Date posted: 21/10/2021 8 min read

Try a little kindness… for clients and yourself

If mental or physical stress or ill health is affecting your work, let CA ANZ know and reach out for assistance.

In Brief

  • Many CAs are facing increasing workloads and stress during the pandemic.
  • Mental and physical exhaustion may affect a CA’s work performance, leading to client complaints.
  • If that’s the case, seek support and let CA ANZ know so it can allow more time for a response.

By Michelle Stevenson

As COVID-19 continues to upend ‘business as usual’, CA ANZ members are being urged to be kind to themselves and their clients. Kate Dixon and Rebecca Stickney, leaders of the CA ANZ professional conduct teams in Australia and New Zealand respectively, say there could be a link between the current environment and complaints and investigations.

“We are in an unprecedented time in modern global history, so it’s not surprising that people are struggling with a range of things – whether that’s economic issues, stress or anxiety,” says Stickney.

“It’s not surprising that people are struggling with a range of things... That is having a bearing on our work.”
Rebecca Stickney, NZ conduct leader, CA ANZ

“That is having a bearing on our work, either through members themselves feeling any of those things, or their clients undergoing those kinds of difficulties.”
Stickney says the effects of stress can play out in many ways.

“It might be that clients are having difficulties paying their bills and that’s causing complaints to be made about members. It might be that members are having difficulty keeping up with their work because of what’s going on, and so that’s causing complaints.”

Stickney and Dixon are quick to point out that many accountants are doing more work than usual as they support their clients as best they can in the pandemic environment, while also managing their own commercial realities. Many are helping clients navigate and secure government assistance. CAs are also grappling with staff shortages as travel bans effectively halt recruitment of talent from overseas, as well as other issues such as leading staff remotely and supporting their people through uncertainty.

“One of the most commendable attributes of a CA is their desire to help others,” says Stickney, but she cautions that accountants also need to manage their own risk of exhaustion and burnout.

Alert CA ANZ if you have a health issue

If your mental or physical health has been affecting your work and a complaint is made against you with CA ANZ, it may be tempting to stick your head in the sand and ignore it. But that’s the opposite of what you should do.

“Don’t ignore us,” says Dixon. “If you need more time, or if there is a problem with providing a response to a complaint, let us know.

“If you say, ‘I’ve got a health issue; I can’t deal with this’, then we understand that.

“If you say, ‘I’ve got a health issue; I can’t deal with this’, then we understand that.”
Kate Dixon, Australian conduct and discipline manager, CA ANZ

“Please provide us with some evidence – from a doctor or an appropriate medical professional – and give us a time frame for you to respond, and that gives us something to work with.”

If a complaint about you is referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal, it’s the same approach.

“You will have to talk to us about what is causing the delay and you should provide evidence,” Dixon advises.

“It’s not just complaint investigations – it’s also disciplinary matters. There are probably heightened requirements because it’s at the more serious stage. So the timelines are stricter and you need more evidence to change them. Rather than just saying, ‘I can’t deal with this’, make it specific, provide the information, and show that you’re willing to work with us.”

Have a plan and seek support

Of course, no-one wants a complaint made against them – let alone to have to contend with the Disciplinary Tribunal. So what can you do to alleviate some of the pressure you may be feeling, and better support yourself and your clients, before things get that bad?

It’s important to have a plan and seek support, says Dixon.

“If you’re unwell, it may be that you’ve got somebody you can call on to do work for you, or there’s someone else senior in your practice who can take on your supervision obligations. Or you might have other accountants you can refer your clients on to.

“You can also access support networks – whether it’s the CAAG or CA ANZ’s Employee Assistance Program or your own support networks,” she says.

The CA ANZ discussion groups may also provide some valuable support and networking opportunities, particularly if you have been feeling isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions.

These are networks of members who are involved in like practices or who have similar professional interests.

You should also take the time to really understand your clients’ circumstances and any issues they may be facing. For example, if you send out an annual client questionnaire, now may be the perfect time to review its contents. Are there specific questions you should be asking in the current climate that will help you better understand your clients’ concerns – and address any problems before they escalate?

“The whole community is under pressure and it’s affecting all sectors,” says Stickney. “So be kind to others and be kind to yourself.”

Need help? Call CAAG or check CA ANZ’s resources

The CA Advisory Group provides counselling and support for chartered accountants facing ethical dilemmas or weighing career decisions.

Local panels of experienced CAs offer guidance for fellow members, and can provide you with advice and support on a range of professional and ethical matters.

The CA Advisory Group service is free and all discussions are strictly confidential.

Visit: CA Advisory Group

Call: 1300 137 322 (Australia) or 0800 4 69422 (New Zealand)

Find out more:

Is your health impacting your work?

How CA ANZ members can avoid receiving complaints about errors due to aging, mental health issues or stress.

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The accountant’s mental health first-aid kit

The Counting on U program provides accountants with tools to assist and refer on clients or staff experiencing mental stress.

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Employee Assistance Program

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) will be available to CA ANZ’s Australian and New Zealand members.

Find out more