Coping with stress in the work place

Chances are once you start your “professional career” you will encounter stressful periods of time at work. For accountants, busy season is January – May/June (sometimes longer depending what clients you are on). Stress is inevitable, there is a lot to do in a little amount of time, and some people (myself included) have a hard time coping with it.

I would categorize myself as a stressful person. I always have been and always will be. This past year I would say my stress level got to the absolute worst they could be. Part of it was work related, and part of it was just life. Things happen. Stress can be paralyzing. It can be debilitating to the point where you actually cannot continue to function. For me eating becomes the biggest struggle, and for some sleeping becomes impossible.

Letting yourself get to this point isn’t healthy. I was able to recognize that I was at a point in my life where I needed to change something, I couldn’t keep living with this much stress and anxiety. In my experience the following tips have proven to help me decrease my stress levels and continue on at work, or just life in general.

1. Breathe – As silly as it sounds, stop what you are doing to take a deep breath. A simple breathe in and out can be very helpful.

2. Go for a walk – Get up and go for a walk. Take 5 minutes to stretch your legs. Do a lap around the office, go get a new pen. If you get up and walk around you will feel better.

3. What’s the worst thing that can happen? This was a tip I learned from a book I recently read. What you do is take your current issue and think of what would be the worst thing that could happen (Event A). If event A occurred what would be the next worst thing that would happen (Event B). You keep going until you get to a point where your thoughts and worries seem absolutely absurd. This exercise is a great way to put things in perspective, and it works well with school work too.

4. Decrease your caffeine, increase H20 -This is a huge one and I never knew it actually affected me personally. When I drink too much coffee it definitely adds to my stress and anxiety. I’ve recently tried to cut my caffeine in take to 3/4 of a cup of coffee in the morning. This paired with increased water intake has made a world of difference in how I feel.

5. Make a List – I’m  a list person (type-A). I like lists, they help me stay organized so that I know exactly what is going on. This can act as a double-edged sword however, if you create too daunting of a list it can become to over-whelming and just add stress. I recommend splitting your list int three parts a) the things that need to get done today b) the things that should probably get done today and c) the things that would be nice to get done today. This is a good way of prioritizing what is important.

6. Communication – Communicate with your boss. Tell them exactly what is going on. Even if they don’t ask where you are at it’s always good to send them an email update, or stop by their office at the end of the day just to let them know where you are at. This avoids miscommunication and will inform them exactly where you are at so that there will be no surprises.

7. Physical Exercise – Another important one. Ensuring you have time to release that stress is vital. For me it’s yoga, or stretching that helps me de-stress, what about you?

8. Know when to say no – I’m the worst for this. I like to take on too much, because apparently I think I’m some sort of super hero, and I’m definitely not. This ties in with communication, but you have to know your limits. Know what your boundaries are and know how much you can take on while still staying sane. People will respect you more for saying, “I’m sorry I have too much on my plate right now I don’t want to do a bad job on your project”, rather than taking it on and either not getting it done on time or doing a mediocre or poor job.

These tips are from my personal experience and while they have worked for me they may not work for all people.

What do you do to decrease your stress? Do you have a stress ball?

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Wrap-up and Recap of the Policy Writer’s Work Term at GEF Senior’s Housing

 Facebook Status (not from me): Last week of Co-op and I’m not ready for it to end.

I definitely couldn’t agree more. I bet more than one of my Facebook peers who are in the Cooperative Education Program this summer term has said the same thing. It has been a tremendous experience both for me and for my co-workers here at GEF and that I can say is the main reason why we are working on continuing on…indefinitely.

If you had a chance to read my last blog post with the Students’ Union, I have shared some key things that I have learned during my time there. I would like to do it again since it is a wonderful way to reflecting on all the time that I have worked here.

Great Supervisors = Great Coworkers = Great Working Environment. I have spent a whole blog post about this, but I can’t emphasize this enough. What I realized is that the same thing was totally evident with all my other co-workers. They are all very knowledgeable, they love telling me stories of their experiences and expertise and just fun to work with. If you are surrounded with these types of people, you are well on your way to being an excellent part of the team as well. 

