The why of work

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People choose to train as accountants for many different reasons.

‘My passion for accountancy was initially sparked by my self-employed dad running several different businesses throughout my childhood,’ says Chris Gent, operations manager at Clever Accounts Ltd. ‘I was interested in how it all worked and also had a certain enthusiasm for numbers.’

Some feel pressured to choose what their parents deem to be a ‘proper’ career, others are attracted by good salaries and the fact that accountants are highly regarded and in great demand.

These reasons are fine at first, but to be happy and prosper professionally you need something more – a more powerful motivation, a certain driving force, a sense of purpose.

Doing work that matters

Lee Owen, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, believes more and more people now look for a true sense of purpose at work. ‘We live in a world where there’s a lot that needs to be fixed and so we feel compelled to make a difference.’

The coronavirus pandemic, too, has forced us to consider what matters to us most. In the coming months, many will be re-evaluating their choices and some will change direction to make sure their work is not ‘just a job’.

But rather than change careers, why not find meaning in what you already do?

‘Accountancy contributes to society in a big way,’ says Susan Chriodain, mentor to accountants at Beyond The Numbers. ‘It’s the method of translating transactions between people, organisations and governments into a common language. The results and reports enable informed decisions which have impact on individual stakeholders but also on the society at large.’

Owen says that an accountant’s overarching ‘purpose’ differs depending on the type of work they do, the sector they work in and the employer they work for.

‘If you work in industry, your role is an important cog that keeps the wheels turning within your organisation. If you work in a practice, you are supporting several businesses each day with the advice you provide. A high proportion of these may be local businesses, who employ local people and therefore you are playing your part in supporting your local economy.’

Currently, many of these businesses are looking to their accountants to help them get through the coronavirus crisis.

‘With their income being affected by Covid-19, having that reliable point of contact who is familiar with their financials, who can respond quickly and advise on the implementation of the financial support being provided by the government, means a big deal for struggling business owners,’ says Gent.

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Getting personal

This overarching purpose of the profession is the big picture, of course.

‘On an individual level, the meaning each person derives from their work is personal – what is meaningful for me might not be meaningful for you,’ Chriodain points out.

But how exactly do you discover your personal sense of purpose?

‘Appreciating that you work in service of something greater than yourself is the first step,’ Chriodain says.

Then, consider which aspect of your work makes you feel like you are really making a contribution.

‘For example, people who are proactive in seeking to solve problems that help their organisation or clients thrive usually feel their work is meaningful,’ says Chriodain.

Let’s get even more personal – what energises you, what sparks a passion? What does not feel like a chore?

‘What parts of working in finance do you enjoy?,’ Chriodain asks. ‘Does the day disappear if you are doing reconciliations, for example? And which aspects of your work would you do for free if money was no object?’

Remember that your passions outside of work can be translated into the workplace. ‘Do you coach a team outside of work and love it? See if you can do more coaching at work,’ Chriodain suggests.

Shared purpose and values

You are more likely to find meaning in your job if you work for a purpose-driven organisation, Owen says.

A purpose-driven organisation goes beyond making profit to serve its employees, customers and society as a whole. In short, it is a force for good.

Chriodain says: ‘Perhaps you are passionate about climate change and work for an organisation whose purpose is to find ways to eliminate the use of plastic. If so, you have a shared purpose and you can hopefully see that your role contributes to that purpose.’

But Chriodain believes it’s even more important to align your values with that of your employer.

‘Knowing your core values and what you would or would not be comfortable with is crucial. What if this organisation does not allow flexible working or does not invest in staff development or worse still, tolerates bullying or sexism? Even if you can align to its purpose you might not like working there so it would be difficult to perceive your work as meaningful.’

Transfer of passion

A good mentor can help you find your sense of purpose, too.

‘Passion for work can be transferred from person to person and therefore, for people without a spark, it’s in fact absolutely vital that they have a mentor who does,’ says Gent.

Not all mentors have been created equal, so do some research before approaching any one. ‘Many can spout out knowledge to people, not as many can successfully pass the passion to match,’ Gent says.

A good mentor can help you see yourself from a different perspective.

Chriodain explains: ‘They might see something in you that you don’t notice. For example, you might be really good at helping non-finance people understand finance. You might take this for granted and think that because you can do it everyone else can, too. That isn’t the case. You might be the person in your team best placed to help non-finance people understand the numbers. And it’ll give you a sense of purpose if you also learn to appreciate how this contributes to the success of your organisation or to the success of your firm’s clients.’

A mentor can also help you see that you have a choice in how you think about ‘work’.

‘If you view it as something that you can get pleasure from, have fun doing, a way to use your strengths – demonstrate your superpowers! – you will enjoy it,’ Chriodain says. ‘You don’t have to love every aspect of it every day, but if you think of it only as a means to an end, something that just pays your bills, you won’t find it very meaningful.’

Iwona Tokc-Wilde, Journalist

This article was first published in Student Accountant in July 2020

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