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Three Chartered Accountants talk to Accountancy Ireland about what worked and what didn’t in 2020, and the changes they have made to ensure success in both their work and personal lives in 2021. As we moved into 2021, so did the pandemic, lockdowns and working from home. Three members of Chartered Accountants Ireland – Larissa Feeney, CEO of Accountants Online; Maeve Hunt, Associate Director at Grant Thornton; and Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB – describe what made their 2020 difficult, how they overcame those challenges, and what they hope to change this year. Goal-setting and disconnecting Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online, has found that making realistic goals and not loading up her task list has kept her going during the pandemic. As a company, we were lucky when the pandemic hit as we were accustomed to remote working and automation, but adapting to working from home during a lockdown is challenging for everyone. I put a routine in place from early on: get up at 6.30am to do some reading, yoga and meditation before going for a walk. I am ready for work at 9am. If I keep to that routine consistently, it keeps me focused for the day and on an even keel.  Every Sunday evening, when I am relaxed, I set out all my weekly goals – both work and personal – and there is a great satisfaction to ticking those off during the week. At the start, I tried to motivate myself by putting lots of things on the list but that only served to make me feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious, so I ensure the list is realistic and follows SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) principles. All my weekly goals contribute towards my monthly goals, my annual goals and my five-year goals. I know that I have higher energy in the early part of the week, so I take on the harder tasks during those days.  I have three children at home, so homeschooling means that you can’t give both home or work life 100%, but we are all doing our best. We have to go easy on ourselves and know that we cannot operate at the same level as before the pandemic, but we will get back to those levels one day.  To disconnect, I read in the evenings – but books that are good for the soul, rather than the business and leadership books I read in the mornings. Walking and getting out in the fresh air always helps. At home, a different person makes the lunch and the dinner every day and we take turns to pick a family movie to watch together.  Apart from ‘getting back to normal’, what I would like to change this year is the further evolution and development of the team and further investment in automation and innovation. Personally, I will continue to work on the home/business divide, which can always do with improvement. Stick with a routine in 2021  Maeve Hunt, Director of Audit and Assurance at  Grant Thornton, first thought the same day-to-day routine would get her down, but it has proved to be a winning habit.  When the pandemic hit last March, we scrambled to leave our offices and head home with monitors under the arm (quite literally) to enter this new way of working. For many, it was a balancing act of working at home in shifts and looking after children. For others, it was an isolating moment in time with no one sharing their working environment. What we needed was a new ‘routine’ of working. Is there a word that is more uninspiring and dull than ‘routine’?  It is a word we want to escape from. We want to travel the world and hide from routine, and seek exciting new opportunities. Can we be creative if we are in a routine?  If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s that routine may be dull, but it is familiar and dependable. A good routine has been key in order to live a somewhat enjoyable and productive working and personal life through the pandemic.  What worked for me was starting my working day earlier, taking an extended break in the middle of the day to ensure I homeschool my five-year-old and play with my two-year-old.  Inevitably, this meant working at night but I found that the shorter, focused periods of work I was completing actually made me more productive. That became a good motivator for me. What I found most challenging in that first lockdown period was how easy it was to go from day to day without talking to another member of my team. I quickly realised that the part I loved most about my job, and missed most during the health crisis, was collaboration.  Scheduling a daily chat with a member of the team has really helped with this. These social calls have helped me disconnect and give me energy for the rest of the working day.  So where do we go from here? There are many things I would change about the last year, but I think I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sticking to a routine that offers a bit of variety. It may not be the traditional working day in the office, but it is all about balance.  It is ensuring you disconnect in the day and take extended breaks. The beauty of working at home is the ability to get back time, cutting out commutes, inevitable down time and unproductive moments in the office. Use this time! Use it to clear your head, go for a walk, read a book, play with the kids. You will be all the more productive for it. A few tweaks to that dreaded routine, which we believe kills all imagination, might end up providing us with enthusiasm and energy for our daily life.   The importance of connections and disconnection  Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB, has gone into 2021 wanting to reconnect with his colleagues and knowing the importance of leaving work behind at the end of the day. I was fortunate in that I had been able to work from home a few days each month before the COVID-19 crisis, so it wasn’t a completely new experience to me. However, there’s a big difference between doing it occasionally and working remotely on a permanent basis.  From the start, I’ve made sure to form and try to keep a daily routine, similar to what I did when I was in the office. I get up at the same time each day, try to start and finish at the same time, as well as taking breaks and lunch around the same as I would have done in the office. I have found that really helps to maintain some sort of difference between work and home.  Working on my own all day, I do miss the social interaction of work. At the start of the pandemic, like most, I tried group zoom calls and quizzes but, as we all know, it’s hard to have group discussions via video call. Instead, I now make the point of scheduling a short video call each week with a colleague or friend to have a coffee and a chat and that does help keep in touch with people. I’m fortunate to have a spare room to work from so I can close the door in the evening and try to leave work behind. However, it can be difficult to switch off when you’re just walking from one room to another at the end of the day. The commute between the office and home was useful to disconnect from work-mode and I do miss that break between home and work. I now take a short walk in the evening after I finish work. That 20 minutes really helps me to disconnect. Plus, my dog is delighted with all the walks he is getting these days.

