or reduced professional efficacy. 

It goes without saying that an employee displaying any of these symptoms is something that needs to be avoided from everyone’s sake.

To start thinking about how burnout can be avoided, it’s important to acknowledge the stressors that can lead to burnout:

  • Work overload—When an employee feels that their work will never get done. 

  • Lack of control—Employees want to feel that they have a say in how they get things done.

  • Insufficient reward—Workers need to feel like the employer values their work. Performance bonuses and awards can keep your accounting team engaged.

  • Breakdown of community—Without support from peers and supervisors, employees become less engaged.

  • Absence of fairness—Make sure promotions and awards are tied to performance and are backed by transparent policies.

  • Value conflict—Employees want to know that the company has a meaningful mission, and their work makes a positive impact.

Burnout and remote work

Some employees flourish working from home. Others may find themselves feeling isolated.

The lines between work life and home life have become blurred and it makes it hard to achieve a work-life balance.

Managers should schedule frequent check-in times with remote workers. It’s a great chance to touch base and provide and receive feedback.

Signs of burnout

Accounting is stressful. Remember that the right amount of stress is ok, but when it’s too much to manage, it can lead to burnout. Look for these three signs that tell you when stress is getting overwhelming:

  1. Emotional exhaustion—the feeling of depleted energy from the demands of the job.

  2. Reduced personal accomplishment—lacking motivation and self-esteem.

  3. Depersonalization—cynical, uncaring, and apathetic attitude toward others.

Recommended reading: Is your team overwhelmed? Know the risks, spot the signs, make a change.

Managing stress to avoid burnout

Stressors in the workplace are unavoidable, but you don’t have to let them overwhelm you.

  • Make a break time schedule and stick to it—Make it a point that when it's break time, it's time to stop. It can be hard to stop when you have momentum going, but it’s important to take the time to clear your mind.

  • Reframe—Sometimes a project might look more daunting than it really is. Break it down into steps and make a timeline for completing the steps. If you can’t reasonably meet deadlines, ask for an extension.

  • Delegate—It’s easy to think that you have to take on tasks by yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor and coworkers for help.

Take your time back

Just because you’ve saved time on the commute by working from home, doesn’t mean you need to cram extra work in your day.

If you don’t manage your time and stressors, you’re at risk of burnout.

And if you manage an accounting team, be sure to schedule team check-ins so you can spot signs of burnout early.

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