In March 2022, a University of Georgia’s Consumer Analytics programsurvey noted that burnout is an increasingly prevalent and impactful issue in the accounting sector.
The report titled, Controller’s Guidebook: Burnout in Accounting - Understanding the Problem, Leveraging Solutions, revealed that m% of accountants had at least one month in the past year where the Close disrupted their personal life.
Bryan Lapidus, FP&A practice director at the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), says the pandemic forced Finance to work at a faster pace. This state of work has set an expectation of speed with executives and the business. He warned about potential FP&A burnout as we move from the pandemic to annual planning cycles.
Victor Ng*, regional vice president of Asia at BlackLine, acknowledges that finance is a naturally high-stress job. He points to FP&A professionals as typically pulling late nights during month-end and quarter-end to close their books and do manual journal entries – usually with short deadlines.
During an interview in September 2022, Ng pointed to a Censuswide-BlackLine study which revealed a shortage of skilled finance professionals in Singapore. He opined that a lot of the companies are looking into strategic initiatives, looking into mergers and acquisition, and finance systems upgrade.
“And because of that, that increased addition, additional workloads to all these finance team members, and that just naturally will lead to a lot more stress and burnout at the end,” he concluded.
Top risks associated with burnout
Asked what outcomes can result from burnout, he cited the potential for human error. He noted that manual work coupled with lack of rest and stress can potentially result in errors in reporting numbers that may lead to making wrong decisions or even fines that a company may need to pay towards the end.
Burnout also presents talent retention challenges for the organisation. He cites the repetitive nature of the job may result in low staff morale or staff finding little motivation to stay with the company.
The automation conundrum
To say that digital transformation hasn’t come to the finance function is to turn a blind eye to the efforts by the CFO to modernise the function to solve many of the issues facing the department, including the low morale and burnout associated with repetitive tasks and the long hours at work.
The study, The Future of Automation and Intelligence within Enterprise Finance, revealed that a majority of finance leaders are increasing their automation investments to stay competitive in the face of a tight labour market and rising operational costs.
But the investments may not be widespread enough. Ng pointed out that many finance leaders and CFOs do not know what is out there in terms of how it can help their teams reduce manual workload, for instance.
“And because they don't know what is out there, from an investment standpoint, is not budgeted,” he countered.
He pointed to a Singapore Accounting Commission-Ernst & Young survey that revealed one of the main reasons for the lack of new entrants into finance and accounting professions is that they demand a work-life balance and higher pay.
“It's a whole different expectation altogether with the new generation. On top of that, you have sectors like Information Technology and FinTech giving a much higher salary, better packages and more exciting roles for all these graduates coming out,” continued Ng.
He opined that a lot of CFOs realise that they just can’t hire people out there. They may not go into new technology and live with what they have. This, according to Ng, just leads to increased burnout among existing staff.
How CFOs can contribute to easing staff burnout
For Ng, it is about finance leaders equipping themselves with knowledge and awareness of what is out there and working closely with technology vendors, thought leaders, and consulting professionals so they discover what other organisations are doing to improve finance processes.
He also suggests trying out new ideas and technologies as small projects aimed at solving specific pain points. Solving these quickly, getting the experience, and showing the value of such wins can boost confidence not just among the leadership but within the workforce.
Ng stressed that success is no longer defined solely by technology. It is about mindset.
“You can’t just tell an FP&A professional who has been doing, you know, the excel sheet, managing excel sheet for the past 20 years to just go online and click a few buttons and things get automated,” he cautioned.
He also stressed the importance of working closely with technology vendors to build finance function use cases.
Finally, Ng suggested that CFOs can then align their strategic objectives from a company standpoint, to what the finance and accounting team can be part of.
“In the past, it was how to close the books accurately and give the report. Now it’s about how automation can free up time for the team to work on higher-value initiatives like M&A. This imparts a greater sense of fulfilment. It is not just about money in the end, they can bring and contribute to the company,” concluded Ng.
Click on the VODChat and listen to Ng go into more detail on the following questions:
- What’s causing the burnout F&A professionals are facing?
- What are the risks of employee burnout and how would overall business performance be affected?
- If simplifying and automating work would help reduce the risk of burnout in the F&A team, why aren’t many companies automating their work processes for their finance departments?
- Some audit/consultancy firms have pledged to increase their employees’ pay to cope with the acute labour shortage. Will this help in easing employee burnout?
- How can Chief Financial Officers play a role here? How can they implement automation solutions with minimal disruption to the workflow?
- What are the ways companies can simplify and automate finance work?
* Editor's note: As of November 2022, Victor Ng is no longer connected with BlackLine.