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How Reducing Interruptions Can Help Tackle Burnout for Accountants

The pandemic has seen a dramatic and sustained increase in demand for support from accountants. Thanks to a combination of the constant pressure to deliver official guidance, decipher Rishi Sunak’s regular CJRS and SEISS announcements and the always-on culture of remote working, it’s fair to say that their expert advice is highly sought after right now, but it comes with a human cost.

Many accountants are working extended hours as they seek to support and reassure clients during uncertain times, meet increased demand, operate to tight deadlines and capitalise on the opportunity to grow their fees – all while dealing with their own challenges of life in a pandemic.

Multiple lockdowns and the constant uncertainty of the pandemic has left 39% of accountants feeling more stressed, finds research by CABA[1], the charity supporting chartered accountants’ wellbeing. The HSE has also revealed that the rate of work-related stress, depression and anxiety has increased in recent years and that it accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health[2] in 2019/20. It’s not extreme to think that the picture will be far worse now, after just over a year of a pandemic, and particularly for accountants facing a relentless workload.

Interruptions Galore

One of the major stress-causing factors in our professional lives is interruption. Sending an email, listening to a voicemail, answering an unexpected call – these are all interruptions that can disrupt the flow of work. Data from Berkeley University[3] has revealed that on average, interruptions take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from – even if the distraction is only a minute. This added pressure can cause already busy accountants to become stressed and anxious, particularly when they’re exhausted due to working extra hours. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to heightened absence and eventual attrition. Firms that allow this to happen simply aren’t protecting their employees and run the risk of putting client care, best advice and their reputation in jeopardy.

Available AND Unavailable

The pandemic has forced the issue of availability into the spotlight – particularly as firms grappled with making sure client care was maintained despite the overnight switch to remote working. But firms must maintain balance.

Louise Wilson, Head of the Finance Sector at Moneypenny, which provides telephone answering and live chat support to hundreds of finance businesses across the UK said: “As a business, we talk a lot about availability and making sure businesses are available when clients call or reach out – but there is value in being unavailable too. Businesses need to actively help their accountants ringfence time for the quiet head down working that is so important to productivity as well as employees’ feeling of accomplishment and control.

“They must also actively promote and support wellbeing by giving employees the right tools. That means making sure they can easily switch off their availability when they don’t want to receive calls or be interrupted by colleagues – as well as more tactile things such as offering counselling programmes, organising social activities, launching colleague buddy systems and encouraging time away from technology.”

The last 12 months have provided some valuable lessons – perhaps most significantly, that health is wealth and protecting a workforce’s mental state must sit at the top of every financial business’s agenda.

Louise added: “Good housekeeping is the foundation of improved wellbeing. That needs to span internal practices and respect for colleagues, improved meeting etiquette and the right level of internal and external communications support. Together, these can help to reduce the unwanted interruptions that can prove so disruptive.”

Now is the ideal time to rethink company practices and the following tips offer a good place to start:

1. Formalise meeting etiquette

With the rise of video calls, it can be tempting to just book them in without the level of scheduling that would have gone into a physical meeting – particularly when travel is not required. Video meetings afford flexibility but try to avoid unplanned meetings or those that don’t stick to time and leave ample time between each one for a mental break. When meetings do occur, always use an agenda to stay on topic and issue companywide ‘meeting etiquette’ to help engender positive change and an empowered approach to time management.

2. Outsource communications

If staff know there’s the right infrastructure in place to support them, it can reduce worry.  For example, if staff know all customer calls will be handled warmly, professionally and efficiently, even when they’re busy or in a meeting, it can instil calm and focus without a ringing phone breaking their concentration. Outsourced telephone answering, switchboard and outbound follow-up support is the ideal solution for keeping interruptions to a minimum while maintaining the client experience.

3. Choose technology that aligns

Streamline the number of video and project management platforms in use across the company so that employees come to ‘know them’ and don’t lose time loading different systems or finding multiple log-ins in-between meetings and tasks. There’s real value in keeping it simple and choosing technology that has wider value – for example, our telephone answering system has a Microsoft Teams integration which means call handlers know who’s available and when. The result – less interruption for busy staff and a better client experience.

4. Diary management

Diaries aren’t just for meetings. Encourage employees to use their diaries to block manage their time, include tasks and add detail about whether they’re available or need quiet time. By making sure that front of house, reception or outsourced switchboard teams have access to these diaries it’s possible to give employees the space they need to look after themselves, be productive and thrive.

Louise concluded: “The last 12 months have been all about business survival and adaptability, but the importance of protecting and nurturing employee wellbeing and performance must not be overlooked.  Interruption is dangerous.  It affects concentration, productivity, happiness and health. Firms that fail to address the costly repercussions of interruption for accountants and their wider team will fail to get the most out of their greatest asset of all.”

[1] https://www.caba.org.uk/news/press/4-10-workers-close-breaking-point-new-study-finds

[2] 2019/20 data from HSE https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

[3] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/please_stop_interrupting_me

Louise Wilson

Louise Wilson

Moneypenny
Head of the Finance Sector at Moneypenny. Moneypenny has more than 1,000 staff and handles more than 20 million customer communications a year, for 21,000 companies, ranging from multi-nationals to start-ups. It has grown rapidly in the last four years, from £19 million revenue p/a to a projected £50 million this year. It is known for its award winning culture, its excellent customer service and low staff turnover.