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November 24, 2014

Investigating stress in accountants and accounting professionals: The story of my inspiration

Musarrat Khalfan, a MSc Management Psychology student at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus, is conducting a unique multidisciplinary piece of research, in which accounting and psychology go hand in hand

My very first encounter with accounting (then taught as book-keeping) was when I was in grade VII. Although I really admired my grandfather, dad and uncle’s profession (book-keeper, auditor and accountant respectively), at first exposure to the content, I totally hated it, and almost immediately gave up the dream of pursuing a career like that of my role models. I later grew to appreciate accounting and developed a passion for it.

Following completion of high school, I went on to pursue a BSc (Hons) in Applied Psychology and Management Studies at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus. After graduating, I took a gap year, where I followed up on my passion for accounting and got some work experience assisting my dad at his audit firm back home. When deciding to pursue post graduate education, I decided to take up the ACCA program full time, while pursuing the MSc Management Psychology part time.

Accountants and accounting professionals have always seemed interesting to me, especially because all the males in my family, starting from my grandfather, right down to my brother, have made careers in this field, and have served as role models for me as a child. A particular incident made me want to investigate the phenomenon of ‘stress’ experienced by the said profession, which dates back to the year 2012. A friend of mine brought to my awareness the death news of a young woman, approximately 25 years of age, who died as a result of acute stress at her workplace.

She was reportedly an auditor employed by one of the Big Four accounting firms. I kept questioning myself at that point about what stress levels she may have experienced, how do we measure stress, and what qualifies as ‘high’ level of stress, what were the possible consequences of this in her life, could she possibly have personal characteristics which could have buffered the effect of such high stress and the like.

While observing my family members in the accounting profession, and listening to their experiences with their colleagues in the profession, I realized that accounting professionals also end up as operating officers as well as information and document custodians that play a more important role in management than their managers/ directors in the organisation. The incident of the young lady and the narrations from my family encouraged me to conduct a study of this nature.

Accountants have been a group researched in various areas of psychology, such as personality, emotional intelligence, work-life balance, as well as occupational stress, to name a few. I believe my study is unique, as it investigates aspects of work psychology affected by stress, caused by work-home interference, and the differences in dealing with this stress which may be brought about by one’s personality. The effect of a cultural dimension- Power distance is also investigated; all in the context of job demands and resources involved in the occupation of an accountant, or accounting professional.

The basis of the study design is the job demands-resources model (JD-R, Demerouti et al., 2001), which predicts that the demands of one’s job (in this case work overload and work-home interference) lead to burnout and disengagement (in simple terms- stress). I further hypothesize that personality of an individual mediates (to some extent accounts for the relationship) between job demands and stress, whereas, job resources (autonomy and decision latitude, social support and power distance) moderate (affects the strength of the relation) between the influence of personality on job stress.

Based on the framework proposed, I expect my results to indicate that the level of stress experienced by my study sample as a result of job demands is high, and while personality may provide some buffer between job demands at work and burnout, social support might have a moderating effect on job demands, whereas autonomy and decision latitude, and power distance may have some sort of mediating effect.

To assist me in achieving my target study group numbers, so as to enable me reach a dependable conclusion, I request you to complete the investigative questionnaire in full. It can be accessed by clicking on this link


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