Finding work-life balance in accounting

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The profession of accounting comes with its busy seasons. The months leading up to the state and federal tax due dates in April, for example, can be particularly hectic for accounting firms that serve both individual consumers and businesses. Additionally, reporting requirements for the end of the fiscal year can put a strain on accounting organizations serving enterprise clients.

Woman in professional dress standing in front of two arrows pointing opposite ways.

During these and other periods of assiduous activity, it’s imperative for accountants and other professionals in the field to remember the importance of an appropriate work-life balance. While it can be easy to get caught up in the demands of work during tax time or near the end of the fiscal year, doing so can come at the expense of family obligations, health, and overall well-being.

As students work toward their Bachelor of Science in Accounting through the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s online program, it’s helpful to understand how to ensure a healthy balance between work and other outside responsibilities.

Life of an accountant: Key duties

Depending upon the industry and firm that an accountant works in, their role can come with an array of critical responsibilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical working processes of accountants and auditors can include:

  • Examining and ensuring the accuracy and compliance of financial statements and other documents
  • Working on tax documentation, including computing amounts owed, preparing returns, and facilitating on-time payment of taxes due
  • Organizing, maintaining, and managing financial records, including incoming documentation and historical data
  • Making assessments and improvements for financial best practices and other related operations
  • Examining accounting books and systems for accuracy, efficiency, and use of financial best practices
  • Pinpointing and establishing actionable steps for improving financial efficiency, reducing costs, and expanding on profit opportunities

This only scratches the surface of an accountant’s duties. Certain periods of the year, including those leading up to the tax return deadline and the close of quarters or the fiscal year, can put extra stress on accounting firms in the form of more specialized working processes and requirements. Accountants may also be called upon in a consulting capacity to lend their expertise to business or individual clients and their particular financial challenges or situations.

Today’s “always on” culture

As AccountancyAge points out, adding to the challenges mounting against a proper accounting work-life balance is technology. Elements including advanced mobile devices make email and other important work applications always accessible. This can lead to employees doing work outside the office, including during evenings and weekends — times normally reserved for home and family life.

In addition, automation solutions, while a boon for certain repetitive, time-consuming tasks, have also raised expectations for employee productivity.

“We’re expected to be more productive as tasks should take less time due to automation,” AccountacyAge contributor Laura Little writes. “Our mobile phones and laptops have opened the door to continuous emails and updates, meaning there’s no way for us to truly leave work, particularly in a mental capacity.”

The consequences of this type of imbalance in one’s work and home life can be dire and dramatic. For example, in Japan, where employees are often expected to keep very long hours, workers have died due to being overworked. The word “Karōshi” was created to explain this tragedy.

Tips for balance: Helpful steps to keep in mind

While the schedule of an accountant at tax time, for example, can be very demanding, this does not mean that professionals are incapable of balancing the needs of their career role with that of their home and family. There are a few beneficial strategies that accountants and students alike can incorporate into their lives to help strike a better balance:

  • Hone your time management skills: As AccountingWeb contributor Jeff Davidson notes, time management isn’t anything new in the industry. However, taking this simple approach can help quell stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Davidson recommends doing one important task at a time as opposed to attempting to over-multitask. “If you have six things competing for your attention, identify what needs to be handled first, take it to completion or as far as you can and then and only then, go on to number two, number three, etc.,” Davidson writes.
  • Understand that change management will always be part of the job: Those in the accounting field deal with a number of important elements that are continuously shifting. This includes the emergence of new standards or regulatory requirements, mergers or acquisitions, unique clients needs, and more. Once professionals accept that change management will consistently be a part of their professional role, they can work toward proactively preparing for these changes. Davidson advises that accounting professionals set aside a block of time every week to catch up or work ahead on change management issues. In this way, even when no changes are on the visible horizon, professionals can still position themselves to be prepared.
  • Make time for leisure and stress management: A demanding work life can cause considerable stress, and not making time to alleviate this stress can cause considerable physical and emotional health concerns. It’s important that professionals make time for leisure activities in addition to their work and home responsibilities. Taking time for self-care is imperative to supporting wellness and well-being.

Ensuring a proper accounting work-life balance is important not only for professionals, but for students as well. To find out more about life as an accountant, check out the details of our online Bachelor of Science in Accounting program today.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics