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burn out artBurnout has a direct impact on the value of a firm, but because it is intangible, it doesn’t show up on the balance sheet. Just like any other liability, it can take down another intangible, your firm’s morale and good will, without you even realizing it. Over the 20 years I have worked with the accounting profession, I’ve met a lot of CPAs who recognize their burn out for what it is; an indicator that they need to reinvent themselves, broaden their horizons and expand their competencies to embrace more interesting work. I’ve also met a lot of tired, burned out CPAs who have resigned themselves to cope with the status quo until they retire.

If you are one of those people who say “just suck it up”, life isn’t perfect or easy, just buckle down and do the work. You might want to consider the economic cost of “sucking it up”.

Here’s what we know:  Every day we are learning more about how our brains work and the impact it has on behavior. For example, when you experience positive emotions, we know that your brain releases endorphins that help boost our immune system and make us feel good. Likewise, every time you experience a negative emotion, your brain releases adrenaline into your system.

This chemical reaction to our environment stems back to our Neanderthal roots where survival was the overwhelming emotion.That fight or flight adrenaline rush that helped us escape the mouth of a saber tooth tiger, in the long run also shortened our life span. Because every time we experience a negative emotion it can take up to four hours to clear all the toxicity from our body. And while we are waiting for that rush of chemicals to dissipate, our body’s ability to heal itself as well as our cognitive skills are impaired.

Now imagine the cumulative effect of a negative response to multiple activities throughout your day. The concentration of toxic chemicals grows and never has time to fully dissipate. Scary, huh? So “sucking it up” once in a while is okay – that is just part of being human, but when you feel yourself “sucking it up” everyday, all day, it’s time for a change.

The signs of burn out can be subtle, take this brief assessment to determine where you stand.

Burn out Assessment
0= not true   1= rarely   2= sometimes   3= frequently   4= most of the time   5= very true

You find it difficult to focus on detailed work that used to be a no-brainer for you.   
You cringe a bit when the phone rings because it usually translates into more work.   
You can’t bring yourself to actively market for the firm, because it will also create more work for you.    
You live for Fridays and get depressed on Sunday nights.   
Clients and colleagues often ask if you are feeling okay?    
Although taking a vacation sounds nice, you already know it will be too short.   
Your patience is a lot thinner than it used to be.    
You have a hard time meeting non-compliance deadlines.    
There are days you drive to work and you are not consciously aware of how you got to the office.    
You hesitate to meet with other clients or team members because it takes too much energy.

Total: __________    

If you scored 35 to 50 points, burn out is likely. It may be time for you to take a cue from the academic community and put in for a sabbatical. Educators recognize the value of giving their people the opportunity to go back to school, travel abroad, or volunteer. It helps people gain a new perspective on their life, their work, and their priorities. Granted, taking a sabbatical takes a bit of forethought and coordination of key responsibilities, but anyone who has been a partner 10 years or more should be able to walk out of the office for three months without major fallout.

Those partners who insist they can’t take the time off, are usually those that have not built up a good support team around them. This is very telling, because partners who don’t have a team around them to pick up the load, are by default, prone to burn out.

If you scored 15 to 34 points, burn out is a possibility. Analyze your time and billing run for a month, rank all your activities based on fun factor. Meet with your team and discuss the areas where you are not having fun to determine if someone else on the team would be interested in, or better suited to work on that particular client or type of engagement. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Someone else might look at your activities as an opportunity to learn something new. However, if no one seems interested in doing the work, then you must get rid it. Otherwise you run the risk of passing on the toxicity to your team.

If you scored fewer than 15 points, congratulations you are doing a good job of focusing your time and energy on activities that fuel your intellectual, spiritual and emotional requirements.

So what is the economic impact of burn out? Insert the word impaired for burn out and consider the impact on quality, accuracy, reliability, consistency, communication skills, empathy for others, patience and so on. There is a good reason why we don’t let people operate machinery when they are chemically impaired by drugs or alcohol. And yet, when impairment presents itself in the workplace, we tend to ignore it. After all, we are not talking life and death here. Right?  Maybe not, but we are talking about the health of our people, the organization, the clients we serve which all impact the balance sheet. Right?

Summer is a natural time to evaluate your clients and responsibilities and the impact they may be having on your health and the value to the firm. It’s also the natural time to train and hand off work to others. It’s good for you and it’s good for your team.

Here’s why; Many young people site that they feel undertrained and therefore experience fear and frustration about their performance on a daily basis. That fear causes impairment. So while you are taking care of your own burnout, take care not to be the saber tooth tiger in the life of your team members.

Sit down with your team, have everyone take the Burnout Assessment. Talking about it can go a long way toward fixing it. Ask the team when they experience negative feelings and help them get the training and support they need to build their confidence. The more honest you can be with your team about your burnout, the more likely they will be to deal openly and directly with their own. All this leads to a happier, more productive team, that adds value to the bottom line.

Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to:

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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