There is value in learning basic maintenance tasks in your personal life.  While working on the side project that I was given, I had the opportunity to interview our technicians from various trades on a regular basis. I think that as an individual, we should all know how to do basic DIY tasks in our house from electrical, plumbing or patching the drywall that I have dented while I was angry the night before. With documenting these how-to documents I challenged myself by trying to replace a door knob on my own and I felt great. Even a general awareness on how the building systems work together in your home or building can give a new appreciation and motivation to do your part to keep them functional.

 Assertiveness, patience and creativity are important to push your project forward. It can get frustrating especially in doing a project that is absolutely new. Losing direction or delays are quite inevitable. Sometimes, you need to ask, even repeatedly that some things need to be done to get going. And if the speed of the progress is not what you have preferred, sometimes it takes patience to wait for your boss to find the time and catch up with you. There are many ways to get the feedback or component that you need and the options are limitless. I learned how to juggle a good balance of these three to keep myself motivated and still excited about the tangible effect of our project to the organization.

 In finding a company that you are a good fit for, focus on their purpose. I was chatting with our HR Director and mentioned how I love working for not-for-profits. I shared that that will be one of my main criteria for finding an organization to work with. She mentioned that there are many other companies that may be a good fit that could be for-profit, it’s all about knowing their mission and how it fits with your values.

 In working for not-for-profits, join their other volunteer activities to re-connect yourself with their cause. I frequently hear from my coworkers that they love working “for the seniors”. I had the chance to directly interact with them by helping out during the Summer Olympics where I cheered on our “athletes” to perform in the sports that we made sure are something they can do well. When one of our apartments was on fire, many of us staff took turns assisting the site in helping the seniors get their possessions and coordinated new living arrangements for them.  We are indeed here for the seniors. And everything connects to that, from the policies that I am making to make sure that their living spaces are well maintained to the social events that make them feel better about themselves. I realized how I loved that and it encouraged me to do the best I can in my employee role to create an impact to them.


Re-connect with former employers. At first, I still felt a little apprehensive about this, but when I contacted my former supervisor for my work term report, I realized how much I have been missing. She offered me great advice for my report and for my upcoming life stage which is post-graduation and support for job searches. Take the chance; it’s definitely worth that first scary email or phone call.

 Your contributions during co-op extend beyond your term. I was still subscribed to the Facebook page of where I worked for my first co-op. We were doing one project that didn’t get finished in time before my term ends but we did a tremendous progress in that project. My former supervisor promised that once she and my successor finish the project, I will be given a copy of the resource. Imagine my thrill when I got a message about that last week! I knew it will be a valuable resource document but the resulting product exceeded my expectations. All of your projects and reports, your exit interview and (sometimes) rants, even unfinished work is a key contribution that you have made during your time and will affect your successors, the organization and the people they serve in ways you least expect it.

 You WILL do little stupid mistakes; laugh at it, and then fix it. Many of the information I learned about are very technical and are in areas I know almost nothing about. I stumble upon many things such as technical processes, building terminology and I get it wrong sometimes. I was confused for the longest time what a P Trap is, especially how to spell it during the interview. Until I was able to do some more research, find an illustration and then the spelling, where it all made sense. That process will happen so many times and as long as you have a positive approach to it, you will learn and have some fun memories to remember.

I would like to thank my supervisor, the Facility Management Department and the entire GEF organization for a wonderful summer term. I’m looking forward to trying out the new arrangement of working remotely to continue contributing to the foundation.


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A Day in the Life of an Accountant

Many people, myself included before I started my co-op term, have no clue as to what an accountant does. None. A lot of people refer to accountants as “bean-counters” and assume that our most difficult task of the day is adding up a column of numbers. If you had asked me what I would be doing on my co-op term there is no way I would have been able to tell you. Even after Audit 1 training in Calgary, I still had no clue what I would be doing. Thankfully, I started with an amazing group of people who were all very supportive and all helped each other get through the first couple weeks.

So what exactly does an accountant do?

