Happy New Year. We hope all of our clients and colleagues, their families, staff and firms had a great break over the Festive Season and have returned to offices ready to go for the year ahead.

The past couple of years have probably been some of the most challenging in memory for our various generations. We are hearing much about our overworked medical and health professions, and I have seen several practitioners concur and say ‘we hear you’. More than ever before, practitioners have had to be mindful of the emotional and mental wellbeing of their staff in addition to their work and professional requirements. Working from home has represented some unique challenges for firms to navigate, with some staff thriving in such environments, whilst others struggled. As staff return to work, that too is requiring further planning and consideration on the part of firms.

So, I don’t know whether it was just me, however everyone that I spoke to in the lead up to the Festive Season seemed to be limping to the end of the year. Staff and practitioners alike were simply exhausted, seemingly more so than normal. It was a matter of what ‘HAD’ to be completed prior to a well earnt rest. Some firms were even notifying clients that their work wouldn’t be attended to until the New Year unless it was received by a specific date.

There has been much written about how working from home has encroached on the work/life balance of staff, with it more difficult to delineate between work hours and personal time, often with personnel contributing increased hours to the job. I suspect this is particularly so within accounting firms where many clients required additional assistance with the various State and Federal grants and assistance.

In addition to staff and partners being busier than ever, and thus not taking their usual leave, we have also heard from firms that their staff have been reluctant to take leave due to the inability to travel, in particular overseas; because ‘they can’t go anywhere interesting’. If it hasn’t already, this will require firms to also be mindful of, as well as manage, burnout.

It may also mean that at some stage in the not too distant future, you may find personnel applying for extended periods of leave to make up for the travel that hasn’t taken place of late. How will your firm manage this? What would happen if several of your personnel all requested extended leave at the same time? How would you fill the gap? Perhaps one approach to planning or pre-empting this is to review who within the firm has more significant leave owing? Are these personnel big travellers? If so, this might identify who is more likely to be seeking longer periods of leave.

Experts are telling us that firms will need to accommodate the increased desires amongst staff for a better work/life balance, for real this time, or risk staff turnover. For some, that has been via giving staff ‘mental health days’. For others, this has been via being more flexible about working from home and work hours.

So, as we approach the end of the first month of this calendar year, perhaps it’s worth stopping and looking around at your team. Are they ready for the year ahead? Are they rejuvenated? Are you rejuvenated? If not, what can be done about it? Firms certainly can’t continue as they have. As you look forward and plan to continue to manage work from home requirements and the like, it may also be worthwhile considering how to continue to manage the mental health and burnout of your tribe.

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