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Work-life balance in accounting

Improvements in work-life balance in accounting

How to gain a healthy work-life balance

The dream is to be satisfied with your career and happy with your life outside of work. The problem is that it can be difficult to turn that dream into reality.

Finding that balance between work and life is like walking a tight rope. The second you lose balance, you’ll crash to the ground, burned out and unhappy.

We’re here to help you walk a straighter line, to balance work and life without sacrificing one for the other. In this blog, learn whether you are being overworked, the consequences of overworking, and what you can do to improve your work-life balance. We’ll also examine the rapidly-changing perception of work-life balance in the accounting industry.

How do I know if I’m being overworked?

You may be asking, “How do I know if I’m being overworked?” The first step is to find out whether a healthy work-life balance is something you’re struggling to maintain. After all, you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken!

It’s not always obvious if you’re already accustomed to overworking. If you’re uncertain whether overworking is actually just your normal routine, you’ll need to take a step back to reflect on your daily schedule and your company’s work policies.

Run through the following list to help you answer this question.

  • Are you unable to relax, even when you’re not at work?
  • Do you routinely have more work than can be completed in a normal work week?
    • Are tasks being added to your to-do list faster than you can clear them?
    • Does catching up on your tasks feel hopeless?
  • Have tasks begun to slip through the cracks?
  • Are you having difficulty sleeping or are you routinely sleeping too much?
  • Do you feel isolated or alone?
  • Has your mood recently begun to change?
    • Are you feeling anxious or stressed more frequently?
    • Do you find yourself becoming irritated more easily?

If you find yourself answering yes to many of the above questions, it may be because you’re overworked.

What leads to being overworked?

Even if you’re not currently feeling the strain of being overworked, it is important to watch out for the common causes of a poor work-life balance.

  • Long work hours with few breaks
  • High pressure to meet the demands of clients or stakeholders regardless of time constraints
  • Stress of having a high-stakes role with significant repercussions for mistakes
  • Needing to be available outside normal work hours (i.e., being on-call)
  • Long vacation “black-out periods” where time-off requests aren’t permitted
  • Having many unrelated high-priority projects with competing deadlines

It’s no surprise that these factors are typical for professionals working in the accounting industry, and the consequences can be significant. Often, the result is that accountants feel like they’re juggling too much at once. When that happens, something is bound to drop.

What are the consequences of overworking?

Constantly overworking leads to an unhealthy imbalance of work and life. Common consequences of overworking are:

  • Fatigue
  • Job burnout
  • Reduced memory
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Increased irritability
  • Poor job performance
  • Weakened immune system
  • Damage to interpersonal relationships
  • Lower job satisfaction and overall happiness
  • Reliance on mood-altering chemicals (such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol)

Take some time to check in with yourself to see whether overworking has had any of these effects on you. If you discover that you’re overworked, we’re here to help you turn things around!

What can I do to improve my work-life balance?

Juggling everything can be tough, but the ball is in your court! There are many things you can do to improve your work-life balance without waiting on company policies to change. Start small, and you’ll soon notice the scale start tipping toward the middle; creating a healthier balance between your work and life.

Apply these tips to get you back on track toward a healthy work-life balance:

Prioritize your time

Raise your hand if you have 1,000 tasks on your to-do list. Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to throw out your list. Instead, break your tasks up into categories that allow you to see what’s urgent and important. If the task is neither urgent nor important, move it to the bottom of the list.

  • If you find yourself buried in high-priority projects or have unclear priorities, it may be time to involve your teammates or manager.
Stick to your work schedule

Determine what you want your day to look like by scheduling work hours that will still accommodate life outside of the job. As much as possible, don’t let these work hours budge! Set an alarm if you need to in order to remind yourself that it’s time to clock out of work. You can get easily sucked into working longer hours if you make it a habit to stay later than the schedule you set for yourself.

  • If you’re the “go-to” problem solver for your team, consider scheduling some productive hours at a time or location that your team members can’t easily interrupt you.
Take breaks during work and during the year

You’re not a robot; you need to eat, drink, sleep, stretch, and refuel. It’s easy to let the workday carry you away without taking enough breaks to let your mind and body breathe and recharge. If you don’t make time for breaks, you may find that a few days, weeks, or a busy season has turn into an entire year of overworking.