This question is difficult to answer. My peers and I have had very different experiences while working at our firm. This next piece is strictly from my point of view, many of my co-workers have worked much longer hours than I have, I was extremely fortunate.

Winter 2012 – Busy Season

0600 – Wake up, and get ready to head off to work

0730 – 0800 – Arrive at work, turn on computer, reply to emails and get started on the days tasks

  •  During busy season I worked on a variety of different engagements, I did Notice to Readers (which is basically creating the financial statements for smaller incorporated companies), personal and corporate tax returns as well as a variety of smaller Audits. I gained a lot of knowledge through this work as I was able to work through entire files by myself, I learned a lot about different tax deductions and credits as well as working with investments which is something I have just recently gotten into myself.

1200 – Eat lunch

  • Some days I would eat at my desk while working so that I could leave the office at a decent time (decent meaning 6pm)
  • Other days I would take lunch if some of the people I started with were in the office. This is a nice way to break up your day, although it meant you needed to stay longer.

1500 – Coffee – I needed coffee at this point as I was mentally exhausted; a group of us first years would generally head down to the local Starbucks for a latté

1800 – 1900 – On a good day this is when you are heading home, a lot of my co-workers worked till 9pm or ever midnight. Busy season is extremely draining… there is a TON of work to do

While this may not sound like the most ideal day, or you may be thinking who would ever sign up to do something like this? summer is a lot more relaxed, there is a lot less work to do and there is a lot more flexibility in your days.

Yes, working at a large accounting firm is draining, I was tired. But, I learned a lot and when working at a large, international company you have a greater potential to grow your career. Like I said before, I was lucky I didn’t have to work those 15 hour days, and I really didn’t work a lot of weekends. While 10 hours a day of work by no means should be normal, I don’t like to complain because a lot of my co-workers worked more.

So that’s my take on what accountants do: get up ridiculously early, work like crazy, drink coffee, and then go home.

Just kidding! We learn a lot about the operations of many companies, focus on how to best reduce taxes, Audit things, reconcile investment accounts etc. That may sound boring to the average person, but to me it’s actually very interesting. I love working with investments and ensuring everything balances makes my type-A-OCD heart sing.

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The importance of a thank-you note

Throughout my time this past year in the real world there is one thing I have learned that stands out far beyond the rest; a simple Thank-You note.

I went through what I thought was a grueling recruiting process; it was stretched out over 3 weeks and then interviews to follow. I was tired. However, the recruiting teams at the firms that all the students were applying were a lot more tired. Not only did they have to sift through over 300 resumes, they had to host events and get to know the interviewees. Many hours are poured into recruiting, and that goes for any business practice.

Sending a thank-you note may seem “old-school”… who even writes letters anymore? But, it’s definitely worth it. I sent thank you cards to the two individuals that interviewed me for the current position I am in now, and a couple of the individuals I made strong contacts with. One of the ladies I gave a card to said “in all the years of recruiting I have never gotten a thank-you card”, and well I got an offer at the firm I wanted. Scratch that, I got an early offer! I was ecstatic. It’s crazy how far taking 10 minutes out of your day to write out a thank you. That’s all it takes!

You never know if the position you are hoping for is between you and another similar candidate.  What will set you apart? What will make them pick you over the other person? Showing you care really proves to managers that you are willing to go the extra-mile, and that is worth a lot.

While typing out a thank you email is great a lot of people send them, and hiring managers get swamped with emails during recruiting season. Crafting up a hand-written card will definitely stand out!

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Dipping my toe in HR Part 2- Work Instructions Development


It seems like the HR branch of my work is expanding! I showed the notes that I complied from last week from the interview with the technicians for the initial brainstorming of this new project. My supervisor seemed to like it a lot.

 A work instruction is a detailed step-by-step description of what needs to be done in a task. It is vital to anyone who is new to a job. I guess how I imagine it is that if I read and follow this document, I (who has no background on building maintenance) can fulfill this seemingly technical task. Examples are:

  • How to change a toilet
  • How to change a light bulb
  • How to clean attics and crawlspaces
  • How to spot a leak
  • How to checks on readings and valves in the mechanical room

It’s an interesting shift again in my tasks over here. Especially now that it is August, my goal is to get this project started and to finish a few of these documents so that they can continue on when I leave. There is no way that I can finish this new project since there seems to be a lot of maintenance activities that have to be done. Imagine a typical apartment building with all the parts from the basement to the rooftops. Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff to maintain.

