Survey Results: Stress!
Setting the scene
It seems that stress – ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’ strikes everywhere and pretty much everyone at some time in their life.
So prevalent is stress that medics across the globe have termed it the “epidemic” or the “disease” of the 21st century – with certain life circumstances such as a divorce, moving house, a bereavement, or loss of job deemed to the biggest causes.
Yet, taking these events out of the equation, to what extent could life at work also be a huge factor in the nation’s stress? For this year’s research, CareersinAudit.com investigated to what extent stress is taking hold of accounting and governance professionals in different areas of their careers and how bosses are responding to the plight in the workplace. The global study of accountants, auditors, risk management, compliance and cyber security professionals aged 18–65 looked at a range of issues, including how stress symptoms have manifested at work, the causes, how stress could be alleviated and potential obstacles to overcoming the disorder at work.
As always, the annual research report (now in its eighth year) includes our year-on-year trends around when people in the marketplace are going to actively look for a new job, the reasons for doing so, what would make them stay, how many would consider working abroad and if so, what are the current destination hot spots? This year we compare the past 7 years of data to provide some very interesting trends for 2017.
Section 1 – Stress
The silent but prevalent disease at work
More than a third of all respondents (37%) admitted that on a weekly basis, they are suffering stress as a direct result of work. This statistic rises to more than half of accountants suffering at least once a month. So extreme is some work related stress that 15% revealed they have been signed off work because of it.
Yet, despite the majority are prone to stress on a regular basis, six in ten sufferers have not alerted their line manager. More than a third (38%) were quick to brush away this saying the reason they hadn’t alerted anyone senior was ‘because everyone gets stressed and I don’t want to bother him or her’. Others also stated ‘that it’s more the case of how they personally manage stress or it’s something I need to work on – not my boss’ or accepting that a tense state of mind and being is just ‘part of the job’.
Indeed, an additional three in ten accountants believe that raising stress as an issue could have a detrimental impact on how their co-workers and bosses regard them. A further ten per cent believed they could either lose their job or wouldn’t get the promotion if they aired their stressful feelings with their line manager.
The caring and sharing profession?
What happened when sufferers did alert someone in the workplace? Shockingly, a third admitted that ‘nothing happened as bosses didn’t want to know about it’ or they ‘made jokes that I was on leave already’ or ‘said it was part of the job’ or ‘they did nothing more as the company hadn’t approved the HR budget’.
That said, there is some reassurance that some senior managers do care, as nearly a quarter (24%) who were made aware of an employees’ stress sat down and worked through how their workload could be delegated. A further quarter reported that they were either told to take a day or two off or were provided with free counselling, mindfulness or another therapeutic treatment.
How stress manifests itself in the workplace
Whilst stress can be perceived as the silent disorder in the workplace, it seems many sufferers can directly identify physical, emotional and mental symptoms associated with it. More than a fifth (who suffer or have suffered stress) reported low energy, a further 17% reported headaches, 16% reported mood swings and 13% reported insomnia. Others reported panic attacks, stomach ulcers, weight gain and binge eating as well as lack of concentration.
Why is there such a stress epidemic in the profession?
In the age of the better ‘work/life balance’ surely stress levels should be on the decrease rather than on the rise? According to our research, nearly half (48%) believe that the main cause of their stress is that there is simply too much work and not enough hours in the day. More than a quarter (27%) believe it is due to company politics or a boss or a line manager who they do not get on with – which goes some way to explain why some of the those suffering stress do not feel able to discuss this with their co-workers or managers. Others believe that at the core it is down to poor management practices, unrealistic targets and the pressure to do other people’s work.
What can employers do to support stress in the workplace?
With two thirds of respondents admitting that their company does not do enough to support stress, there is a clear call to action for bosses to do more to alleviate the situation.
Nearly a third (32%) want someone in a position of responsibility at work to listen to their concerns, whilst a further 22% would like their workload reduced. Others, it seems, are prepared to suffer the affects of stress as long as they are remunerated with working longer hours. Whilst nearly a quarter (23%) would prefer to work at home or be given counselling. Others elaborated by giving other solutions which included;
- Hiring more staff
- Fixing IT issues
- Looking at office design
- Management that actually walk the talk
- Better transparency and open communication
- Creating a working culture which removes the stigma of stress
Does the 9-5 really exist in 2017?
There was a time when the typical working day for an accountant, audit or governance professional (and indeed many other jobs and professions) was considered to be eight hours, with an hour’s break for lunch. Yet is this really the case in 2017? Half of the respondents admitted that on average they are working 8-10 hours a day, with a further 23% working between 10–12 hours a day. Worryingly 10% reported they are working at least 12 hours or more every day, leaving little time for relaxing with friends, family or other social/leisure activities.