  • You’re not always going to have time to take enough daily breaks, depending on your priorities at work that day. However, find time to fit in a short lunch break. Stand up while working when you can. This will give your body time to stretch and can increase your productivity.
  • Take a five or ten minute walk outside or around the office. Changing up the scenery and getting blood circulating back into your body can boost your energy and attitude.
  • Don’t forget to take a real vacation. Take advantage of long weekends and holidays to get away from emails and client calls. Just make sure you give your team and clients notice in advance.
Practice self-care

Don’t wait until you have to take time off for when you’re actually sick. Make time now to practice preventing illnesses. It may be important to make appointments so that self-care feels as important as other tasks, so add them to your calendar well in advance if you just can’t find them time.

  • Spend a few minutes a day checking in with yourself mentally and physically.
    • Are you eating right?
    • When is the last time you exercised?
    • Are you tuning into your mental health?
  • Take a few minutes a day to practice mindfulness meditation. This is an excellent way to practice disengaging those stressful thoughts when you’re trying to relax.
  • Eat food that will boost your energy; pack a healthy lunch to avoid eating unhealthy meals.
  • Set a workout schedule that is realistic.
    • Even 10-15 minutes of exercise a day, or a few hours a week will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Avoid passive entertainment when relaxing

It is easy to focus on relaxing your body without giving your mind the time and attention it needs.

  • Reading a book, exercising, or watching an engaging show or movie are great ways to recharge.
    • If you are dozing off or disengaging from your entertainment, it is important to step away and find something that will fulfill your mind while also allowing you to relax.
Maintain your social and family connections

Take time each month to nurture your social life, which will also nurture your mental health.

  • Set quality time for yourself and for your family and friends.
  • Unplug and unwind. Turn off your phone or set an “away” message on your text and emails so that people know this is your quality time to focus on priorities outside of work.
  • If you socialize with co-workers, avoid discussing work while you’re out of the office.
Delegate tasks and set expectations

You’re not a robot, you’re human, and humans are not meant to be perfect. You are your harshest critic.

  • Don’t try to do everything all at once. Focus on your skills and what you’re good at doing.
  • Set realistic expectations for your tasks at work and clearly communicate those expectations.
  • Enlist the help of your team when they offer and trust your team. Don’t delegate tasks just to redo it because you “want to make sure it was done right.”
  • Speak up when you know the project deadline is unrealistic or if help will be needed.

Earn your CMA certification to improve your work-life balance

Earn your CMA certification for more opportunities to reach your career goals sooner. The CMA certification not only offers increased pay, but respondents in the IMA Global Salary Survey Report reported higher job satisfaction, less working hours, and more career opportunities—benefits that lead to a better work-life balance.

Other steps that you and your job can take to improve your work-life balance

After you tackle the small changes within your control, you can move onto finding bigger ways to improve your work-life balance by discussing the topic with your employer.

  • Find mentors who may be able to offer additional advice on how to maintain a good work-life balance.
  • Develop excellent communication skills.
    • Let people know what hours you’re available and when you can be reached for client needs.
    • Return calls, messages, and emails promptly.
    • Routinely report progress on critical tasks.
  • Enlist a good support system.
    • If you’re in a busy season, plan ahead of time and keep your support network informed.
    • Even something as simple as having friends and family handle the legwork of maintaining your relationships for a month can be a huge relief.
  • Work smarter, not harder.
    • Take advantage of software and apps to streamline your workload. If you notice some coworkers spend less time on a task than you do, reach out and ask how they do it.
    • Take advantage of your IT department. Providing IT with a list of your most time intensive tasks can help them look for technical solutions that could result in hours saved a week or maybe even daily.

How should I speak up about being overworked?

Discussing being overworked with teammates or management is often a difficult conversation to have. Keep the following in mind when it comes to speaking up:

  • Are the working conditions temporary and evenly distributed?
    • Some positions involve seasonal upticks in workload. If you’re in the middle of a busy season, it probably worth it to try and stick it out.
    • This is especially true in cases were everyone is putting in overtime and management is already aware of the problem.

    NOTE: If you think that management is unaware of the working conditions, it might be worthwhile to mention something. In addition, be aware that it is easy for temporary workloads to become permanent. If you find your busy season continuously spanning 2-3 months, it is probably worth saying something.

