Being a CPA is a great job but can also be a stressful one sometimes. Young CPAs, in particular, juggle multiple tasks at different stages of completion, often for multiple bosses. Busy season’s tight deadlines and revolving-door work flow heighten the pressure.
“As a young CPA, you want to prove yourself, mostly to your superiors,” said Edward Bysiek, CPA, who owns a public accounting practice in western New York that specializes in financial statement assurance services for the not-for-profit sector. That can be difficult, he said, “especially if clients are uncooperative and the work itself is challenging.”
Managing a busy workload and multiple priorities can be stressful no matter which generation you belong to, but young professionals have unique pressures, said Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, executive director of public sector industry solutions for Oracle Americas in Annapolis Junction, Md. It can be especially stressful when well-established teams are in place, but getting to know your office mates at lunch or work gatherings can help.
Ellison-Taylor, Bysiek, and other experts offer the following strategies for reducing stress:
1. Find out exactly what your bosses want from you.
Not having a clear sense of your duties can heighten stress levels, said Ellison-Taylor, who is also an AICPA board member.
“It causes anxiety for young people when they don’t feel like they have full information,” she said.
She encouraged younger professionals to ask questions when they don’t understand an assignment.
“I like to have full information, so I tend to ask several questions on the front end of a task,” she said. For instance, she asks whom she can contact for additional information, how the task was completed previously, and the expected outcome. “I like to know in advance what is considered a good job,” she said.
2. Don’t take on too much work.
Though young professionals sometimes attach bragging rights to being overworked, ultimately it’s not a good idea, consultant Phil Marsosudiro said.
“When I was in my 20s and had a bad cold, my bosses would have to tell me, ‘Go home. Get well. You don’t do good work when you’re sick,’ ” said Marsosudiro, principal of Marsosudiro & Co. “I’ve internalized that message by now.”
Learn to say “no” to impossible deadlines, and be honest about what you can accomplish, he advised. “I’ve learned how to tell colleagues and clients when we have a problem or have to postpone a deadline,” Marsosudiro said.
3. Have reasonable expectations for yourself.
Marsosudiro conceded that he created his own stress in his 20s. He expected to be his firm’s top performer, advance at lightning speed, and draw the admiration of the senior executives. But this mindset led to burnout.
“I had no idea how unreasonable that list of wants was,” he said. “I’d had a long history of lots of people telling me what good goals looked like and a very short history of my understanding that my good goals would have to be my own list.”
4. Create a more relaxing physical environment.
The office environment matters, Ellison-Taylor said. A workplace that’s airy and encourages collaboration will promote the best work efforts—and help reduce stress. To help foster greater productivity and less stress, companies and firms can redesign their offices to increase the amount of light and to make them more open.
5. Don’t forget to exercise—and take some time out from work.
If you’re feeling stressed, your body is signaling it needs some care. Research shows breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, some down time, and moderate exercise are called for, said Emma Seppala, science director at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.
6. Give yourself small rewards throughout the day.
Bysiek suggested that CPAs divide their work into segments and reward themselves for finishing a task. These rewards “might be something as simple as taking a texting break or getting that second cup of coffee, but knowing that you are working toward something achievable in the short term makes the enormity of the entire day much more manageable,” he said.
Sheon Ladson Wilson is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.
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