Reforming the auditing profession by boosting self-care and preventing burnout

18 February 2022

As we live and work in a rapidly changing world, stress has become a common factor. It is a normal human reaction, but it is our duty to take care of our mind and body. High levels of adrenaline can lead to positive effects (keep us alert, motivated, and prepared to avoid dangerous situations) or can become a problem if we don't learn how to deal with them.

In audit, stress is closely linked with what the auditors call the busy season, which at this point, is a natural part of an auditor’s life. With the COVID-19 pandemic becoming an ongoing challenge, like many other professions, the auditing one has also evolved: the integration of new technologies together with mental health awareness can help auditors prepare for the busy season, which usually runs from January to May.

We are witnessing a 'burnout build-up' for employees

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic stress at the workplace that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: lack of energy or exhaustion, increased mental detachment from work or negative feelings or cynicism about work, and reduced job effectiveness.

As of 1 January 2022, burnout syndrome has been included in the International Classification of Diseases 11th edition (ICD-11), a system widely used as a benchmark for medical diagnoses. Previously, the WHO simply defined burnout as a 'state of vital exhaustion'.

Employee burnout is a common problem in all professions, and auditing is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic and working from home have further fostered this. Working from home can make it even harder for some people to get away from the desk and take necessary breaks, and the lack of social interaction and exchange of ideas with colleagues is strongly felt. As the boundaries between personal and professional life become more blurred, the risk of mental health crises increases.

Tips and tricks for overcoming the busy season

Find a daily routine and stick to it

For many of us, the busy season is that time of the year when we tend to forget about ourselves. We eat our meals in front of our laptops and don't get enough sleep. In the long run, if we keep this up, we will sacrifice performance, productivity, and overall wellbeing. Health goes beyond the body; it extends to mindset, workplace productivity, overall energy, communication skills, empathy, and more. When we're not healthy, we need more time to accomplish tasks.

Try the following daily routines each morning, recommended for optimal energy:

  • Wake up at the same time every day;
  • Eat your meals at the same time every day or within 30 minutes of your daily planned time;
  • Stay hydrated, by drinking half your weight in water ounces every day;
  • Take a walk, go for a morning run, or try some yoga. You only need 10 minutes for physical activity;
  • Create your to-do list the night before, to reduce stress and improve memory;
  • Prioritise your tasks and time and be realistic;
  • Reflect on at least one thing you're grateful for before you go to bed;
  • Sleep at the same time whenever possible, including weekends.

Keep learning

Continue to grow and develop professionally by attending events in your area of interest, professional conferences, and continuing education courses or obtaining industry certifications such as:

  • the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification;
  • the CIA (Certified Internal Auditor, The Institute of Internal Auditors) qualification;
  • the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) qualification.

This will give you purpose and direction in your professional life, a stronger sense of accomplishment, and orientation towards solutions and goals.

Take an extended break and put your phone away

It's very important for your mental health to unplug from the office for at least two weeks, if possible, once the busy season is over, and do what you enjoy. Take a walk on the beach, go for a run, take in the sun or spend some time with your family and friends.

Also, time management is the key, so ditch time-consuming habits like checking social media or email every 10 minutes. We recommend you to set aside certain times of the day to check your emails and social media so you don't get distracted from achieving your goals.

Connect with people and give back to the community

Social interaction is very important for human beings and can be achieved by engaging in family relationships, relationships with friends and office colleagues, and getting to know other people from different areas of interest. Also, find mentors who can help you identify and activate positive relationships and learning opportunities. Volunteering to mentor others is another effective way to break out of a negative cycle.

At the same time, volunteering your time to support a cause you are passionate about will familiarise you with the community and connect you with people and ideas that will positively impact your outlook. In addition to the health benefits, volunteering gives people a sense of fulfillment.

Work-life balance can seem difficult to achieve for an auditor, especially during the busy season. Working overtime, having tight reporting deadlines, and doing repetitive tasks can affect mental health and increase the risk of burnout.  However, auditing is a profession that offers many opportunities. If you work hard and are determined, your potential is unlimited - because what you do matters to many people.  Auditing is a job where there can be balance if every member of the team is determined, committed, and responsible.