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Reflecting on a Busy Tax Season as an Accounting Firm

Gusto Editors  
Four business people standing and having a discussion in the office

Do you want to know how personal reflection can help you improve the culture of your firm? The busy tax season might affect your colleagues more than you’ve considered. Chronic pressure and overworking lead to burnout, depression, and mental health challenges, so it’s critical to take time to reflect on your own well-being and that of your firm. 

Gusto is your partner in creating the professional experience you desire. We’re thrilled to bring you expert insights from an experienced coach that you and your team can directly apply to your own work lives. This time we partnered with CPA Academy to bring you a webinar by coach Amber Setter: “Reflecting on a Busy Tax Season as an Accountant.” A former CPA, Amber is a consciousness coach who helps individuals and groups cultivate awareness to expand what is possible in their professional and personal lives. 

In the webinar, Amber defined personal reflection, discussed personal power through awareness, and shared how personal awareness can improve your relationships with colleagues.

Why is taking care of others important right now?

One of the great things about taking personal accountability for your own well-being is how equipped you become to help other people. You can’t fill from an empty cup. Once you’ve nourished yourself, you’ll likely find that you want to help other people feel better too. 

There are also larger incentives to help others feel better. Widespread challenges have created a crisis situation for mental health. The effects of American corporate culture take root in people’s lives, affecting them in myriad negative ways. 

Back in 2020, the American Psychological Association indicated mental health challenges were affecting Americans on a grand scale. The APA assessed factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as others they routinely assess, such as economic inequality, racism, and political upheaval. 

“It found that the survey in 2020 was quite different. … [It] revealed that Americans have been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and that external factors Americans listed in previous years [were still] significant sources of stress. … These stressors are having a real consequence on our bodies and our minds. It’s this unusual combination of factors [that’s creating] a national mental health crisis that can yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”

– Amber Setter
Happy businessmen fist bumping at meeting table

The chronic effects of stress aren’t just felt as mental anguish or emotional upheaval. Stress may alter how your genes express themselves, how you process and store information, and how your body regulates emotions. Chronic stress is linked to nearly every serious medical condition. The link between trauma—which can result from a health crisis, social injustice, and economic disparity—and associated disease is well-documented.

Amber discussed a study by the World Health Organization which revealed how work-related stress in particular impacts people’s health.

“It found that overwork[ing] killed 745,000 people in a year, and the threshold that they looked at was 55-hour workweeks. I think it was a 17% increase in heart attacks and around 35% in cardiac arrest. … Really overwork[ing] is killing people.”

Amber Setter

This is undoubtedly dire, but there’s hope—if you take care of yourself, you can reach out to others. The more people feel supported and balanced, the more the entire workplace culture can shift towards a healthier, more empowering one. 

Who might need your help?

Look around your office or virtual office—who can you think of that might need help? Maybe it’s your boss or your colleagues. Perhaps it’s vendors or suppliers. Is it your clients? Your team?

Anyone can be affected by chronic stress and feel overwhelmed. Additionally, Amber shared that around 30% of people suffer from mental health issues, and that’s just an estimate. It’s likely much more than that. Many people are reluctant to visit a mental health professional, and most people are cautious about sharing their difficulties with colleagues or even friends.

How do you know someone is struggling with their mental health, and how should you address it? Here are some red flags:

  • Changing   normal patterns of behavior, such as working long hours, unusual hours, or going through alternating cycles of high productivity to no productivity
  • Declining  quality of work, including repeated errors and missed deadlines
  • Blowing time budgets and being repeatedly late or absent
  • Demonstrating lack of interest
  • Exhibiting mood swings
  • Being argumentative or demonstrating aggressive behavior

Amber explained that periods of intense pressure can bring out latent issues a person might previously have held within. Considering that many people carry unprocessed trauma throughout their lives, it’s no surprise that when life becomes more challenging, much of that trauma will surface.

“If you squeeze an orange, what comes out of it is orange juice, and when life squeezes a person and what comes out of them is anger, hatred, [and] bitterness, … that’s what’s been inside. … [When] trauma is buried and [someone is] getting squeezed or they’re isolated, that stuff starts coming up, and that’s why we’re starting to see real challenges with mental health.”

