Preventing & Reducing Burnout in Finance Departments

Published on May 16, 2023

Burnout at work, both within and without the finance industry, is common in modern America, with a healthy percentage of the workforce frequently experiencing burnout or job-related exhaustion. For example, in a recent employee well-being and mental health survey by Aflac, 59% of workers indicated experiencing at least “moderate” workplace burnout.

This ongoing tension can lead to unfortunate medical and psychological consequences and drain company efficiency, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

Are you concerned that you or your employees are experiencing burnout in the finance industry? Here are signs to look out for and some ideas for what you can do to help.

Note: This article addresses burnout in the financing and accounting departments. If you’re looking for resources regarding personal finance burnout — the burnout that can occur when managing your own finances causes you to grow despondent or withdraw —please see these resources by Experian and the Harvard Business Review. 

What is burnout?

Coined in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, the term “burnout” was used to describe the frequently-observed negative consequences — such as exhaustion or difficulty coping — caused by a combination of severe stress and high ideals common to “helping” professions (predominately in medical fields).

Over the years, the term has gradually de-emphasized the routine self-sacrifice of health services and expanded to cover all industries and non-work-related stressors, such as caring for a sick family member.

With so much evolution in the term, “burnout” isn’t the easiest thing to define. However, the United States National Library of Medicine — part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — has noted that most accepted definitions identify at least three common symptoms: exhaustion, alienation from work-related activities, and reduced performance.

This definition variance is likely why the World Health Organization (WHO) — in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) — asserted that burnout should not be classified as a medical condition but should instead be considered a “workplace phenomenon.” In this same revision, the WHO offered what is likely the most broadly-accepted definition of the term:

“Burn-out is a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Three dimensions characterize it:

    • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
    • increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
    • reduced professional efficacy.”

What makes a career in finance and accounting so stressful?

The level of workplace stress that most employees feel is highly dependent on their employer’s corporate culture and management style. However, finance and accounting departments regularly identify higher levels.

According to a survey of finance and accounting employees conducted by London-based fintech LemonEdge, 31% of respondents indicated that they were planning on leaving the industry due to high stress. And a similar 33% stated that post-pandemic work changes had caused an increase in burnout, with 14% indicating that this increase was “exponential.”

The respondents also indicated that the most common sources of this heightened stress included:

  • Heavy workloads (42%)
  • Time-consuming manual processes (36%)
  • Long work hours (32%)
  • Tight, unforgiving deadlines (26%)
  • Increasing demands from management (25%)

Signs of burnout in finance and accounting

1. Low morale

If good news is met by your accounting teams with little to no enthusiasm or outright cynicism, you might have a burnout problem. Commonly, when employees are invested in and motivated by their work, corporate successes are seen as a source of pride and joint accomplishment. But when your staff is apathetic to the overall performance and health of the business, something needs to be fixed.

2. High turnover

Recalling the LemonEdge study, high stress and associated burnout frequently result in workers seeking new jobs, employers, and industries. So if you’re witnessing steady or increased churn in your finance or accounting departments, you might begin conducting exit interviews — or even better, discussions with your remaining workers — to isolate what is specifically resulting in such high levels of dissatisfaction.

3. Decreased performance

A happy worker is typically productive, at least if you’re inclined to believe in joint research conducted by Erasmus University, Oxford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This study found that employees who identified as “happy” with their workplace environment were 13% more productive than their more unhappy counterparts. And conversely, actively dissatisfied workers could have been more effective.

4. Health issues

As previously mentioned, increased stress and burnout have been linked to a broad range of medical challenges, including but not limited to the following:

  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Physical and mental exhaustion

From a company perspective, burnout will often manifest as increased sick leave or paid time off (PTO) as workers are sidelined by these conditions or proactively take a mental health day to avoid being overwhelmed.

Why women in finance are more likely to face burnout

Women in the workplace regularly combat gendered expectations, expend more effort on important but unrecognized work, and more frequently bear the mental and physical load of home-related activities and needs. These pressures can lead to exhaustion, discouraging female managers and workers and disincentivizing their overall engagement and job satisfaction.

