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Accounting technology: stress reliever or pain in the neck?

by uma

 

With pressure of recession and the threat of burnout at an all-time high, selecting the right accounting automation is vital to enhancing employee retention and job satisfaction.

By Adam Zoucha, MD EMEA, FloQast

At the moment, it feels as though every fresh government comes with its own unique form of economic chaos. And with governments currently arriving like the proverbial buses, that spells a period of extreme pressure for finance professionals, in particular. 

The word ‘recession’ is seldom absent from the broadsheets’ money pages these days, and for accountants that can only mean one thing: having to do more with less, under much greater pressure. Senior management will be watching the numbers with even greater focus than usual. The close process will be more urgently awaited. And staff shortages will most likely be worsened by hiring freezes – or, in some cases, redundancy. 

It’s not a particularly rosy outlook. Finance teams will understandably be looking for ways to lighten the load, and in many cases, that will involve leaning into the ever-evolving world of accounting software. In the last couple of decades, the tools available to accountants have grown increasingly sophisticated and automated, and organisations are faced with a myriad  of platforms and solutions, all promising to be the silver bullet.

Three types of relationship with technology

But are these technology systems actually helping? Our research, Controller’s Guidebook: Is Your Relationship with Technology a Solution to Burnout or a Source of Stress? gives a pretty mixed picture. Far from always getting a net benefit from their tech stack, we found that accountants broadly have one of three types of relationship with their software. 

First, the worst: adversarial, when technology is seen as a hindrance rather than a help. Then, slightly better: routine, when tech is just sort of…there. It does the job it’s asked to but doesn’t improve the accountant’s life. And finally, the best: synergistic, when technology is a true partner and asset.

Only 36% of the accountants surveyed enjoy a synergistic relationship with their technology. A majority characterise their relationship as routine (29%) and adversarial (35%). 

We wrote our latest Controller’s Guidebook white paper, in partnership with the University of Georgia Consumer Analytics Program, based on the perspectives of 217 accounting and finance professionals. Those respondents varied in title, tenure, company size, and IPO status, as well as the various reasons they entered the profession, the characteristics of their job and company, the tools and training they had received, and psychographic and demographic characteristics.  

Battling burnout

Whatever their background, across the board we found that accountants’ experience of technology had one major impact: It affected their stress levels, and particularly, their chance of experiencing burnout. In other words, some accountants are being driven to the edge faster by their tech – and others are thriving because their software isn’t just functional, but intelligent and helpful.

To put that into numbers, 38% of accounting professionals with a synergistic technology relationship have a low level of burnout, compared to 17% of those with a routine relationship and 7% of those with an adversarial relationship. The relationship an accounting professional has with their technology can play an essential role in managing burnout and avoiding its consequences, such as staffing turnover or on-the-job errors, for the professional and the organisation.

Holding out for a home life

But the effects of burnout and the benefits of synergistic tech aren’t just felt in the office. Work stress spills over into our personal lives, and the less effective your relationship with your solutions, the more time you’re likely to spend picking up the pieces at home.

The research found that accountants with a synergistic technology relationship had their personal life negatively affected 1.5 fewer months per year than those with an adversarial relationship and 1.2 fewer months than those with a routine relationship. Put another way, synergistic tech kept the number of ‘stressed at home’ months to around two a year. At the other end of the scale, adversarial tech contributed to home stress three and a half months of the year.

According to a study published in World Psychiatry, when burnout from work spills into accountants’ personal lives, they are more likely to experience fatigue, mental illness, and job dissatisfaction. Clearly, a synergistic relationship with your tech isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s an imperative if leaders want to keep their people and preserve a healthy work environment.

Right first time

Finally, the quality of accountants’ tech experience had an unsurprising correlation with the quality of their work. Accountants with a synergistic technology relationship had to reopen the books 1.4 fewer months than accountants with an adversarial relationship. In other words, when accountants are having to fight their tech, they make mistakes, and are forced to revisit their work.

And that frustration has wider implications. When the close is not accomplished in a timely or accurate way, it becomes nearly impossible for leaders within an organisation to make the correct decisions. At best, they get lucky. At worst, the organisation’s financial performance is jeopardised.

Achieving synergy

All of these insights give a more concrete understanding of what impacts accounting professionals day-to-day – and the direction we need to move in if we’re to grow the number of accountants reporting a synergistic relationship with their technology. We uncovered two key insights that can help companies move in that direction. 

First, using an integrated technology solution. Ensuring your platform connects seamlessly with all your data streams and key frontline systems reduces friction, increases availability of critical information, and removes the negative experience of repetitive, manual tasks. 

And second, ensuring employees understand the purpose and goals of the technology. Don’t lose sight of the fact that tech must serve people, rather than the other way around. Accountants need a product that can lift manual process from their shoulders and ensure bulletproof accuracy. Don’t simply implement a shiny new tool and then walk away. Take the time to ensure finance teams are confident using it, on board with the reasons behind the investment – and able to speak up if it’s not working.

Together, these steps help employees believe in their ability to complete their work, maintain a more positive work-life balance, and perceive greater personal competence and career potential. Companies also win through  more productivity and a happier accountancy team, meaning those all-important skill sets are likely to stick around.

 

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