Everything else here is quite action-packed. So many things have happened lately, which I would definitely share at another time.


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What Not to Wear – Men’s Edition

I started out a couple weeks ago with the Ladies Version of “What Not to Wear – Business School Edition”, since they I have taken vacation, and tried to catch up on life in general. I’ve been absent, but I’m back now and I would like to share with you the Men’s version — let’s jump right in:

Since I’m not a guy, I asked some of my co-workers what pet-peeves they have about how men dress. It’s not an extensive list, but it’s a start!

The Don’ts

  • Don’t unbutton too many buttons; sometimes that’s a bit too casual
  • Don’t wear bright white socks with your black dress shoes
  • Don’t chew gum
  • Don’t wear a shirt with a curled collar- it looks unprofessional
  • Don’t show up unshaven

The Do’s

  • Do make sure your shoes match your belt
  • Do cover your tattoos for job interviews, it just looks more professional
  • Do wear clothes that fit. People will notice if something is way too tight or if you are drowning in a suit. Pay to have it tailored, it’s worth it.
  • Do ensure your tie is the appropriate length – just touching the tip of the belt buckle
  • Do ensure your shirt is wrinkle-free by ironing it or steaming it

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Dipping my Toe in HR- Projects in a different field

My supervisor mentioned to me during my first few weeks that if we finish this main project ahead of time I’ll lend a hand in developing a training program for maintenance staff, where the Policy and Procedures Manual that I developed will be very valuable. The Policy Manual development is progressing; however there are moments that I feel that I can do more with my time. As a result, we decided to start working on that to fill up my quiet hours even if the Policy Manual is not yet finished. I was quite relieved since I really miss multitasking several projects, as opposed to working on just one.

 It’s a bit unsettling because I have never taken any HR courses before. I have limited knowledge on how to assess an employee’s skills and evaluate their progress in their position. Therefore my biggest ally here is my experiences as an employee-in-training. I remember from the previous co-op, my supervisor there asked for my feedback on the training that I received. I identified the gaps that I perceived and received the good news that they are implementing a lot of it in the new and improved training program that my successor will have. On top of that, I really don’t know much about those activities involving maintaining a building that require technical skills. What helped me with that are the previous interviews that I had for the Policy Manual development. Oddly enough, I remember hearing some side comments on hoping some things will be changed on how maintenance is done. It really made this project very timely as there is definitely a need for it. I definitely still don’t know how to change a toilet, fix a tap or spot building leaks and damaged paint. But the policies and guidelines that we aim to develop, on top of the stories that I hear from staff in a variety of positions gave me a good idea on the ultimate goal of the project. It is to make sure that the buildings are well taken care off and the staff feels that they are improving their skill set in accomplishing that. For the sake of our senior residents and our staff, I think this is really important.

 Here’s another statement that I heard so many times from my supervisor: “Google is my friend.” There is a lot of truth in that. I have been searching all over the internet on templates, tips and guidelines on developing this program. There’s a lot, sometimes too much information and options and I hope that I can filter and customize the program to what works best for GEF.

 I got a really clear picture of what this project will accomplish in terms of maintaining good building conditions, efficiency of staff and employee retention. I made a draft of the first part of the program and sent it to my supervisor, who in turn sent it to our HR Director. I heard she was really excited about the project. After my first brainstorming sessions with the trades technicians here at Central Office, I can feel that they are really on board with this project. Oh my, do I really want to finish this project too!

I’m also taking SMO 412 right now and I learned that my professor is a really great HR expert. I requested if I can send a couple questions for advice while I go through this project and she agreed. I just hope that I don’t bombard her with too many questions.

Did you have to do tasks or projects that are totally out of your major or field of expertise? How did you find that experience?


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