Feb 09, 2021
News

2020 presented leaders and their teams many challenges, making boosting morale more important than ever. Learning how to praise your staff is an essential skillset. Fiona Flynn tells us how. Giving praise might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering business leader duties, but praise has been shown to have a direct impact on business results. A Gallup poll found that people who received “recognition or praise for doing good work” are also responsible for a 10% to 20% difference in revenue and productivity. Employees who reported that they are not adequately recognised at work were three times more likely to quit in the next year. As we move through Q1 and into Q2 of 2021, many managers and organisations are completing the annual review process. This can be a painful or powerful task. Unfortunately, managers can unknowingly undermine employee performance during this process. According to research from the Corporate Executive Board, line managers directly influence many key drivers of employee’s performance, improving or destroying performance by up to 40%. Giving praise authentically has many benefits for the indivdual, team and organisation. It creates a positive workplace climate with higher levels of trust, improved problem-solving and innovation and a postive impact on the customer experience and net promoter score. How to give praise There are a few things to keep in mind when acknowledging employee accomplishments and giving praise. Be genuine Ensure the message is delivered with genuine conviction and authenticity. Be specific Clearly articulate what behaviour is being recognised – solving a problem, using their initative, collaborating with another department. Recognise how the behaviours reflect company values, purpose, and business. Be consistent Use praise as part of regular one-on-ones between you and employees, and not just once a year at the review. Be spontaneous When you receive feedback from others about your employee, or see a positive behaviour – pass on the praise. You don’t need to wait for a one-on-one or review session. Send the email or talk to them immediately. Recognise behaviours Don’t just focus on the end results of great performance – praise the behaviours that contributed to that result, as well. Smart actions on the part of the employee won’t always end up as a business win, but you want to reinforce that what they did was the best option. Ask open-ended questions and listen Encourage and praise employees for sharing their insights – this encouragement can cultivate discretionary behaviour and problem-solving culture within the whole team. Offer praise, even amidst failure Praise your team members even when, despite their best efforts, things don’t go as planned.  It is at this time that praise can have the most impact. It can boost morale and get the employee’s mindset back on track. Use it as a coaching and learning opportunity. Review the process and identify what they did well, what they learned and what they would change the next time. Set clear goals and expectations Be sure that the goals given to the team, as well as your expectation in meeting those goals, are clear. This ensures that praise is transparent, and people don’t feel excluded. Praise is a powerful tool that can be used to support and stretch team members. It will improve their self-confidence and morale. It is a particularly useful technique when implementing change – new processes, systems, etc. Identify and praise the individuals who are leaning in and adopting the change. That can have a ripple effect to encourage others to also do well. Fiona Flynn is a Director of Montauk Consulting.

Jan 29, 2021
News

Career conversations can be nerve-wracking at the best of times; adding the pandemic and homeworking into the mix makes it even more challenging. The way to crack this, says Louise Molloy, is to think through the problem rather than just about the problem. It’s that time of the year when career discussions abound. While this is always an anxious time, with COVID-19 and working from home added to the mix, I’m hearing about fear of being seen as negative, complaining or not supportive when there are legitimate concerns about promotions and upward mobility. This results in frustration and disappointment as teams fail to have the conversations needed. Having sat in both the reviewer and reviewee’s seat, and now coaching clients in this area, I’m reminded of Simon, an ambitious and capable guy who was keen to progress. His boss was relatively new to the organisation and, while he met targets, he struggled to get buy-in from the team and their stakeholders. Simon was full of ideas on how to restructure the team to allow more room for collaboration and creativity, and he was willing to take on more responsibility to deliver this. Previous discussions were taken as personal criticism by his boss, so Simon felt unable to raise the issue again without being seen as unsupportive. Sometimes when situations get emotional and we feel scared or rejected, we fail to see it objectively. He told me that the company needed results, innovation, and good engagement. So, putting on that company ‘hat’, Simon had to consider a few things: How can I contribute more? What is the work that needs to be done – for the company; for the team; for me? The key here is to be honest with yourself and ignore experience or everything you think you know about the company/culture. Imagine I’m the team leader – what do I need to achieve? What am I afraid of? What is my biggest challenge? What allies do I have and need? Really think about your team leader as a person within a system and how it feels to be in that situation. How do I need to present my view of how I could contribute and the work that needs to be done to meet my boss’ priorities and challenges? Reframing what you want to say in this way helps build trust and buy-in, showing you recognise and respect your boss’s position. What do I want to achieve in the session? This conversation is only the beginning, not the end. Share observations on where projects didn't go well (with supporting evidence). Make constructive suggestions, such as starting a working group with different people from various departments, so you can ensure alignment and best ways of working. After considering the above four points, Simon decided to put together a working group comprising members of his own team as well as people from other departments. By doing this, he revised the reporting process, improving quality, freeing up resource time for more innovative insight sharing. He got great feedback, leading to more delegation from his boss. It took a while to get promoted, but in the meantime, his working life had changed. He was happier, more influential and had a clearer view of how he could move his career forward. The questions above are designed to challenge you to think the problem through rather than just think ‘about’ it. This, in turn, will change how you will feel about the conversation ahead. Rather than a battle, it will feel more like you and management are in it together. Remember, if you always do what you always did, nothing changes. So, give it a go. Challenge yourself to answer those questions and see where it leads you. Louise Molloy is a director at Luminosity Consulting.