  • If the situation has begun to impact your health or outside life, be direct.
    • It can be tempting to drop clues to your coworkers or managers about how much time you’re putting in, but in general it is better to just be direct.
    • Schedule a meeting with your manager about setting priorities and lay out the issues you’re facing. Ask for their advice and offer some potential solutions.
    • Have clear goals in mind when you set the meeting, and don’t focus on the negative aspects. Make it clear you’re looking for solutions, not sympathy.

What can my organization do to improve work-life balance?

Organizations have many options for improving work-life balance. Check out some of the more common options many companies have begun to adopt:

  • Flextime – Find the sweet spots in a regular workday in which you can alter your work hours. An example might be that you get to make that class at the gym if you adjust your hours to come in and leave a little earlier in a day. Another example is adjusting your commuting time to make your day feel less stressful. Choose commute times that avoids peak hours of traffic to and from work..
  • Flexible week – Evaluate which days in the week are the most necessary for you to work that will make you the most productive. Perhaps not working Tuesdays due to other obligations will be acceptable if you swap it out to work on Saturdays.
  • Work-at-home, flexplace or telecommuting – Working remotely has grown as a job trend across all industries. Sometimes there are barriers to physically commuting to work, such as time and distance, that can cause an unbalance in an employee’s life. There may be better job opportunities in another city. Driving there won’t be feasible. If you know you can produce quality work at home, then working at home or from a different location may be something worth exploring.
  • Part-time work – Cutting hours can be a practical solution when you’re unable to work full time.
  • Job sharing – If you need to take an extended leave or need to cut your hours, consider job sharing as a practical approach. This can work both ways. You can find others to split some of your responsibilities or you can job share with another person while you balance other priorities in your life. Make the process smoother by organizing what tasks needs to be done personally and which ones can be done without you being there to supervise.
  • Part-time telecommuting – Working from home a couple days a week may give you the flexibility you need to manage your family and workflow with less stress. Discuss with your employeer which days will be more beneficial for you to work in the office and which days you are able to work at home while still being productive.

Shifting trends for work-life balance in the accounting industry

As new accountants join the workforce, priorities are shifting. Journal of Accountancy provides data to show how the percentage of accountants’ priorities are increasing to focus more on family time and a little less on time striving to compete for things like higher wages. That doesn’t mean their careers are not important. They’re just not the most important item on the list.

  • More than 25% of workers said a work/family balance was more important to them than competitive wages or job security.
  • More than 25% of employee absences were caused by family issues—up from just 11.5% six years ago.

Fortunately, many companies have opened their eyes to the work-life balance problem. They’re working to find different avenues to implement a more satisfying accounting career.

Check out some examples of what companies are doing to improve their work-life balance for employees.

  1. Ernst & Young (E&Y) adopted a policy for employees to rate their managers on how available they make work/life options. Those ratings are factored into how managers receive reviews and bonuses. Today, about 27% of E&Y’s workforce uses some form of flexible work arrangement.
  2. Deloitte& Touche (D&T) established a program that helps employees tailor a partnership path through different phases of their lives. They acknowledge that within a 40-year career, a range of changes can occur in each employee’s life. They have set up ways for accountants to be successful in their professional and personal lives by fostering the well-being of their employees. They’ve set up multiple support and assistance programs, such as a family leave program. This program provides support like paid time off that may be needed when caring for a sick partner or parent, or taking time off for the birth of a child.

Start your journey to a fulfilling work-life balance by becoming a CMA

As an aspiring accountant, you may feel nervous about experiencing the struggle with work-life balance, but we encourage you to be optimistic and jump in with both feet. You can still put your best foot forward at work while enjoying a satisfying life outside of work.

You just need to create opportunities for yourself to manage workflow and everything else. One way to accomplish this is to earn the Certified Management Accounting (CMA) certification. The CMA will bring you career benefits, such as career advancement, increased earning potential, and higher credibility and status. These benefits provide more meaning to your professional and personal life, which is why many CMA respondents report high job satisfaction.

We’re here to help you get on the right path to an exciting and fulfilling CMA journey. Get all the details about the CMA exam process in our free CMA Exam Guide.