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Managing Festive Stress: Interview with Cpl Managing Director Lisa Holt

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The latest ESRI study, funded by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), states that job stress among employees in Ireland doubled from 8 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2015.

For many Christmas is a time to relax and enjoy, but for others festive stress at work can be a real problem. Work, stress and balancing family life go hand in hand - particularly at this time of year, where lack of time is one of the biggest stressors.

In light of this, and in anticipation of the Leinster Society Chartered Accountants annual Christmas lunch this Friday which Cpl are delighted to sponsor, we spoke to Lisa Holt, Managing Director of Cpl Finance & Legal,Technology, HR, Sales & Marketing,Retail and Office Support, about balancing work life and family life at Christmas and how to minimise stress, particularly for those in the finance industry.

What advice would you give to those within the finance industry to manage stress coming up to Christmas?

Everyone is under pressure in work coming up to either year or half year end, so expectations are high. While those in the services business are heavily invested in thanking clients, entertainment and business events at this time of year.

In my experience being organised is key. Have a to do list - both at work and at home, have your calendar up to date and try your best to not cancel any bookings or appointments. This will only add extra pressure, as you'll have to add it to your list of things to do the following week.

Deadlines and time pressure are two of the biggest sources of stress in work, how do manage your time efficiently and what advice would you offer others who struggle with this?

Missing deadlines and not following up to get the job done causes the real pressure. Keep to your commitments and follow through on an ask of your boss. Attend all booked in meetings.

From a management perspective, I think it is totally acceptable to remind your team to come prepared. It is imperative if you lead a team or run a business to have consistent meetings with your teams, and to make sure these meetings are productive. Make those meetings count.

Have an agenda, stick to it, send out your actions and minutes and ensure there is follow up. Be direct and precise.

For employers, what can be done to encourage good team morale? What do you do within your team to minimise stress over the festive season?

When you are a leader it is key to be fair but firm. Be honest and open about your expectations. Always communicate clearly and ensure everyone understands exactly what is required. No ambiguity. Encourage people to seek help and support for key projects, its ok to ask for help.

With regards to team morale, saying thank you is crucial. Celebrate every success and milestone and ensure everyone feels valued while reminding your teams of how important they are to the business.

As a leader, you will be privy to all sorts of stresses, but you must be careful not to funnel them down. Don't put the monkey on your teams back but ensure you have left no room for confusion as to what you expect from your team. You have to be the positive one, the upbeat and solution orientated one - if someone is really worried - ensure you make sure they leave the room positive.

It's important to remember that personal stress can have a significant impact on employees lives and therefore their performance at work. The more seasoned and experienced the employee the less likely the impact, but unfortunately the effects are often evident and that is where management support must play a part.

Disagreements, inside and outside the office, can be another cause of stress over Christmas - what advice would you give for managing different personalities and teams at work?

I'm a real believer in if you feel you have to say it behind someone's back then you must have the courage to say it to their face. People get frustrated and there is always some truth in everyone's story, so it is imperative and healthy to talk and get it out in the open.

Have the direct and crucial conversations and move on. It rarely fails to be the right thing to do. It is human nature to push problems under the carpet and avoid confrontation but if you want a healthy happy team and good morale, then issues must be dealt with.

My advice is if it is causing stress and upset get it out on the table and sort it out. Whatever that takes to make it happen do it and however long it takes - it will be so worth it.

Balancing work responsibilities with family life becomes particularly apparent over the festive season, as a working parent what advice would you give for striking a good work-life balance?

It's a challenge! That is the long and the short of it. There are so many elements to effectively balancing family life and work life - the commute, the traffic, the childcare, the juggling, the elderly parents in some cases and the guilt that you are not there enough. Ultimately if you want a career you have to make choices and sacrifices.

As a career woman myself, when I had my first and only child at 41 we had a lot of adapting to do but we were determined to make it work.

I think it is very important to make time to sit down and discuss the realities at home. I am lucky I have a very supportive partner and we make it work. My career means a lot to me, I am ambitious and determined to succeed but it is not without its sacrifices but that is the choice I have made, and I am happy with it.

My other tip is when you work very hard and long hours you must be full of energy and love at the weekends! (With an abundance of patience!)

Christmas is traditionally a time to completely switch off. What advice would you give to those who feel they must always be 'on'?

Here's the good news. Most if not all clients switch off for the 3 days at Christmas, and as it falls on a weekend this year there is even more downtime.

My advice is to make the most of it. Take the time out and be with your loved ones whilst everyone else is. That's the wonderful thing about Christmas most of the world slows down and stops for a few days so everyone can join in guilt free.

We need our breaks to recharge. For management, it's important to check in with their own peers to ensure there is enough cover for the quieter days in the office (when it is open) and to pop in to show support. We should never expect our teams to do something we would not do.

As we approach 2019, what do you see as one of the biggest upcoming trends in Finance / Accounting for 2019? What are the key skills employers are increasingly looking for?

Clients are looking for both qualified and experienced candidates for their vacancies - all rounders with a breadth of experience. A candidate could have all the skillset and qualifications in the world but if she or he is not hands on, it is a disadvantage.

We are seeing a greater demand for analytical and commercial Finance talent. Companies are looking to get more from their employees, particularly in commercial acumen. Excellence in advisory skills in pricing as well as commercial and operations.

What's been the biggest lesson you've learnt this year, in or outside of work?

I guess I have been reminded once again on the importance of these points:

  1. What is measured gets done - or certainly is much more likely to be.
  2. Giving time to your team is imperative, both through the good and bad times. I am always amazed as to how much can be healed and sorted when you give time to it. Listening, advising and coaching, without telling people what to do.
  3. Plan and organise your week so you can spend time with family and friends and exercise as well as work.
  4. Finally, if you believe you can achieve'� I cycled this year with the Dublin Chamber from Biarritz to the Narbonne raising funds for my colleague Libby's son Max who has a degenerative disease. If you told me 2 years ago that would happen I would have said are you mad? But I did it and I loved it and now I am a cyclist (albeit a novice) and I do spinning classes twice a week - any exercise is super for managing stress.

Cpl Finance & Legal

Cpl Finance & Legal is a specialist recruitment firm and part of the Cpl Group. Our 22 expert consultants are qualified in their chosen areas of discipline and have experience working in BIG 4, International Banks, Risk and Compliance and as Wealth Managers and Asset Managers.

They use this experience and training to provide tailored guidance to candidates & clients within their niche specialisms. We work hard to ensure each client and candidate request is managed and delivered in the most professional, yet personable way always.

If you're looking to hire or for a new job in the new year, please get in touch. Happy Christmas & an extra congratulations to the LSCA who are celebrating 90 years this year.