As the dreaded January busy season looms, it’s essential that you think about how to prepare yourself to avoid it having repercussions for your health and your practice.

We’re talking about burnout – recognised as an “occupational phenomenon” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It’s more than just ‘being stressed’.

Burnout could severely disrupt your working life – more sick days, feeling run down and exhausted, or losing interest in work you previously enjoyed. What’s more, as burnout can last for months, if not years, it can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer with it.

Accountants are clearly at risk, given the heavy workloads, competing deadlines, and the dreaded January busy season. So, what can you do? Here are five key areas to think about, which should ensure you don’t fall victim. Prevention is always better than cure.

1.   Watch out for early symptoms

Identifying early signs of burnout is vital. The WHO has defined burnout and its characteristics as:

“[…] a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

High-achieving individuals and perfectionists could have a higher risk of experiencing burnout.

2.   Cut down a little

Work less? That’s easier said than done, we hear you say. But some time away from the office can do wonders to help reset yourself mentally and reduce any feelings of burnout. Taking time off during busy season may be tricky. However, try to make sure you’re using your full entitlement of annual leave each year. If you think you might need a longer break, see whether your firm has a policy that allows you to purchase additional holiday.

3.   Put yourself first

Not eating properly? Going to bed late? Spending too much time sitting and not exercising?

These are all bad habits that are easy to slip into when facing high levels of stress and a challenging workload. Be warned though – these actions are a fast track to increasing the risk of burnout.

While improvements might not happen overnight, try to introduce more self-care into your daily routine. This could mean making a conscious effort to have a better night’s sleep, eating a balanced meal for dinner, or trying to get active a few times a week. Even adopting one of these changes could improve your overall wellbeing. 

4.   A more flexible work life

They say a change is as good as a rest. Well, why not change your work routine by working from home or somewhere else for the odd day? Flexible working and a change of scenery can help reduce feelings of burnout.

Or, if you’d prefer to stay in the office, see if you can work adjusted hours, perhaps coming into work a little later and leaving earlier to avoid peak rush hour. 

5.   Seek support

If you get to a point when you feel like you’re burnt out or on the verge of it, one of the best things to do is reach out for help. If a colleague, manager, or even partner is aware of your situation, they can put measures in place to support you as you recover.

Professional accounting bodies can also assist. For example, CABA offers free and confidential services to past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in areas as diverse as wellbeing, emotional support, and career development, among others.