Coming back from corporate burnout - one CPA's story

A last-minute decision was life changing for Erin Quinane CPA. Now her goal is for Australia to be a mentally healthy nation.

EY Director Erin Quinane CPA reset her career and work-life balance after her workplace mental health suffered and she had a breakdown in 2015. This is her story of how she built herself back up and got back to work.

By Jessica Mudditt

Erin Quinane CPA was driving along Melbourne’s Monash Freeway one morning when she made a snap decision to drive into a road sign; such was the depth of her despair.

“My intention wasn’t to die – not at that point anyway. My intention was to crash into the sign and injure myself just enough that I would be able to stay in hospital and be taken care of for a few months, because I didn’t know how to put my hand up for help.”

At the very last second Quinane changed her mind and continued driving – straight to her doctor’s office.

For months she had been suffering from insomnia, loss of appetite, forgetfulness and fatigue, but she didn’t know that these were all symptoms of clinical depression and corporate burnout.

“My whole body ached. My arm would get tired after blow-drying my hair for 10 minutes.

I’d often cook a meal and forget to turn the stove off. At work I’d have to write everything down because I couldn’t remember what had happened the day before.”

Quinane was 10 years into a career that had progressed incredibly quickly. She freely admits that her work-life balance was terrible.

“When an opportunity came to me I always said yes. I think a lot of people fall into that trap, whether they are too young in terms of their leadership or emotional maturity, or even ensuring that they have a solid technical foundation,” she says.

Quinane had studied commerce at Australian National University before joining Deloitte’s graduate program in Canberra in 2005, where she completed the CPA Program. She went from graduate to manager in the space of 18 months, and in 2010 transferred to a role in Sydney.

From 2011 to 2012 she worked in the public service as the director of finance in the Department of Human Services, and later as a director of the G20 Taskforce in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

After returning to Deloitte in 2014, she was working 60-hour weeks as a project risk consulting director when she suffered a breakdown.

CPA Library member resource: Surviving Job Stress: How to Overcome Workday Pressures by John B. Arden. Access now.

Recovery

After undergoing treatment in 2015, Quinane decided to take a year out from corporate life and spent her days renovating a yacht.

“For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to work with my hands and to reflect. I’d put on a pair of thongs every morning and walk down to the marina, which was my new once. It was one of the best things I have ever done, to take a breather and realise I have a long, 30-year career ahead of me.”

Once she was feeling better, Quinane decided to help others suffering mental health problems and wanted those problems to be better recognised in the workplace.

She began a PhD at Swinburne University in 2016, focusing her research on interventions needed to protect employee mental health and support staff experiencing a mental illness.

Quinane says that many business leaders feel ill-equipped to address mental health issues due to a lack of knowledge, limited training and, of course, stigma.

“Australia has the world’s second-highest rate of depression [according to the World Health Organization]. Three in five employees are currently experiencing some form of mental illness. In 2017, two in five Australians left their job because of a poor mental health workplace environment.”

Quinane returned to the corporate world in 2016, as a management consultant with Synergy Group in Canberra. Although this was an important step towards recovery, she says it wasn’t all smooth sailing – but she always felt supported.

She was placed in a team environment and her workload was managed so it didn’t become overwhelming. Over time, the firm began formulating its own mental health strategy and employee assistance program.

Recently Quinane joined EY, where her focus is on digital strategy and transformation and incorporating her expertise to further build on the firm’s mental health agenda. “My goal is for Australia to be a mentally healthy nation, and that is my absolute driving purpose. This is not just for the benefit of our economy and business, but also for our communities.”

One piece of advice

“Don’t rush your career. Take the time to know yourself. It’s not just about having the opportunity to go on to the next big project or the next big role – it’s about whether that role is right for you as a whole person.”


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September 2019
September 2019

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