Burnout isn’t a new phenomenon, but it is more understood than ever before. This is perhaps due to a greater focus on mental health in society, but also because burnout is occurring more often than it used to.
Factors such as the pandemic and remote working have possibly blurred the lines between work time and rest time, and lots of businesses don’t have the framework to deal with this new issue.
Many people still associate burnout with the physical tiredness sportspeople experience when they train too much. But it has slowly crept into office life too, with the ‘always-on’ culture taking hold.
So, why do those in finance struggle with this problem more than others? What is employee burnout, what are the most common signs of burnout, and what are some actions that can be taken to prevent burnout within your finance team?
What is employee burnout?
Burnout within the workplace normally comes in the form of mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion, and is the result of excessive stress. It can be particularly common in demanding jobs in which workers expend a lot of energy without breaks in between. It’s a term that’s even been recognised by the World Health Organisation.
Those experiencing burnout will often feel a great sense of dissatisfaction within their role due to this exhaustion. And these feelings will be exacerbated if their efforts don’t lead to any form of accomplishment or recognition.
Some causes of burnout in the workplace include unmanageable workloads, micromanagement, ambiguous/unrealistic goals, unequal treatment of staff, a lack of autonomy, toxic team culture, insufficient tools, poor work/life balance, no clear career path, and inadequate communication channels.
Why does burnout affect finance professionals more than others?
The ‘Great Resignation’ was a trend seen in the business world following the pandemic. This was particularly visible within finance departments, with large swathes of finance people leaving the industry to have a break or career change. Ultimately the pressure built up too much for many finance professionals, to the detriment of their respective businesses (as they lost some of their best talent).
Many assumed that hybrid work models would create a better working experience for most people, as it would give them greater flexibility and more time for personal endeavours. But the pandemic thrust this arrangement on companies very quickly, so they arguably didn’t have the technology, infrastructure, or expertise to allow their staff to work effectively from home (a problem that still hasn’t been rectified by a lot of businesses).
Historically, there has always been a pressure on finance people to work long hours, due to the culture and the importance of their work. The sheer value and sensitivity of financial data means that it must be absolutely right, and it’s up to employees to ensure this.
There are also obligations within finance such as month-end. During this period, there is a lot of pressure on finance professionals to complete a month’s worth of reporting/analysis within the space of a few days. It’s no wonder they experience exhaustion during these moments, as they’re widely expected to work non-stop, leaving no time for recuperation.
The economic downturn we’re facing adds another element to the pressure felt by finance teams. They’re the ones expected to turn the situation around and ensure the business is doing the right things to survive. During turbulent economic times, not only is there greater pressure on the accuracy of these numbers, but there are also more closely scrutinised targets.
Perhaps the final contributor to finance’s woes is that it’s one of the last sectors to embrace the full power of automation, meaning that many finance professionals are still bogged down with manual tasks. These activities require a large time/energy investment from employees, guaranteeing they’ll never have the capacity to finish everything in the given time.
What are the signs of employee burnout?
Reduced productivity and output
A dip in the quantity of output may indicate that an employee is tired. Burnout causes individuals to have reduced energy and passion, which impacts their ability to fulfil responsibilities.
It’s easy for managers to assume laziness is behind any decline in effort, but they’re probably failing to see the root cause. If it’s a sudden change of work ethic for a reliable member of the finance team, there’s a chance the pressure has become too much, and the natural response for some is to come to a standstill.
Lower quality of work
It's not just the quantity of work that may change, it’s the quality too. If their physical/mental battery is drained, or they’ve checked out due to being treated poorly, then there’s a good chance they won’t approach their work with the same attention to detail (which makes mistakes more likely). This poor quality of task completion may become known due to an undesired outcome for a customer, supplier, or colleague.
Another red flag to look out for is when someone has a very clear change of attitude or personality. If they were previously a positive person, but they’ve suddenly become a negative influence on others, this could be because they’re struggling with burnout (and they perhaps resent the company for making them feel this way).
This negativity may manifest in constant complaining about the business and its leaders. Their irritability will be infectious and have a poor effect on team morale, possibly even being felt by other stakeholders and external partners too.
Disengaged and distant
Finance professionals may distance themselves from others or become withdrawn, both mentally and physically. Even if they still attend work and complete tasks every day, it should still be obvious if they’re not fully present.
