By Randy Crabtree, CPA

Are you feeling tired all the time? Are you having frequent negative thoughts about your work and questioning why you became an accountant? Are you not caring as much as you used to? Is your efficiency slipping lately? If so, you may be suffering from chronic stress. If left untreated, chronic stress can lead to burnout, depression, and a host of physical issues.

If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone.

  • According to a study by the University of Georgia (UGA) and FloQast, an accounting software company, most accountants (99%) suffer from burnout, exhaustion, feelings of inefficiency, and alienation from their jobs at some point.
  • A recent study by AICPA and PWC found that more than half (51%) of team leaders in accounting and finance feel symptoms of professional burnout.
  • More than half of accountants surveyed (56%) by The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), were suffering from stress and burnout, compared to 41% of employees in other sectors.

Don’t treat this as a badge of honor. Chronic stress can also have adverse physical and chemical effects on your brain. So, if you keep telling yourself: “I just need the power through April 15th and then everything’s going to be fine, you’re just fooling yourself. I should know. Ten years ago, I almost let the stress of my job kill me. It wasn’t until I had a stroke at age 51 that I finally got the help I needed and made the necessary changes to my work and personal life.

Stress vs. Mental Illness

While stress, mental illness, and depression are all serious conditions, they shouldn’t be lumped together.

Mental illness is a condition that adversely affects a person’s thinking, feelings, behavior, or mood. These conditions deeply impact day-to-day living and may affect the ability to relate to others. Stress by contrast is not a mental health condition. It’s a feeling of emotional or physical tension, such as having too much to do and insufficient time or resources to do it. Stress can be triggered by any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. However, if left untreated, stress can lead to burnout, which can lead to mental health problems like anxiety and depression over long periods.

Short-term stress is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. Short-term stress causes us to avoid danger or meet an urgent deadline. But you can’t have these adrenaline-aided bouts of hyper-productivity day in and day out for months or years. Your brain and body aren’t equipped to be in overdrive all the time; sooner or later, it will break down. That’s where burnout comes in.

results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Three dimensions characterize it:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job.
  3. Reduced professional efficacy.

Here are some common reasons why we may feel burned out:

  • We think we need to help everyone
  • We know the problems and want to fix them
  • Working harder and longer to catch up
  • “I’ll just do it because it will get done faster.”
  • Never-ending deadlines and client-chasing
  • Bad clients (non-paying, rude, late)


My Story

Tri-Merit, the firm I co-founded was growing incredibly fast during its first decade. It was exhilarating, and I was burning the candle at both ends trying to be the managing partner running the firm and also the chief rainmaker bringing in the business. It got to be too much – way too much — but I kept trying to power through it until I had a stroke at age 51 and then a second stroke four days later. For the next five years I suffered from PTSD, panic attacks, depression, and feelings of hopelessness.

It was not until I stepped away from day-to-day operations, get very serious about taking care of my physical health and found a talk therapist that I finally got back to being my old self, but it was a long road back. As CPAs, we tend to be obsessive about details and want to try to control everything so it’s in perfect balance. But that’s not who life – or business works. My therapist finally helped me realize that I couldn’t control everything in my life. She helped me get control of my negative, spiraling thoughts.

Many of you reading this column keep telling yourselves: “I have to put more hours in; I have to work harder. If I’m going to be able to catch up to this never-ending to-do list, I just have to power through.” And so, we’re send messages out all night long. We’re looking at emails at three in the morning and setting unrealistic expectations. But that only causes things to snowball until you end up quitting or having a mental or physical breakdown like I had – or worse.

Steps to reduce personal stress

  1. Time management. Start taking control of your calendar rather than always reacting to client phone calls, emails, and unrealistic demands. Carve out quality “focus time” to get your high-value client work done. You can have a to-do list that’s 300 items long. Instead, identify the top three priorities for today, this week, this month, etc., and just concentrate on those Top three.
  2. Learn to disconnect at the end of the day. As Brian Kush, CPA, PCC recommends: Bookmark your work at the end of the day. Create an “instead plan.” Perform mental and physical shut-down practices. Set your priorities for the day ahead.
  3. Take frequent breaks. Research shows that humans can only focus fully for four to five hours a day. Your brain needs rest during the day so take frequent breaks and let your brain clear. It’s not just the evening when you go to sleep.
  4. Self-care: Don’t sit at your desk all day long, and don’t eat at your desk. Eat right. Get plenty of exercise and rest. Meditate. Go for walks during work hours and leave the phone behind.
  5. Help others on your team. As my friend John Garret, former Big Four auditor, podcaster and author of What’s Your And? likes to say, it only takes 40 seconds a day real personal interaction with somebody on your team to make them feel valued and appreciated. Also, if you’re a manager, stop modeling unhealthy work habits such as:
  • In early, leaving late, working weekends.
  • Sending texts, emails, and Teams messages at all hours.
  • Setting unrealistic expectations


Rethinking your practice to reduce collective stress

  1. Prune your client list. Get rid of the clients who are stressing you the most or aren’t profitable.
  2. Ditch the time sheets and stop selling hours. Change your billing strategy to focus on deliverables and client outcomes.
  3. Automate as much as you can and delegate as much as possible.
  4. Stop trying to do everything. Develop strategic relationships with people who have expertise that you don’t have.
  5. Bring a mental health coach into the firm.


If you’re a firm leader or manager, don’t let anyone on your team feel ashamed to ask for help dealing with feelings of burnout, stress, or just simply anxiety about not keeping up. If you can show others at your firm that’s it’s okay to be honest and vulnerable about an issue you’re dealing with, then it just reassures people that it’s okay for them share with others something they’re dealing with. Throughout my career, I’ve seen how firms in which employees support each other perform at a higher level and have much higher retention than firms in which it’s every man and woman for themself.


When it comes to mental health, ensure everyone at your organization knows it’s okay to ask for help. It’s one of the best ways I know to recruit, train, and retain the best talent in our profession. Contact me for my Mental Health Awareness presentation or to receive a complimentary copy of our Burnout Balance Sheet workbook.

Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer, and host of “The Unique CPA” podcast.