5 pandemic lessons and how to apply them to your career

The challenges of the pandemic may be an opportunity to add new career skills and habits.
By Hannah Pitstick

IMAGE BY AKINBOSTANCI/ISTOCK
IMAGE BY AKINBOSTANCI/ISTOCK

The past two years have been challenging ones, to put it lightly. Making it through is an accomplishment in itself. But if you reflect on how the pandemic pushed you to evolve, you might uncover some lessons that could help improve your life and career going forward.

"The pandemic was an inflection point for everyone, and reflection is good for growth no matter where you are in your career," said Annie M. Yoder, CPA/CFF, principal at Rea & Associates Inc., a public accounting firm with offices throughout Ohio. "We can learn from the past, including the last two years, and change our behavior to have more fulfilling careers and impact those around us."

Regardless of how long the pandemic lasts, it's worthwhile to take a moment to pinpoint how you have grown or adapted to the difficulties it brought about. Here, accounting professionals consider how they plan to apply what they learned to improve their personal and professional lives.

YOU'RE MORE ADAPTABLE THAN YOU THOUGHT

Times of crisis tend to test our limits, and this pandemic has surprised many of us with how adaptable we can be.

"Sometimes you have to be pushed against a wall to really figure out how much power you have," said Bridget Kaigler, CPA, CGMA, president at Bringing Leadership Back LLC, a leadership consulting firm based in Baton Rouge, La. "We are stronger than we think, and we have so many talents and gifts we didn't even realize we possessed."

Many accounting and finance professionals have had to make a rapid shift to remote work, figure out how to present and network virtually, and balance the increased demands of their personal and professional lives. Take a moment to acknowledge that you survived a very difficult couple of years and consider how you can build on that adaptability going forward.

Charles E. Davis, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., professor of accounting at Baylor University in Texas, recommends making a habit of stepping outside of your comfort zone, even during times of "normalcy." For example, you could volunteer to be involved in the implementation of a new program or system at work, raise your hand to lead a project, or request a stretch assignment outside your normal scope — anything that takes a bit of courage and forces you to become more adaptable.

BUSINESS AS USUAL MAY NOT HAVE BEEN THE BEST WAY

During times of relative calm, we are less likely to challenge assumptions or question whether our current processes could be improved, according to Davis. The pandemic has made many things worse, but it has also revealed a few advantages to remote and flexible work that might be worth carrying over into a post-pandemic workplace.

Kaigler and Yoder pointed out that remote or hybrid workplaces can allow organizations to access a larger talent pool and client base, reduce travel and rental costs, increase autonomy for employees, and allow for more seamless work/life integration.

"Things don't have to be the same as they were pre-pandemic," Kaigler said. "Use this to your advantage, and create something that is going to benefit everyone."

As organizations consider how they want to operate post-pandemic, Kaigler recommends gathering input from all levels of the organization and deciding which aspects of remote and in-person work to keep or discard.

"Let's throw all of the ideas out there — nothing is too far-fetched," she said. "This is a great opportunity to reduce your turnover and not only retain your employees, but make sure they're happy."

THE PROFESSION IS EVOLVING FASTER THAN EVER

The pandemic accelerated change for the accounting profession, simultaneously highlighting the importance of technological innovation and advisory services, according to Yoder.

"For public accounting, what impacts our clients ultimately impacts firms," she said. "We were all forced to implement technology at a faster rate, as well as analyze our processes, procedures, and systems to ensure they were effective in a remote/hybrid environment. The pandemic also continued to separate those that are investing in innovation from those that are not."

At the same time, clients increasingly turned to practitioners for support throughout the pandemic, as they navigated emergency relief funding, tax changes, and economic uncertainty.

"Accountants were well positioned to help clients through the pandemic, including supporting them through the multiple layers of funding and credits," Yoder said. "The pandemic confirmed that trust is imperative to our profession and, in many cases, helped practitioners build deeper levels of trust with their clients."

Kaigler recommends firms and practitioners embrace cloud-based storage, automation, and other technologies so they can concentrate on value-added services, such as helping clients make smart business decisions, mitigate risk, and navigate change.

IT COULD BE TIME TO REASSESS YOUR PRIORITIES

On a more holistic level, the pandemic has forced many of us to rethink our priorities and the way we live our lives.

"In certain ways we have had to rediscover our basic values, what we want in life, what makes us happy, and how we relate to our loved ones," said Georg Kell, chairman of the board at Arabesque, an Anglo-German investment management firm, and founding director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative. "Cultivating your inner core is very helpful and gives you the backbone, the stability, and strength you need."

Kaigler recommends setting aside time for a "discovery session," which can involve reflecting on your current strengths and weaknesses, your values, the things you enjoy doing, and which direction you want your career path to go in the coming years. After this discovery session, she advises putting together a road map with "mile markers" in order to figure out the next step you need to take to align your career path with your passions, values, and priorities.

During this time of reflection, you might realize that you simply don't have the bandwidth to continue doing everything that's on your plate, and you may have to opt out of a few things to focus on what matters most to you. For example, Kaigler decided to let go of some of her board appointments, not because she didn't believe in their missions but because she simply didn't have the time.

"There are some things I just had to let go of because I just didn't have the time to devote to [them] anymore," Kaigler said. "I think the virus made us reassess our priorities and gave a lot of people the 'out' they needed to align their purpose with their careers."

VULNERABILITY AND EMPATHY ARE STRENGTHS, NOT WEAKNESSES

Although many of us experienced increased isolation over the course of the pandemic, we also caught unvarnished glimpses into the lives of our colleagues and clients and, perhaps, connected with them on a deeper level than before.

"Our profession tends to be very analytical, and that's OK, but to connect with people you have to be vulnerable in some way," Yoder said. "You have to be willing to say, 'I don't know,' or 'This is where I failed,' and that's often not easy, but I think vulnerability allows the folks around us to relate and connect with us, which ultimately builds trust."

Yoder argued that the ability to empathize with others and a willingness to express vulnerability are positive traits that we should continue to develop beyond the pandemic. She recommends making an effort to reach out and help colleagues more often, and, when someone asks how you're doing, consider being a bit more honest and admitting when you're having a difficult time.

"The past two years affirmed that we are in a people business, and skills such as trust, empathy, clarity in communication, and connection are needed in crisis and moving forward," Yoder said.


About the author

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Andrew Adamek at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.


AICPA RESOURCES

Articles

"Say 'Yes' to Saying 'No,'" JofA, Nov. 2, 2021

"How CPAs and Employers Can Support Mental Health," JofA, Nov. 1, 2021

"The Pandemic Pushed Us Forward. Let's Keep Evolving," CPA Insider, April 26, 2021

"Promoting Resilience Helps Firms and People in Turbulent Times," JofA, Aug. 20, 2020


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