For many, 2020 will have been the toughest year they have ever faced. On top of an already stressful job, they have felt the strain of national lockdowns and prolonged periods of remote working. They may have lost clients, while those that remain pile on the pressure as they struggle to remain afloat. Even government funding and support will have added to their already heavy workloads, writes CABA service director Kelly Feehan

Although there is now hope following the approval of the first Covid-19 vaccine, there will still be challenges in 2021.

Quarter one is already a busy period for the sector, with the self-assessment tax deadline and year end. However, many will also be impacted by the new rules and regulations imposed as a result of Brexit. And with many jobs at risk, there is a growing sense that ‘only the strong will survive’, prompting staff to work harder and longer to ensure job security.

In short, the impact of the pandemic will continue to be felt for many months to come – and in many different ways.

Redundancies and unemployment

Accounting has been just one of several sectors to suffer job losses. Since March, the number of payroll employees in the UK has fallen by 782,000. As a result, there are widespread feelings of uncertainty; even those who have not been made redundant feel the need to prepare for all eventualities.

However, ICAEW analysis suggests that there actually have not been as many redundancies as expected. Employers appear largely to have learnt from previous recessions that mass redundancies create problems further down the line, opting instead to keep people on and weather the storm. The same has been said for students. It is predominantly new students who have not been offered or had their training agreements deferred. Those already in the process of doing the ACA qualification have remained employed.

That said, we do unfortunately anticipate further redundancies when the furlough scheme ends in March, coinciding with the financial year end in early April.

Career prospects and progression

It is not just a case of losing jobs. The pandemic has had an impact on accountants’ career progression, with individuals missing out on promotions, pay rises and bonuses that they had been assured at the start of the year. Many will have lost their career confidence, and will need support to feel motivated and get back on track.

Some will even feel trapped in their jobs, with less freedom to move elsewhere. This group may be feeling the strain of picking up extra work for colleagues who have been furloughed or made redundant. They could also be under financial pressure. Even if they have kept their job, their partner may have lost theirs, making them the sole earner in the household and more averse to taking risks with their career.

Career prospects will be a particular concern for newly qualified accountants, who have been working extremely hard for many years to gain the ACA qualification and now do not know if the opportunities are still there for them.

Career change

For many, 2020 has given the time and space to reassess. Research from the ONS shows that 28% of UK adults are planning huge life changes once society has recovered from the pandemic. Making changes to their work was the most popular response (42%), followed by changes to where they live (35%) and their relationships (38%).

For instance, we could see a rise in accountants looking to leave the profession or improve their work-life blend with reduced hours or early retirement. At CABA, we are seeing this through our support enquiries, with more people accessing P&P coaching or taking a career break to decide what they want to do next.

Mental health and well-being

The past year has had a significant impact on accountants’ mental health and wellbeing, with some firms reporting that levels of stress and pressure are off the charts. Sleep, stress, anxiety and resilience appear to be the key issues. This is reflected by the most popular search terms on the CABA website over the last three months, which include mindfulness, sleep, resilience and anxiety.

ACA students in particular have been feeling the strain as they try to study and maintain a full-time job, often whilst working from their parents’ home or rented accommodation. Likewise, all the social activities they would normally look forward to have been taken away due to the pandemic, leaving them at risk of feeling stressed and isolated.