The Future of Work

How Teams Can Avoid a Burnout Crisis With an Employee-First Mindset — Part 1

About the Author: Katie Thomas, CPA is a content creator, 2021 40 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor recipient, and the owner of Leaders Online, where they help accounting professionals increase their impact, influence, and income through thought leadership and digital marketing. To get in touch with Katie, feel free to visit Leaders Online or connect with her on LinkedIn

America’s workforce is in a mental health and burnout crisis. 

In September of 2021, 4.4 million people quit their jobs, and these weren’t just retirees waiting to move on to the next chapters of their lives.

These people left their jobs for various reasons: Seeking higher pay, poor cultural fit, career change, and so much more.

For some time, money was the ultimate factor in employee retention; people needed to pay their bills, and they were willing to stay at a subpar job to get a paycheck. Now, employees expect much more from their employers. These new expectations, combined with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to what many call the Great Resignation.

Long before the pandemic, the accounting industry, in particular, had been susceptible to burnout and a general feeling of being overworked. A few years ago, I experienced this while working in public accounting. Pre-pandemic accounting professionals were burnt out, and post-pandemic, it’s only getting worse. If accounting teams want to be successful in the future, they don’t have a choice but to proactively help their employees avoid burnout while making their work more fulfilling.

This all sounds great in theory, but how can accounting departments actually put this into practice?

Create a Culture That Values Mental Health and Well-Being

A staggering 43% of accountants believe their job is a primary factor in their poor mental health. Leaders must be responsible for recognizing the stresses of their employees and making decisions that consider their employees’ mental health and well-being.

Until somewhat recently, resources to help accounting teams operate more efficiently were just that: Resources to enhance employees’ effectiveness. But over the last few years, the impact a well-structured tech stack can make on an accounting team has expanded to affect employee morale, a critical factor given the wave of employee turnover. Every organizational decision, including decisions about tech stacks or applications to streamline workflow, should be made with the well-being of the team front and center. With this focus, company cultures can, and should, protect the mental health of their team at every turn no matter what challenges arise, including a global pandemic.

How do you build a culture like this? Well, it likely takes a lot of work, but here are some excellent starting points: 

  1. Define the language, values, and standards for the culture you’re creating. Measures must be followed from the CEO down to the new hire to bring cohesiveness within the culture. Positivity, encouragement, and understanding are all excellent places to start.
  2. Leaders must lead by example to reflect the company’s values. These individuals should be transparent, fun, spirited, and inspirational, yet they also need to be understanding and put the mental health of themselves and their employees first.
  3. Create a workplace that values communication and fosters trust in the workplace. If management sets unrealistic deadlines, be sure your environment supports employees speaking up and voicing their concerns to management. In turn, management should respond appropriately. 

Building on these main points, it’s essential to recognize and support personal and professional advancements. Some easy ways firms can implement this into their culture today include firm-wide celebrations of promotions, birthdays, and anniversaries. Other examples include if a team member finishes a course or adds a CPA certification, acknowledge and celebrate these achievements.

Accounting leaders can go a step further by:

If you spend time creating a team culture that employees love, there’s a good chance they’ll feel less stressed and burnt out. Don’t think your accountants feel stressed? An alarming 98% of accountants feel stressed every single day. It must be the responsibility of the firm to address this stressful environment and get serious about making the necessary changes to protect accounting professionals and our industry as a whole.

Invest in Resources to Streamline Workflows and Encourage Innovation

Many accountants experience tight deadlines and high volumes of work, which can easily turn into stressful working conditions. To help ease the burden, consider how you can incorporate technology and streamline workflows whenever possible. These few key points can help here:

  • Use technology to improve collaboration and reduce errors.
  • Change the way you think of automation. Automating recurring tasks saves time — if you use the resources accordingly. For example, don’t reduce 2 hours of work with automation only to give your accountants 4 hours of additional work that doesn’t fit into their schedule. Instead, free up time to allow the employee to work on high-value tasks rather than overload them with even more work.
  • Employees can innovate, too. Really. It’s possible if given the time and resources. Your employees can modernize the workplace if you allow them. A proactive mindset and the right tools benefit both firms and their employees.
  • Use technology to unite teams. Remote workers want to stay remote – or 91% of them do — so it’s time to connect teams through technology. Solutions that bring teams together, especially with collaborative and communication tools, are vital to keeping the workforce happy.

Accountants struggle with the high demands put on them. It’s not uncommon to hear that they’re burnt out and feel like all of their free time should be spent on “catching up on work.” When working in public accounting, I experienced this myself. It seemed that my days were spent in meetings or working with staff to help educate them on their tasks. That left me catching up on work in the early morning hours or late into the evening. Partners and managers need to take responsibility to monitor workload volumes, find ways to improve workflows, and listen to employees.

That being said, be careful to not micromanage your employees. Provide autonomy to your workforce by using monitoring tools that allow leaders to step in when necessary and allow employees to tackle tasks independently. The right resources will help you see what’s getting done, when it’s getting done, and by whom. It can help you be confident your employees stay on task and nothing is slipping through the cracks.  

The right tech stack, resources, and systems can go a long way in improving a firm’s operations while helping accounting professionals reclaim their work/life balance.

Creating a culture that values mental health and well-being and incorporating technology to streamline workflow is just the start to how firms can help avoid the burnout crisis.

Katie Thomas, CPA

Katie Thomas, CPA is a content creator, 2021 40 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor recipient, and the owner of Leaders Online, where they help accounting professionals increase their impact, influence, and income through thought leadership and digital marketing. To get in touch with Katie, feel free to visit Leaders Online or connect with her on LinkedIn.