– Amber Setter

Amber’s observation is a great reminder not to take everything personally. It’s also a great reminder to ease up on judging other people. There are many people who struggle with latent trauma, and it’s only normal that difficult times might bring issues to the surface. What’s most important is that each person practices self-care first and then extends compassion and support when possible and when it’s safe to do so.

Fostering compassion and awareness

Now that you’ve identified someone who needs support, what does that support look like? Should you recommend your friend see a psychologist? Should you give them personal advice?

Given that you are in a working environment, it’s best to consider how you can help someone in the context of work. You might ease up on a deadline, let a person know that you’re available to talk, or soften your approach to an unmotivated colleague. When in doubt, always look to your HR team.

Sometimes simply shifting your awareness to one of compassion is the best thing you can do. Let’s say you have a colleague who has been showing up late repeatedly, misses deadlines, and seems apathetic to your projects. You’re starting to get upset with him because you consider that maybe he is lazy or selfish and doesn’t care about the team. 

Before you jump to conclusions or labels, try to imagine what that person might be going through. You might realize that, just like you, they are going through their own challenges. Amber shared an exercise she regularly uses with clients.

She has clients walk in a triangle shape around the room. From each point in the triangle, they consider a different perspective.

“Position one represents where they stand. You say, ‘From my position, this is what I’m noticing about this other person right there. They’re upset. They used to always raise their hand. They were a lot more reliable. They could get the work done, and now they can’t get the work done. They’re missing deadlines. They yelled at a coworker.’ Those are all the things you see from your position.”

– Amber Setter

Mentally put yourself in this position now. Who are you looking at across from you? What do you notice about them? What would you like to say to them? What would you say if you didn’t fear retaliation or confrontation? This is just an exercise for you to first gauge what you are thinking and how you’re reacting to this person.

“Then you walk over to the second position, and you imagine … [that] you’re literally standing in the other position’s shoes. … What is it like to hear that unvarnished stuff? … [Clients usually think,] ‘Oh, they’re going through a pandemic too, and they’re having a hard time. Oh, yeah, they probably need something different, right?’”

– Amber Setter

If you were the person who you are unhappy with and were to hear your unfiltered judgment of them, how would you feel? You probably wouldn’t feel well. You might feel judged, misunderstood, or hurt. By putting yourself in this person’s shoes in this simple way, you can quickly realize how little you can really assume about this person and their experiences. This fosters compassion and understanding. 

The last step takes you into another perspective—that of your relationship with this person. 

“The top of the triangle, the third position, … represents the relationship. … That relationship could be the employer-employee relationship. [You might consider,] ‘What does the organization need?’ Well, the organization needs good quality work done in a timely fashion, and the employee needs certain things. They need to be paid. They need to grow. They need balance in their life. How do we make this work? … With that in mind, insight and action equals results. What is one action that you might take that will make a difference for another person?”

– Amber Setter

While widespread mental health challenges aren’t exactly a positive thing, you can find a silver lining in them. Corporate culture has the potential to change for the better when people pay attention to red flags. Chronic stress and burnout is a red flag no one can ignore anymore.

What might this mean for you and your firm? What needs to change to create a healthier environment? When the external markers of success no longer make you happy, you have to consider what will. 

“When people get really clear on where they want to go, they become unstoppable [in] getting there. The challenge is in getting clarity on what’s next for you.”

– Amber Setter

What conditions do you want for yourself and your colleagues, and what needs to change to get there? Once you get clear about it, it’s just a matter of taking action.

Learn more about reflecting on a busy tax season as an accounting firm

Your first responsibility is to yourself and your own well-being. Next comes your family, friends, and community, including your firm. Stress and burnout are real, and while mental health is often brushed under the carpet, it’s widespread. While no one knows the exact percentage of people suffering silently, it’s safe to assume that you know at least one person who is struggling.

You’ll want to keep an eye out for red flags such as mood swings, aggressive behavior, missed deadlines, lack of interest in work, and other drastic behavioral changes. When you’re frustrated with a colleague’s behavior, put yourself in their shoes. While it’s not up to you to advise people on their mental health, you can offer support, soften your approach to them, and consider how you can meet both of your needs. 

Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We understand that professional aptitude and personal fulfillment go hand in hand. Don’t forget to check out our previous article based on the same webinar, “Reflecting on a Busy Tax Season as an Accountant.”

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Updated: March 31, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors

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