In a recent Deloitte study, 53% of female respondents indicated that their stress levels had increased between 2021 and 2022 (the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond). Similarly, 43% indicated they were facing burnout, and 33% had taken time off to deal with mental health challenges. Male workers reported lower levels for all of these challenges.

According to the 2022 Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, women in positions of authority are not immune to increased burnout. In more detail, 43% of surveyed female leaders indicated that they were experiencing burnout, while only 31% of male leaders were affected.

Part of the reason for this disparity was that, on average, more women (37%) than men (27%) had experienced a coworker taking credit for their work. In addition, according to the 2021 version of the study, female leaders were twice as likely to spend “significant” time on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts — a priority for many modern businesses. However, management often ignored these efforts, with 40% of respondents indicating that their extensive DEI efforts were ignored during performance evaluations.

Referring to the Deloitte study, 50% of female workers also claimed to have experienced some microaggressions. In contrast, in the office, 14% had experienced harassment —  such as unwanted physical contact or constant disparaging comments. But, again, men experience these issues less frequently.

How to reduce and prevent burnout among your accounting teams

1. Automate

The finance and accounting departments are responsible for a unique balance of strategic responsibilities and day-to-day monotonies. These workers must be consulted and integrated into growth or critical business shift discussions. However, these same teams are often responsible for monotonous, manual tasks like rekeying invoices or searching through file cabinets for payment records.

By automating your accounts receivable (A/R) and accounts payable (A/P) tasks, these more routine responsibilities can be offloaded to technology, allowing your team to focus on more engaging and rewarding efforts.

For comprehensive automation guides, see Invoiced’s guides on how to automate accounts receivable and how to automate accounts payable.

2. Communicate

It’s difficult for management to fix a problem if they’ve never heard about it. However, routinely addressing concerns and expectations with your supervisor can help address potential causes of burnout before they can fester.

Conversely, managers and executive staff should regularly seek feedback from the workforce, focusing on what might be needed to improve job quality and employee satisfaction.

Addressing your finance team’s high churn and low morale could be as easy as updating software or restructuring an incentive plan.

3. Delegate

If one of the causes of your workplace stress is too much work to do, look for areas where you can offload some of those daily to-dos responsibly. For example, are there any tasks that you could shift to a peer or direct report? It may require additional training, but flexibly distributing workloads across teams and departments can help avoid overwhelming any given staff member.

4. Reconsider your position

It’s natural for priorities and needs to shift over time, and it’s entirely possible that the role or career you’ve carved out no longer works for you. While it’s impossible to change jobs every time an issue at work comes up, if you’ve done everything you can to try and address workplace stress and haven’t felt heard, a change of scenery could be just what you need.

5. Practice self-care

When addressing burnout, it is critically important to prioritize your well-being. Given the overlap of symptoms between burnout and depression, it is sometimes easy to overlook underlying mental health challenges or medical issues, attributing existing difficulties to workplace frustrations or stresses. If you’re going through burnout at work, consider consulting your doctor to explore and treat any health issues that may have arisen due to burnout.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are depressed or are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, know that you are not alone and that help is available. Please call or text “988” to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, where you can find free and confidential emotional support 24/7.

Invoiced: Your Solution for Automating A/R, A/P, and More

As you begin to excise burnout from your workforce, it’s wise to focus on the easy victories first — the opportunities to improve worker satisfaction quickly and dramatically. Automation is one of the simplest yet most effective mechanisms to reduce workloads, improve performance, and avoid process headaches.

If you’d like to see what automation can do for your financial operations and personnel, check out Invoiced’s Accounts Receivable Automation software and Accounts Payable Automation software. And to make it faster and easier for your business to pay vendors and get paid, consider our E-invoice Network.

While automation can’t fix every aspect of burnout in the financial industry, it can free up you and your team to address more entrenched issues. From the Invoiced team to yours, we sincerely wish you the best on your journey to reduce burnout in your workplace.

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Published on May 16, 2023

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