Jan 29, 2021
News

"Ah, sure, it'll be grand" is an expression widely use in Ireland. Sometimes, however, your staff really do need help. Damian McCourt emphasises the importance of listening to your employees and offering support when they need it. “This is ridiculous,” I said, staring at the influx of work in dismay. “I’m never going to get through all this.” It was 2013, and I was a project manager with far more work than was good for me. I was feeling panicked. My manager looked across at me, shrugged his shoulders in a what-can-you-do sort of way, and announced, “it is what it is”. I put my head down, kept my mouth shut, and proceeded to work myself into a burnout. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had just been ‘minimised’. Talking about our mental health is never easy. Even if your workplace encourages open discussion on mental health, the desire to appear capable, competent and – above all – strong can be a severe deterrent to asking for help. As a result, it often falls to the manager to ask if someone is okay. This is difficult even at the best of times. It requires planning, privacy and a careful, non-judgmental approach. Try doing this over Zoom with your locked-down kids, and you have a genuine challenge. The good news is that if you’re a careful listener, you won’t even need to initiate this conversation. People ask for help all the time – they just don’t make it obvious. Seemingly off-the-cuff comments on energy levels, mood and workload sometimes hide a call for help, and you can respond in one of three ways: Shift the conversation to you “Oh, I’m up to my eyes too! Wait ‘till I tell you what I had to deal with last week…” Shifting the conversation back to you isn’t helpful but it’s an easy mistake to make as a manager, especially if you’re feeling slightly stressed yourself. Do it often enough, and people will stop talking to you. Minimise the situation “Ah, it’ll be grand. We’re all in the same boat. That’s just the job. Man up and get into it.” Minimise is a put down, pure and simple. Everyone else is OK so you should be too. Pipe down and get on with it. For someone who is already worrying about their ability to cope, you’re doubling their anxiety by dismissing their concerns. Not only are you being supremely unhelpful, you’re giving yourself a harder conversation later on. Offer support “Are things really bad? Anything I can do to help?” We would all like to think that we’d be the one to offer support, and yet we all live with our own concerns and priorities. It’s easy to miss an opportunity to help. Remote working tools can actually make monitoring the health and wellbeing of your staff easier. Keep an eye on your Teams chat and watch for clues in email conversations. It’s easier to ask if someone needs help than if they are okay, and your offer of support might make all the difference. Damian McCourt is a freelance trainer and consultant specialising in workplace resilience, productivity and sensible leadership.

