Breaking the Year-End Stress Cycle – Part 1: Reduce the Stress

In Financial Transformation by Tamara

Reading Time: 7 minutes

You know the drill; waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, the desperation that comes from knowing that you are just not good enough!

Yep, it’s year-end again.

But don’t worry if you are feeling stressed, the truth is that year-end can be very challenging but it doesn’t have to be.

In this article, we wanted to expand on the latest of our very successful Financial Transformation Live series and delve down into how you can reduce stress and make year-end a doddle.

This is a two-parter. This piece is all about how stress arises and how you can reduce it and our companion article (which will be released next week, follow us on LinkedIn to make sure you don't miss it!) looks at methods of slicking up the year-end process so that you never have to have sleepless nights again.

Before we get stuck in, if you'd like to watch our recent Financial Transformation Live on how you can break the year-end stress cycle, we've included it below - otherwise, skip past and begin reading!

So let’s dive into;

  • Why is it so stressful?
  • Time pressures
  • Accuracy pressures
  • Business pressures
  • Unfamiliarity
  • Uncertainty
  • Pressure to get back to BAU
  • Peer pressures

Why is it so stressful?

Let’s start with a definition because it is important to remember that there is a difference between being busy and stressed.

Busy is like the name suggests, having plenty to do. Sometimes it’s a little more than is comfortable but always manageable.

Stress however is a different matter. Stress is when you feel overwhelmed or as the NHS says “Stress is the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure.”.

Some stress is fine, as long as there’s an end in sight and it can often be very motivational but if the stress goes on for too long then it can lead to feeling burnt out, depressed and generally becoming a lot less productive, which just leads to more stress!

There are a whole lot of reasons why year-end is so stressful and what we don’t want is for what should be a routine part of the accounting year to become a source of pain and to affect your mental health.

Time pressures

Probably the first point that produces stress at year-end is that there can be significant time pressure.

There’s a question to ask yourself here though and this is to ask who is putting the time pressure on you?

Often, as accountants, we can set ourselves goals which are too ambitious or that don’t actually help the business at all.

For example, if the business doesn’t care whether you finish month end on day 30 or day 60, then you need to give yourself a break.

But if the time pressure is external, perhaps from your boss or the directors of the organisation then it may be time to have a straight conversation about what is possible in terms of time, quality or cost. As all project managers know you can have it cheap, good or quick but you can’t have all three!

Accuracy pressures

This is another source of stress that applies particularly to accountants.

The risk here is that you produce numbers that are wrong and you end up doing a prior year adjustment in your statutory accounts which is never a good look.

You may also be reporting up the line to group, in which case there is significant internal pressure to get things right.

The tip here is not to take it all upon yourself. Make sure you get your team to help with sense checking. Get the best writer to proofread your commentary and the most detail-oriented person to go over the numbers with a fine-toothed comb.

Business pressures

There can be business pressures at year-end.

These might relate to the organisation as a whole such as in the case of raising money and buying or selling businesses. There may be deadlines to meet to get information out so that the business can meet its objectives.

Alternatively, there can be personal and departmental pressures. For example, the Sales department, section managers or directors may rely upon the final results to pay bonuses, in which case you may find that you are getting a lot of emails and ‘innocent questions’ in the break room.


Year-end is something that, as the name suggests comes round every twelve months.

Many people might say that this is a good thing, but actually, if you only do some tasks every year then it is easy to forget what you have to do.

There’s also the nagging feeling that as a professional accountant you should know what to do but this is unrealistic. If you only do a job once a year then it is natural to feel some stress from unfamiliarity.


Of course, there’s a lot of uncertainty, both in terms of what the numbers will turn out like and how the process will go.

To a large extent, you are only reporting what has happened but it is natural that you can feel very uncomfortable when you are telling the CEO that the annual profit isn’t what he wants it to be.

And of course, you are managing a department and the progress of year-end and the audit are your responsibility.

