Is Accounting Stressful? An Honest Answer
It doesn’t take a long stretch of scrolling through social media to realize the world is full of potential stressors. While job-related stress is practically inevitable to some extent, it’s understandable if you’re wary of adding more pressure by taking on a high-stress role.
If you’re considering a career in accounting, you’re probably wondering how the stress of the profession tallies up.
If the word “accountant” has you imagining a hunched over, frazzled office worker scrambling to sort out a convoluted invoicing issue, you’re not necessarily off target—but the reality of accounting stress is more nuanced.
There are undoubtedly some stressful aspects of an accounting career. But what does that really mean? Keep reading to explore some of the most common stress factors associated with the role.
What do accountants do?
So how accurate is that imagined view of a stressed accountant? It’s first helpful to look at what the day-to-day of being an accountant looks like. The image of an accountant sitting at a desk and crunching numbers is only right some of the time. But the rest of the time, accountants may be traveling to a job site, meeting with clients, working on an off-site audit and much more.
The overarching job of all accountants is to ensure that a company’s (or individual’s) financials are accurate and follow the appropriate regulations. Accountants are the barrier against fraud, protecting investors, consumers and the company itself. Additionally, they may take on a consultative role as businesses consider critical financial planning decisions.
Myth check: “Is accounting hard or just boring?”
While the premise of this question is flawed—like asking “Are you lazy or just incompetent?”—it does touch on a couple of hard-to-shake assumptions many have about accounting. Is accounting really a dry and difficult line of work? Let’s take a closer look.
Ultimately, the answer to both is subjective. If you’re wary of mathematics, you’ll likely find some of the work (and the academic coursework needed to become an accountant) to be a challenge. But in practice, the mathematic concepts applied to the job rarely stretch beyond using ratios, basic algebra and arithmetic.
Another aspect of accounting that can be challenging is knowing all the rules and regulations and how they apply in specific circumstances. Between the tax code and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), there can be a lot to keep straight—and sometimes the “right answer” is a little murky. However, with a combination of practice and education, aspiring accountants will get plenty of opportunities to learn the rules and know how to apply them.
And while spreadsheets and regulations can be admittedly dry, there are still aspects of the job that can be quite intriguing. Many accountants liken their work to solving a big financial puzzle—they need to sort out the different “pieces” at play before the full picture snaps into place. Accountants and auditors can often act as detectives—even quite literally—as they follow a paper trail and make sense of a client’s financial reports.
Another factor that can add to the intrigue is the fact many auditors will travel to work on-site at client offices. While not every assignment is going to feature beachfront views, the opportunity to travel and visit new locations on your employer’s dime can be a fun factor to keep in mind.
Are all accounting jobs stressful?
With the variety of accounting jobs, you’re probably wondering which types of accounting are stressful. Part of this depends on what you find stressful. For some, that traveling auditor position is a dream, and for others, the travel can be a big downside.
The most common stressor you’ll hear accountants understandably lament is the busy season. After the December holiday season, most accountants will work long hours (and some weekend hours) through April. During this time, the combination of the close of the financial year and Tax Day (April 15) keeps auditors and tax professionals alike busy.
That being said, how busy an accountant is during the busy season depends on the company and specific role they’re in. Public accountants, particularly those working for large firms, will find themselves in the busy season whirlwind, while those in private accounting can work more regular hours—though there may be tradeoffs for end-of-month and end-of-quarter reporting rushes.
All this variety means that if you choose to be an accountant, you’ll have some options for what fits your lifestyle, personality and goals.
What are the perks of being an accountant?
Luckily, being an accountant is not without its benefits. In return for long hours through the winter and early spring months, accountants tend to balance it with more time off during the rest of the year when things are slower. Whether you take lots of three-day weekends in the summer or a long vacation in July, the comparatively slow times do offer an opportunity to recharge.
Additionally, the pay for being an accountant shouldn’t be overlooked. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $77,250 in 2021—solidly above the national average of $45,760 for all occupations.1 Accountants and auditors earning in the bottom 10 percent make less than $47,970, while the highest-earning 10 percent take home more than $128,970.1
Another perk that comes with the profession is the overall stability of the field. While technology has helped automate much of the more menial aspects of accounting, the role remains on strong ground, as there’s a near-universal need for organizations and businesses to keep their financial house in order. According to the BLS, employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 7 percent from 2020 through 2030.1
Is accounting the job for you?
Any job that isn’t the right fit can be stressful, but with all the options in the accounting world, finding an accounting position that fits your goals may be easier than you think. Despite the stereotype, accounting careers don’t have to be relentlessly stressful or boring.
On the contrary, accounting can offer opportunities for travel, office work, stable hours, great pay and even some solid vacation time. If these options sound like the fit for you, and you have an analytical eye, then accounting may be the perfect job. To find out how you can have a career in this versatile and rewarding field, read our article “Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become an Accountant.”
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed July 2022], https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.