Jan 22, 2021

A huge portion of the global population has adapted to working from home (WFH). Initially, the main concern for employers was productivity, but now as WFH has been extended, a bigger risk is employee burnout. For many, working from home has been thrust upon us and not a choice, so adapting quickly was essential. Employees who have chosen to work from home are usually good at separating their work from personal life and have a dedicated space. As WFH is likely to be extended, it is important to know and understand the risks and avoid burnout.Our knowledge economy ensures we are constantly connected, and keeping healthy boundaries between professional and personal life can be a real challenge. Emails are often sent late at night just to finalise or meet a deadline. This can have a trickle effect and other employees then feel it necessary to show similar dedication and productivity. Another consideration is colleagues often feel compelled to respond to emails sent outside normal office hours straight away, even though it may not be urgent.  If you have been feeling exhausted, disconnected, finding yourself procrastinating, and feel less effective in your job you could be suffering from burnout. Combining our work and personal life constantly is not good for our mental health. How do we ensure we protect ourselves and our colleagues? How can we leave our work at the door if we no longer walk out that door to work? The best way to do this is to create some boundaries. We have five tips to help you WFH successfully:1. Keep physical and social boundariesWhen going into work there are certain physical actions you do like putting on work clothes, catching the bus, or a train to work, these are indicators that help you switch into work mode. You may be happy not to have your daily commute, particularly if the weather is bad outside, but these signals are important for our brain. Try taking a short daily walk in the morning as your commute and dress comfortably but do try and wear some work clothes and not your usual casual wear for home. This will help you transition from “home you” to “work you”.2. Maintain a structure which worksSticking to the usual 9 – 5 pm structure may not be realistic for you, particularly in the current pandemic, you may have additional responsibilities e.g. a child at home or an elderly parent to check in on. Be honest with your employer and agree to a structure that works for both of you and stick to those hours. Employers and supervisors need to take a flexible approach to the working week to achieve the best productivity and a happier workforce.3. Prioritise your workloadEmployees working from home can sometimes lose sight of this basic time-management principle. Instead, they focus on productivity and demonstrating to others they have been very busy. Draw the focus back on work ,,and prioritise your workload. Do the important stuff first. Block out time appropriately if possible, it will make you more productive.4. Stay connectedIf you were working on-site, team communication is relatively easy, but we need to find a way to keep that connectivity so use the tools available to make it work. A team that remains connected it more motivated, driven, and productive.5. Celebrate your winsPaige Cohan from Harvard Business Review recommends that at the end of each day you celebrate your wins. Working from home is challenging, so by acknowledging what has been achieved it will focus your mind and help to motivate you.  Take a look at her at her short video  If you found this article interesting Noel O’Callaghan FCA and a qualified psychotherapist gives some insight into how to deal with burnout.CA Support is here to support our students, members, and their families. Contact the CA Support team on mobile: (353) 86 024 3294 or email:  casupport@charteredaccountants.ie 

Sep 10, 2020
News

Burnout has been creeping into our workplaces and greatly affecting our lives, even before COVID. Noel O’Callaghan outlines how you can identify burnout and manage your work-related stress.Increasingly, we are hearing about how workplace stress is on the rise, especially where work and life both feel uncertain and unpredictable. In a new survey from the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School, 60% of employees in Ireland are feeling more stressed since the onset of COVID-19. As we become so ingrained in the day-to-day routine while meeting the needs of employers or customers, we can miss the alarm bells warning that what was a somewhat natural and manageable stress is now morphing into burnout, something considerably more serious. Work culture seeks to identify and label what they call ‘high achievers’ but, unfortunately, delivering more and more with less and less is often the only criteria needed to earn the distinction. Day to day, month-end to month-end, quarter-end to quarter-end, the relentless pace of work makes it seem impossible for someone to put their hand up and say, “Stop. I need to rest”. If you combine this with a personality that is wholly-committed to doing a good job, has a fear of failure, or is unsupported either at work or at home, then you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive stress or burnout.Signs of burnoutWhat are the tell-tale signs of burnout? Burnout can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of detachment, or a feeling of never being good enough no matter how much you deliver. Are you:terrified of going to work every day?always tired?disinterested in participating in hobbies outside of work?getting little enjoyment in anything and no motivation to seek it?feeling stuck, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel?(Sometimes these can also be accompanied by unusual physical aches and pains.)These are just a few of the more common red flags, but it can be different for everyone. The great news is that burnout is treatable. Taking breaks, knowing your limits, and watching out for situations or people that elevate the stress can help. However, there are also huge benefits gained from working on your relationship with work. I-It and I-ThouMartin Buber, a theorist and 19th-century Austrian philosopher, suggested that humans have two approaches to the way we interact with people, things and nature. One is an ‘I-It’ approach where we objectify whatever we are dealing with and seek to get as much out of it for ourselves as possible and the other is an ‘I-Thou’ approach, where we turn to the subject as a partner and seek to relate more to it for the mutual benefit of both parties. There is a recurring theme that I see is in relation to how people interact with their career and the workplace. A pattern emerges over years whereby one relates to their career, work or co-workers from an I-It standpoint, viewing it as a means to an end, which can cause the relationship with work to become so unhealthy that people become ill. Having a more constructive relationship can alleviate the symptoms of stress and burnout and instil a sense of nourishment into the workday. We should aim to shift the relationship from I-It to an I-Thou and think of work as something to be engaged in, enjoyed or experienced.  Noel O’Callaghan FCA is a qualified psychotherapist. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact the CA support team at CASupport@charteredaccountants.ie.

Sep 04, 2020