WHILE many industries and professions have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, accountants can be considered more fortunate as we have been less severely impacted.

This is perhaps due to the role that accountants continue to play during turbulent times – serving public interests and supporting the preparation of reliable financial information, leading to trust in the capital markets. Technology too has been a pivotal enabler, allowing many home-bound accountants to carry out their duties despite a certain level of disruption.

Imagine a lockdown where there is no internet, Zoom calls or electronic data transfers. The financial and capital markets would have probably grounded to a halt.

Despite this privileged role of accountants in the wider economy, working from home over a prolonged period is not easy. We are no more immune to the consequential psychological effects than our friends and families in other industries and professions. Over the past year, I have interacted with many fellow accountants who have been psychologically affected, ranging from mild cases of lethargy and Netflix-binging, to more severe ones of isolation and depression.

It has been 16 months since the first lockdown began and I too have experienced several “down” moments. This has been an unprecedented experience for me and many others. However, one of the consistently uplifting reminders for me is when I anchor back to “purpose”.

Finding purpose at work

There is a common saying that when we are lost, we feel like a hamster on a wheel, furiously churning it, but somehow not getting anywhere. Then the blame game begins, whether it’s other people, circumstances or just bad luck. And quickly, things can spiral out of control.

Now this takes practice, but I find it helpful not to be trapped in this “tunnel-vision thinking”. Take a step back, as it is important for all of us to be able to see the forest for the trees.

For accountants, the big picture reminder is that we are more fortunate than many others and continue to be in employment. This may not necessarily be because we are good at what we do, but because many depend on us for our purpose – which is to uphold trust in the capital markets.

Let’s not waste the fortunate position we are in and the duty we owe to our colleagues, clients, regulators, investors and others in the wider society.

This important reminder works for me and, as a result, I get that extra “oomph” at work.

Finding purpose outside work

I have a confession. I never watched Netflix prior to March 18, 2020. Since then, I have done my share of Netflix-binging.

Personally, I find it easier to find purpose at work. The work-from-home arrangements are rather confusing to me. Am I working? Or at home? When do I switch on? Or off?

I prefer to completely switch off in order to clearly distinguish between work and home and, as a result, finding purpose outside work is more difficult for me.

Whilst Netflix-binging was a good release, over time, I have come to the self-realisation that it is just not a productive use of my time. Similarly, I found the same trigger of “purpose” to be a simple yet useful motivation to help me outside work.

The good news is that outside work, we can also define what this “purpose” is. For example, we can decide to improve our fitness, or learn a new skill, be a better parent or child and/or even help those in need. On this note, I am particularly impressed with a colleague, Harun. Since March 18, 2020, he has decided to take up running after work and has managed to improve his fitness level by shedding nearly 20kg and completing 20km runs in less than two hours.

In conclusion, I’m reminded of the following:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” – Theodore Roosevelt

It is evidently clear that many of us are facing difficulties at varying levels. But let’s not give up on ourselves. Instead, let’s continue to fight and be reminded by our friend – “purpose”, so that we can be better at work and outside of work.

This article was contributed by The Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA) council member and Ernst & Young PLT assurance partner Datuk Megat Iskandar Shah.

The views reflected in the article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the global EY organisation or its member firms.

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