April 1, 2021

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WFH: We’re doing it wrong

I have to confess: The GREAT WFH EXPERIMENT has been good to me. Since most accounting firms had never allowed WFH before, it was on the minds of many, and so it gave me plenty to write about.

But I, for one, will be glad once we’re back to the office. As someone who has burned out at both an office job and a WFH job (FULL DISCLOSURE: not my current one), I was better prepared for a massive cultural WFH shift than most, but that doesn’t mean I’m not over this sh*t.

So, yeah, I’ll be glad to see my co-workers in person and to get an impromptu coffee with a friend. Still, if nothing else, I’ll be extra pleased when I’m not reading so many articles about how “overworking from home” is the new “overworking.” Here’s a recent offering in the Wall Street Journal:

A year into the Covid-19 era […] employees say work-life boundaries blurred, then vanished, as waking life came to mean “always on” at work. Experts warn that working around the clock—while slipping in meals, helping with homework and grabbing a few moments with a partner—isn’t sustainable…

Maybe I’m mistaken, but this problem sounds vaguely familiar to the problem that many people had before the pandemic! Last April, I commented on an OECD study that found that the average American worker worked 400 hours more than the average German worker in 2018. I wrote:

Perhaps when we’re past all this, one lesson we’ll have learned is that when things are good, that’s the best time to relax. Because when things are bad, working hard might be our best option to keep us going.

Apparently, I was right! Back to the Journal:

Esther Perel, a therapist and host of a popular podcast, “How’s Work?,” has counseled workers virtually through the pandemic and observed that many have embraced all-consuming work, reasoning that burning out beats being unemployed.

There are few things more quintessentially and contemporarily American than not having room for a middle ground. “Thank god I have a job. I’m going to work like it’s the last one I’ll ever have.” Come on, people.

The lesson here is that people, particularly American people, tend to overwork, regardless of their surroundings. It’s one of our primary features, and the best way for many of us to curb that tendency is with a commute and an office. The commute bookends our days; it’s how we prepare for the day that is about to begin and how we decompress when it’s over. An office, meanwhile, gives us a specific place to go where we can prioritize work. It seems that when we are forced to work somewhere else, whether it’s a place we live, relax, or play, the result is the same: work takes over.

Emotional intelligence, or lack thereof

The fact that people are working too much seems rather obvious to everyone… except the people who probably should know if people are working too much:

A Microsoft Corp. survey of global workers found the majority feel they are struggling or just surviving in pandemic work conditions and a large percentage are considering leaving their employer this year. Meanwhile most business leaders polled said they are “thriving.”

It’s quite a spread. “Sixty-one percent say they are thriving,” a Microsoft guy is quoted. “[T]hat’s 23% higher than the average worker, so there is a disconnect there.” Nearly half (46%) of the worker respondents said they’re planning to find a new job.

There’s always been something strange about bosses/managers who are either indifferent to their people or oblivious to them. In either case, their attitude is usually evident to the employees. Indifferent bosses will eventually drive people away, and oblivious ones simply won’t notice and express surprise when people leave.

During a global pandemic, these survey results are all the more strange. People have been suffering physically, mentally, and emotionally, and the coverage of that suffering has basically been non-stop for a year now. A boss or manager that thinks their business and its people have been entirely immune to it might… be working too hard.

Client relationship management

Meanwhilein Texas:

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A tax preparer is now in jail after pulling a gun on customers who say they noticed issues with the tax return that she filed for them.

Far be it from me to tell anyone how to run their firm, but maybe avoid armed confrontation with clients. Seems like a guaranteed way to churn them, one way or another.

Fresh from Gusto


Webinars sponsored by Gusto will be coming to an internet near you THIS APRIL. We just haven’t scheduled them yet. Watch this space.

In the meantime, enjoy the most recent broadcast of On the Margins Live with Will Lopez and me. We discussed extended deadlines and the top accounting firms’ secrets.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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