Date posted: 14/12/2017 5 min read

Survey shows younger accountants most stressed

Accountants who are younger or female or who work for a law or consulting firm suffer the most stress, according to a university survey.

In Brief

  • Accountants suffer moderate levels of stress.
  • Younger and female accountants suffer the most stress.
  • 52% report moderate mental health, 45% flourishing mental health and 3% languishing mental health.

By Dr Carly Moulang and Dr Xinning Xiao of Monash Business School.

A recent study was conducted by Monash Business School on practising Australian accountants to measure their levels of current stress and wellbeing. 

The role of accountants has always been associated with occupational pressures and it is likely that the complexity of such roles is increasing. The impact of this has the potential to lead to high levels of stress, which can impact the wellbeing of accountants.  

Monash surveyed 260 professional Australian accountants who have a professional membership and/or at least five years of accounting experience. 

Those working for a consulting or law firm report significantly lower wellbeing scores...and the highest levels of stress.

Wellbeing was measured overall to determine whether the mental health of individuals is flourishing, moderate or languishing. Psychological, social and emotional health were also measured. 

The average participant was 43.36 years old with 22.34 years of work experience. In terms of stress, moderate levels of stress were recorded. Further interesting findings are:  

  • 45% of accountants report flourishing (excellent) mental health, 52% moderate mental health and a small percentage, 3% languishing mental health (see Table 2). 
  • Age and stress have a significant negative correlation – the older the participant, the less stress they record. The highest reported stressed age groups are 30 – 50 years old, with those between 30 – 34 years reporting the highest level of stress. These years are often deemed ‘mid-career’ and come at a time when family responsibilities are also demanding. 
  • Work experience and stress are negatively correlated - more work experience results in less perceived stress. Younger, less experienced accountants experience more stress than older, more experienced accountants.
  • Women report significantly higher levels of stress.
  • Stress and wellbeing are negatively correlated – the higher the perceived stress, the lower the reported wellbeing overall and also the lower the psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. 
  • The average stress level of an accountant is 7.2 out of a potential score of 21; This stress level is considered as ‘mild’ and is higher than reported norms for stress which sit at around 5.16 (Crawford et al. 2009).

(Table 1. Recorded levels of stress according to age)

Females have significantly higher levels of wellbeing health compared to men. Age and years of work experience do not differ significantly between those with flourishing and languishing mental health. On the whole, this appears to be excellent news for the accounting profession and reflects a very positive view on the mental health of the profession.  

Looking at components of mental health, accountants report highest in their levels of emotional wellbeing, followed by psychological wellbeing and lastly social wellbeing. However, reported means for each of these range from 3.9 – 4.9 out of 6, indicting satisfactory ratings across each mental health aspect. 

(Table 2: Measures of wellbeing: this table indicates the frequency of reported wellbeing by Australian Accountants.)

Monash also examined if wellbeing and stress vary according to the type of company where accountants are employed. Those working for a consulting or law firm report significantly lower wellbeing scores compared to other groups. This group also report the highest levels of stress. 

Accountants working for retail companies enjoy the highest levels of wellbeing and lowest levels of stress, although not to a statistically significant extent. 

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On the whole, stress levels of accountants appear to change as they progress from one age group to another, with those between 30 and 50 years facing higher rates of stress. On average, the profession reports moderate levels of stress. Despite this, mental health and wellbeing is very positive across the profession. This insight into the health of the accounting profession is both interesting but also serves as a benchmark for future studies. 

The Monash research was conducted with financial support from CA ANZ. Levels of wellbeing are determined by criteria set in the Mental Health Continuum (the short form version was used in this study).  

Dr Carly Moulang (PhD, Grad Dip Psychology (Monash), CPA) is a Senior Lecturer in Department of Accounting in the Monash Business School. Dr Xinning Xiao (PhD (ANU)) is a Lecturer in the Department of Accounting in the Monash Business School.

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