They may no longer contribute to meetings or stop putting themselves forward for events and social gatherings. When this is spotted, finance managers should try to understand the individual’s workload for a start. It may be that they’re too busy to communicate with others, so they isolate themselves.
Staff may start to show signs of anxiety or physical ailments such as headaches and fatigue. If they’re noticeably more tired than they used to be, it could be that work has encroached on their personal life and maybe they’re not sleeping well.
Excessive stress can harm the immune system, making people more susceptible to illness. It’s also possible that some employees will take sick days to protect their mental health as they simply can’t cope. It’s important to be up to date with the latest guidance around mental health in these scenarios.
5 ways to prevent burnout in finance teams
Make time off mandatory
It can be particularly difficult to have a good work/life balance and maintain a healthy lifestyle if managers are demanding in all the wrong ways. Finance managers should ensure staff are logging off at the time they’re supposed to. If emails are frequently being sent outside of working hours, an effort should be made to prevent this going forward.
Some employees will need encouragement to take their annual leave as they may be resistant to having time off. It should be mandatory for all the allocated annual leave days to be used and holidays should be celebrated rather than discouraged. The company will benefit in the long run if they have a rested and happy workforce.
Implement a culture that prioritises mental health
Try to understand the pressures of your finance team, so that meaningful change can be made when they’re struggling. This can only be achieved if those in the team are comfortable communicating with one another and their manager about the way they feel at work.
Try not to make every conversation a serious work conversation. Get to know the team a bit better, find out what makes them tick, and learn what they’re dealing with in their life too. If every meeting involves putting pressure on employees to hit upcoming targets, this may only add to the stress they’re already facing.
One approach is to inform staff of positive company updates during these meetings, so they feel part of something bigger, and feel like the organisation is heading in the right direction. Also remind people of their value when they’ve done a good job and give them regular opportunities to share their ideas (regardless of their geographic location).
Set the right example
If team members are told not to email out of hours but they receive messages from the finance manager during this time, they are likely to be confused with regards to expectations. Leaders must be role models, setting an example and practicing what they preach. The attitude and behaviours of leaders will filter down to others.
Working time should be clearly defined so that staff have a clear separation and aren’t ‘always on’. Try to be as empathetic as possible so they’re reassured during tough times and hone your emotional intelligence so you can ask the right wellbeing-related questions.
Empower your finance team
A lack of trust from managers damages employee morale. Workers will likely lose confidence if they believe their competency is in question. If they are trusted to do what they’re capable of (rather than being micromanaged) they’re more likely to feel empowered and energised.
Don’t be overly critical of mistakes, as this will stifle innovation / creativity. And don’t do their job for them, as this will remove any independence. Be sure to implement forward-thinking philosophies like continuous accounting, as this allows those in the finance department to monitor performance more steadily rather than having the stress and chaos of month-end.
Provide the tools they need
Give finance workers the frameworks, processes, technologies, and support they need to succeed. If they can't do their job well due to any of these factors, they will feel a lack of control within their role and will probably become frustrated.
Allow them to have a hybrid work model so they can enjoy greater flexibility. But you must ensure the infrastructure has been put in place to facilitate this. This could include the use of Cloud-based accounting software so they can easily access their work at home. With the right tools they’ll be able to contribute more to the business’s success.
Working smarter, not harder, is the key to conquering burnout. When repetitive financial tasks such as sales invoicing and bank reconciliation are automated, finance professionals save a lot of time and energy, so they’re not overworked and don’t have to work beyond their scheduled hours. These factors are more important than ever given the evolution of employee expectations within finance.
How to reduce burnout with financial Cloud tech
At Advanced, we provide a Cloud-based accounting software, Advanced Financials. With this technology, all elements of the finance function are in one place, including accounts payable / receivable, asset management, expenses management, general ledger, credit management, and much more. This ensures employees aren’t bogged down with checking who has the latest data. Automating routine tasks frees up the team to do more strategic work.
Advanced Financials harnesses the power of Cloud technology, so staff can still access important financial data at home (while enjoying a better work / life balance). This financial management software has over 1,000 customisable reports, so reporting can be done in a quick and stress-free manner. With instantly accessible dashboards, financial performance can be monitored continuously, taking the pressure off traditional practices like month-end (while also providing insights that inform strategic business decisions).