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Are UK accountants more stressed than ever?

It goes without saying that accountancy is a stressful job. In general, it requires handling an inordinate amount of data and financial information, with minimal room for error and the potential of staying hours after work to get everything finished. But recent research by the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA) paints an even more dire picture, one that shows the accountancy profession being in the grip of a potential mental health crisis.

In May CABA released a new study revealing that 31% of chartered accountants feel stressed on a daily basis, and that as few as 2% of respondents claim to be unaffected by stress. The survey also found that 37% said their job was the main cause of their stress, while 29% cited the difficulty of trying to maintain a work-life blend.

What’s worse is those bringing their work home with them, with a further 38% saying they have checked emails outside work every day, and 33% checked their emails while sick or on annual leave.

And it seems it is the younger accountants who are feeling the pressure more than their older colleagues, with 43% of 18-34-year-olds and 45% of 35-44-year-olds reporting feeling stressed every day, compared with just 13% of 45-54-year olds and 15% of those aged over 55.

Some of the most common effects of a poor work-life balance for chartered accountants includes close relationship being damaged, not being unable to partake in hobbies and feeling unable to concentrate on non-work-related issues.

Kelly Freehan, service director, CABA, said while a “certain degree” of pressure can help with motivation, if stress levels are excessive, people risk becoming less productive or “burning out”. She added that with CABA’s research finding that many chartered accountants feel their workloads are so “severe” that they need to constantly check their emails outside work, firms should be “actively encouraging” their staff to maintain a healthier work-life blend.

But was it always this way?

Jump back to 2012 and CABA’s inaugural Wellbeing Report found that 61% of employed accountants were content in their professional life. Some 1,090 chartered accountants from a wide range of backgrounds participated in this survey, covering three main categories – their professional life, their financial wellbeing and their health and lifestyle.

The main concerns cited in the report worries about the future financial circumstances (61%), and that 36% did not feel their employer was interested in their personal development.

But not even a year later a poll run by CABA revealed that more than three quarters of visitors to Accountex 2013 believed that accountancy had become a more stressful profession during the last 12 months.

At the time, Kath Haines, chief executive at CABA, said that the causes of stress for accountants was both “intensifying and changing”. “Over a long period of time, the usual factors mentioned by those affected have tended to be issues such as the difficulty of juggling home and work commitments, and the general long hours working culture seen in accountancy,” she added.

Fast-forward to 2019 and the situation seems to have increased even more, to the point where a research study conducted in March of this year by CABA found that 22% of chartered accountants are thinking about quitting on a weekly basis. Half of respondents said they also worked late in the office on a weekly basis, while 22% said they did this only a daily basis.

Younger employees were also more affected by their work emotionally, with 26% admitting to crying on a weekly basis at work, compared with a profession average of 14%.

With all of this in mind, CABA has urged business leaders to provide “tangible” support that helps staff to form healthy working habits at the start of their careers, if the profession is to avoid the risk of fewer young people seeking opportunities in accountancy.

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