Pressure to get back to BAU

There are very few accounting departments that can simply breeze through year-end without it having some impact on Business As Usual. 

The truth is that there can often be a lot of work, a lot of reviews and a lot of adjustments to go through before you get to a resolution.

Peer pressures

This is one of the pressures that we put on ourselves for no apparent reason!

We look at our friends and colleagues in other companies and they tell us that they get year-end done in a month and it takes us two.

And yet intellectually we know that they are a different organisation, with different systems and different people, but we can’t help measuring ourselves against them and feeling like we’ve come up short.


11 ways to reduce year-end stress

So those are the ways that year-end can produce extra stress for us but what can we do about it?

This is the subject of our second blog but here are some brief highlights.

Prep well

If you are well prepared then year-end comes a lot easier. Some of this is about getting things done early (see below) and some of it is about planning and as the Army says “Perfect Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance”.

Reduce uncertainties

Uncertainty is a major cause of stress so look at ways to reduce them. Think about what things have variables and what things can be planned for. Try to reduce the uncertainty at a task level and you’ll find that your stress levels reduce as a result.

Automate where possible

Automation can be an absolute godsend. Whether it is automating the bank rec, PO matching or depreciation journals.

The more you automate, the quicker your year-end will go.

A word to the wise though. Don’t try and do it all in month 11. Automate different services and tasks throughout the year so that when you get to close time, it is all going swimmingly.

Do it earlier

There are some tasks you can get done way before the year-end. For example, you can get your fixed asset register and depreciation journals done in advance.

Each task you do early means that you have more time at year-end to do the ones that can’t be done in advance.

Do it more regularly

If you only do a task once a year not only does it mean that you are unfamiliar so it takes longer but also that it will be a much larger task.

A good illustration here is the bank rec. If you had to do a whole year in one go then it would take forever. So doing it daily or weekly means it becomes a quick job and that you get much faster at it.

The same goes for balance sheet recs, prepays and accruals.

Clear your desk

Not literally but figuratively. Don’t take on any extra projects or get involved in stuff that you really don’t need to be involved in. Dedicate yourself to year-end so that you don’t get distracted.

Although while we are on the subject a clear desk is more productive!

Recognise what is going well

It’s too easy to focus on the negatives in life but you should make sure that you and your team celebrate things that are going well. 

Have a task chart up on the wall and cross things off. You’ll find it’s a great motivator when you're deep in year-end.

Delegate tasks (AKA ‘development opportunities’)

Don’t take everything on yourself otherwise, you’ll soon feel alone and overwhelmed.

Make sure you break up the tasks and get others involved otherwise the stress could become unbearable.

Constructively say no

We always want to please people but sometimes you just have to say no.

If the receptionist comes to you and asks you to review the car parking space allocations or the HR manager wants to have a two-hour meeting to chat about learning and development then you just need to say no, but nicely. Tell them why you can’t and either suggest someone else who can help or book the meeting but for two months' time.

Prioritise your time

Give your time to the things that are important and urgent.

If you have tasks on your to-do list that are unimportant or not urgent then forget them until you have the capacity.

Promise yourself a treat at the end!

You’re not a machine.

Buy some tickets to a show and stick them on your monitor, book a holiday or arrange to pick up your new car after year-end.

You need something to look forward to and this will definitely reduce your stress.

Summary: understanding stress is the start of reducing it

So there we have it, 7 reasons why year-end is more stressful and 11 things to do about it.

Year-end doesn’t need to be stressful but if you haven’t been through it before then you’ll need a toolkit to help you cope.

Check out our Breaking the year-end stress cycle live session here. It’s part of the very successful Financial Transformation Live series so make sure you subscribe.

And a quick reminder to keep your eyes peeled for part 2 of the blog, coming next week! If you follow us on LinkedIn, you won't ever miss a new blog or a new Financial Transformation Live session again! 


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