Time at work isn’t also restricted to the traditional Monday to Friday working week. More than a quarter admitted that they often work at weekends with a further 11% working most weekends, and a small sample (3.5%) saying they work every weekend of the year. A fifth had worked 10–20 weekends over the past twelve months, with a further 14% working more 20–30 weekends over the past year and a tenth revealing they had worked more than 30–40+ weekends in the same time period. With the pendulum clearly weighted to work in the ‘work/life balance’, we can begin to see a clearer picture how this is fast becoming the disease of the 21st century and the profession. But why is stress at work getting worse?
Expectations of bosses – the blurry line of work and down time
Even for those who do manage to get away from the office, time out does not mean complete time out. Nearly two thirds (65%) revealed that their employer expects to contact them outside of working hours and the majority, 54%, admitted that it bothers them and they feel they should be able to finish the working day and focus on their private life when not in the office. However, three in ten are resigned to their work fate, stating ‘there is nothing I can do about it’ and a further 21% believing that if they said anything it could affect their job or chances of promotion.
High days and holidays?
Perhaps then, there is some respite when employees take annual leave – whether this is a staycation, lying on a beach abroad or going on an adventure holiday. Surely this time-out can provide the opportunity to recharge their batteries and forget about their work for a week or two? However, three quarters of respondents admitted that they check their mobile phone or emails for work communication whilst on holiday, with 40% stating that they look multiple times a day and a further 37% saying that they check once a day.
Such is the seeping of work into private life, that six in ten respondents admitted that they have had to miss an important family or friend’s occasion because of work – these included a wedding (24%), a children’s school event (22%), a funeral (14%) and a spouse’s/partner’s birthday (15%).
Section 2 – Stay or go?
Should I stay or should I go?
“A job for life” is a career term which is now firmly bedded in the 20th century. Such is the mindset of the 21st century accountant and auditor, that the majority are now looking every few years (and some more often) for new and interesting opportunities to enhance their career. Whilst many seem content to remain a little longer (certainly longer than their 2010 counterparts where nearly two thirds were looking for jobs within six months), the majority of 2017 respondents (53%) admitted they plan to look for a job within the next six months, with nearly four in ten already actively looking for a new role.
Whilst the top reason for the change (25.9%) is ‘wanting to work abroad’, there has been a marked decrease from 2016 when 35.6% cited this as their reason for moving. This could be in part due to various political uncertainties sweeping the landscape – such as Brexit. The second top reason for moving (rising by 4% since 2016) is that the lack of pay rise or promotion. When respondents were asked ‘what could make them stay?, unsurprisingly nearly a third (32.5%) said a payrise or promotion, yet nearly a fifth (19.1%) stated that they require a better work-life balance (up by 2% since last year). Taking into account the stressed out lives of many in the profession, perhaps the latest results reveal an upward trend to those seeking to regain the balance in their lives.
When will you look to find a new job?
What is the main reason for looking for a new job?
What could make you stay?
Career destination hotspots
In an increasingly global marketplace, opportunities to work abroad have naturally opened up for the profession. As a result, seven in ten respondents would consider moving abroad for their next job, although there has been a decline compared to previous years when eight in ten in the profession had expressed interest. Year on year, regions such as North America, Western Europe, UK and Australia and New Zealand top the poll as the most attractive career destinations and regions.
Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, the UK has remained a desired career hot-spot. The same cannot be said for the Middle East – back in 2010, respondents cited the region as their second most popular destination. Year on year, popularity has been steadily waning – between 2010–2017 it has dropped by 11%.
The top reason, by far, if they were to move for work abroad is to secure a better work life balance (31%) followed by better career progression (19.9%) and simply needing a change (18.2%)
What would be your main reason for moving abroad for work?
Despite many admitting (and resigned) to the fact that stress is part of their working lives, there is a strong call to action for bosses to make changes to create a better work-life balance for their employees and in turn reduce potential stress levels.
As our research reveals, many suffer in silence – some fearing it could impact negatively and potentially hinder their chances of a promotion or even result in the loss of their job. Even when sufferers spoke up, a third of senior management did nothing to alleviate the stress. Whilst some companies clearly demonstrated they care by allowing days off, therapeutic treatments or counselling for their staff – surely there is a responsibility to look at the real causes of the stress epidemic in the workplace?
Those in the profession are at risk of being burnt out by the daily toll of long work hours, working weekends regularly and the majority engaged with work even on holidays.
Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing so that not only is there a culture where there is stigma attached to stress but there are enough employees to managed all the workload.
If the status quo remains, bosses could find many not only leave the company, but get on the first plane in search of a better work life balance.
To download a PDF copy of the 2017 'Stress!' survey results, please click here.