Public accounting breeds irritable, highly-caffeinated workaholics. It’s no surprise mental health is an afterthought. Between preparing for intense client status calls and getting workpaper review comments cleared before archiving starts, it’s not likely you’ll have much time to focus on your feelings.
We put up with long hours with 85%-90% billable utilization quotas during the day. CPA Exam review is a post-work pastime to relax. It can be debilitating after a while of sleepless nights and long workdays. Relationships start to suffer. You begin to gain weight. We’ve all seen it. Then it starts to happen to you.
You think, hey, I’ll take a mental health personal day to catch up on Hulu or Netflix. But wait, is that just the equivalent to playing hooky? Gasp! Type-A, perfect attendance record-holders (aka, most CPAs) don’t play hooky—even the thought is likely to cause more anxiety. You’ll no doubt be worried you’ll end up answering emails anyway.
The whole experience can be brutal once you graduate from intern to associate and beyond.
Back in 2012, Greg Kyte commented on public accounting’s mental health struggles. And it’s come up at various other times. With some high-profile suicides in the news recently, it’s worth circling back on the topic of mental health in public accounting and ways to keep your psychological well-being a priority.
Anyone who’s worked in the profession for more than a couple months shouldn’t be surprised that financial advisors and accountants made the top 10 professions for depression, and financial services (which includes auditors) have high suicide rates. A lot of it gets swept under the rug. Many people have a very calm and polished look on the outside, but who knows what’s happening under the surface?
Inability to unplug
Beyond clinical anxiety and depression that is the result of a medical condition, even accountants and auditors without medical issues, and who work in public accounting, have a hard time decompressing during their downtime. Every email is marked “urgent” or “high priority.” In fact, there is an unwritten rule that you have two to three hours to respond to emails, or else.
Thank goodness for the “Do Not Disturb” feature on the iPhone. Otherwise, with the workaholic culture and constant notifications, no one would sleep through the night! But even with quiet hours at night, you have the compulsion to check it first thing when you wake up or are stricken with nomophobia—the panic you feel when you are separated from your mobile phone.
What do you do? How do you start to combat the impending burnout?
Yeah, yeah. Work out. Eat better. Sleep.
Easier said than done. There’s got to be something more helpful.
There is. Get a mentor.
Find a mentor already
While there’s no substitute for professional help, and lifeline operators are available 24 hours a day if you’re in a crisis (1-800-273-8255), sometimes you need a better work support system when you start feeling like you are drowning at work. You wouldn’t need to see professional help in every case if you had someone who understands exactly what you’re going through to talk to about it.
And, no, we’re not talking about an assigned mentor who is required to go to lunch with you on a quarterly basis. A real one. The kind you’re going to have to put in some effort on your end to build a relationship with. The kind that you can be yourself around and ask questions to candidly. Maybe a senior if you’re an associate? Unless you’re really lucky, you can’t be open or honest about what keeps you awake at night with an assigned mentor. Look outside the office, too. Go to networking events and state association meetings.
The goal is to make a genuine professional connection. A mentor should be more of a coach, friend, and cheerleader. Someone you’d call when you’re not sure what to do next or how to tackle a big problem. Oh, and they must be willing to tell you if you look like a complete idiot.
As with anything, you need to consciously allocate time to this relationship, even if your day is overbooked already. Schedule lunch (everyone has to eat). Carpool together. Spend a work break walking the stairs of the office building together for some cardio and a venting session. Get creative.
Oh, and try to befriend someone who isn’t in charge of writing your performance review—and you can bribe with coffee.