How to Reduce Workplace Stress

These tips will help young CPAs prevent burnout.

July 19, 2016

Twenty-three-year-old Katie Holtgrave, CPA, began her career last September, working in the tax department at Anders CPAs + Advisors in St. Louis. Reality soon set in: She not only needed to study for the CPA exam but also had to work hard to learn her new job.

“You’re so nervous as a young accountant and have to ask yourself, ‘Do I know enough? Do they expect me to know more? Is my work adequate?” said Holtgrave, who earned her CPA license in February and now works as part of Anders’ forensic and valuation services team. “It’s definitely one of the stresses of being a young CPA.”

All accountants face some level of stress. But young CPAs deal with different types of strains.

“The way that the CPA profession is designed, it’s a little of baptism by fire,” said Bill Driscoll, the New England District President of Robert Half International Inc. “You need to manage the workload and your time and know how to take on realistic deadlines—or ultimately it will lead to burnout.”

Driscoll, Holtgrave, and others offer the following tips to help young CPAs relieve stress in and outside of the office.

1. Know what sparks your stress

Everyone has a distinctive “stress profile,” and it’s important to understand your tension triggers so you can alleviate anxiety. “What causes stress for one person can reduce it for another person,” said author and stress management consultant Lane Robinson. Understanding that each person on your team is unique can help you structure your work environment to minimize stress.

2. Take breaks

Leave your desk several times each day. Take a stroll around the office or in a nearby green space. Converse briefly with a colleague. Go out to lunch every now and then and get a change of scenery. “I urge my staff to take a break for 15 minutes to 30 minutes and get into a different environment,” said Rob Cameron, CPA, principal at Hughes, Cameron & Co. LLC in Springfield, Ill.

3. Communicate with your manager

If you feel overwhelmed and your stress level is rising, talk with your supervisor about possibly lightening your load. “Don't take on more and more,” Driscoll said. Also, added Cameron, “Ask for help when needed,” well before a due date.

4. Prioritize and organize

Do your work step by step. “Accountants tend to be detail-oriented, and thinking about the big picture can be overwhelming,” Robinson said. “When your workload is wearing you down, break your tasks down into smaller pieces and focus on those. Think about what you need to accomplish today or in the next few hours, and don’t worry about everything that needs to get done in the future.”

5. Find your passion

Do you like to cook? Paint? Walk your dog? “Figure out what hobbies relax you and do them, regularly,” Robinson said. And, since you likely spend a lot of time in front of the computer as it is, “try to identify at least a few calming activities that don’t involve electronics," she said.

6. Exercise and socialize outside the office

Activities away from work can help clear your mind and energize you. “It’s very important to get exercise,” Holtgrave said. She plays volleyball several times a week.

7. Get more sleep

It’s easy to burn the midnight oil, especially when the workload is heavy. But a fresh mind improves your focus, and getting enough sleep will help, Robinson said.

8. Savor the silence

In today’s technology-driven world, silence is often forgotten. Take five to 10 minutes a day to detach. Sit and breathe, play soothing music, shut your cellphone off, clear your mind.

9. Envision your ideal environment

Some people thrive in chaos, and others crave order. “Every person manages stress in a different way,” Driscoll said. “Some of our top performers’ desks make me stress out, both because they are too neat or too messy. Those kind of things in the work environment are personal.”

Figure out which works best for you, and adjust accordingly. For instance, Holtgrave organizes her desk at the end of each day, writes a list of projects to work on the next day, and puts her pens and pencils away. “It is a nice clean slate when I come in the next morning,” she said.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager–newsletters at the AICPA.

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