Smother Burnout by Streaming Work Around Core Responsibilities

Sabbatical burnout stress stressed relax relaxed relaxation health business concept problem healthyAccounting firms that embrace a career-fluid workplace see less burnout, one of the most insidious forces undermining retention, especially for chronically stretched caregivers.

Burnout is a pressing issue. A 2022 McKinsey Health Institute survey found that 80% of employers offer mental health and wellness benefits, but in the U.S., at least, 28% of employees say they are burning out. The researchers found a “22% gap between employer and employee perceptions, with employers consistently rating workplace dimensions associated with mental health and well-being more favorably than employees.” In other words, bosses found and funded the program and thought the problem was solved…but it wasn’t. 

When firms offer a variety of time-away options, employees can pace themselves to the intensity of each engagement and take the time they need to truly refresh for the next project. Firms have dramatically relaxed control over how much time employees take, why they take it and even when they take it. In the process, they are finding that clients and business partners, facing the same dynamics, are happy to mirror the sustainable pacing. 

Several leading firms, including SAPRO and EideBailly, have elevated mental health benefits and resources to make sure that employees know where to turn if they start to feel their equilibrium crumbling. “Holistic well-being is the cornerstone of SAPRO’s employee value proposition, and it has never been more important for healthy and highly productive organizations to safeguard the wellbeing of their team members,” says chief operating officer Mary Maguire. SAPRO used the traditional employee assistance program as a starting point and created a holistic well-being task force that developed a plan to proactively equip employees with tools to manage mental, emotional, social, physical, and financial issues. SAPRO also hired a wellbeing manager and engaged a therapist who helps team members recognize imminent burnout and douse the spark in plenty of time. (SAPRO is a national sponsor of the Accounting MOVE Project.) 

Sabbaticals are ascendant, with 48% of firms in the MOVE Project now offering them, compared to 28% in 2021. While a centerpiece of SAPRO’s holistic wellbeing initiative is its sabbatical program: a planned, strategic job pause that allows professionals to travel, volunteer, learn a new skill or fulfill a lifelong dream. The firm positions sabbaticals as a thoughtful period, infused with goals and objectives that will benefit the individuals taking it as well as their communities, the firm and its clients. 

In midsummer 2022, during the traditional accounting off-season, 114 employees — about 7% of the SAPRO workforce — were on a one to three month sabbatical. “It helps to restore the energy of a professional that then benefits the firm related to retention, productivity, and innovation,” says Maguire. “And we’re not just limiting it to people who have been with the firm for a while. All team members (as long as they are meeting or exceeding expectations) are encouraged to rejuvenate.” 

Nobody – not younger employees nor seasoned ones – wants to endure the burnout of the traditional workflow, especially during tax season, says Jennifer Doll, Controller at HBE. Employers are trying to intervene in time to offer modified work schedules or other options including relief for extreme stress. For instance, a few HBE employees considered retiring early. Instead, HBE and the employees agreed on taking short sabbaticals. They returned to work, refreshed and with a new expectation for the pace they could maintain. 

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