Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: Time to break the stigma in accountancy - Accountancy Today

We know that accountants play an important role in business and society. Unfortunately, we also know that this responsibility can mean that working life can be extremely busy and stressful at times. 

Employers are responsible for recognising this reality and providing their employees with the tools and resources that they need to manage their stress levels and protect their wellbeing. 

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and a perfect opportunity for accountancy firms to connect with employees, remind them of what support is currently available and learn how they can better look after themselves – and their mental health – moving forwards.

The numbers show that more needs to be done

CABA, the occupational charity for ICAEW members, published a report earlier this year which revealed that accountants are suffering from stress and burnout considerably more than employees in other sectors. Nearly 8 in 10 respondents said they believe that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the accountancy profession, with key drivers including workloads, long hours, and the lack of room for error in their work. 

These findings are in spite of the fact that more accountancy firms are recognising they have a role to play in supporting their employees’ mental health. In fact, it was positive to see more employers ramping up the support they offered staff during the pandemic, which was an extremely challenging time for everybody and took its toll on the mental and physical wellbeing of many. 

However, despite the increase of available support, the report found that many employees are still not taking advantage of new additional resources including free counselling phone lines, apps or subscriptions for mental health tools or mental health days. 

Breaking the stigma

When asked why they didn’t take up the extra support during the pandemic, many respondents to CABA’s survey said that they were concerned that their manager or HR team would consider them unreliable if they did reach out for help. In comparison to other industries, it was found that accountants are also more worried about the impact on their career progression, and the risk of being treated differently, if they choose to speak up about challenges with their mental health.

This kind of stigma is not something that can be fixed overnight, but it should become an ongoing priority for all employers to develop a culture where asking for help when it is needed is normalised. 

It was interesting to learn from the same study that the majority of accountants were more willing to accept slightly more informal advice from their employers, such as taking regular breaks, a proper lunch break and to go for a walk. As employers, encouraging small habits such as these are a simple first step to create a culture of prioritising well-being. 

Supporting your teams

At HW Fisher this week, in line with Mental Health Awareness Week, we offered our team access to free yoga sessions and workshops which focussed on how to deal with difficult situations and offered simple techniques on how to look after one’s mental health. The goal was that these learnings would provide the team with the skills that they need to firstly identify when both work and life are getting too much, as well as proactive steps they can then take to combat this. 

Since the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness – something that has been exacerbated by the pandemic – we also saw these sessions as an opportunity to bring the whole team together and to remind them that support is readily available for them whenever they need it.

To support our team and their families all year round, we have developed a dedicated area on our intranet that we regularly update with useful articles, latest research, and resources. We also encourage attendance to webinars such as CABA’s espresso series, which are one-hour sessions designed to be enjoyed over a cup of tea or coffee. 

It’s our collective responsibility as an industry to break the current stigma around mental health in our profession and ensure that all of our professionals feel comfortable and confident accessing help whenever they need it.

For more information on caba, visit caba.org.uk 

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