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The Wellbeing Hub: a resource for students and beyond

Maintaining positive mental wellbeing while studying can be challenging and techniques to deal with it can be carried through into the world of work. The Accountant spoke to Julie Hotchkiss, executive director – people at ACCA, about the organisation’s new Wellbeing Hub

The Accountant: The Wellbeing Hub was established following the results from a survey which showed a strong demand for more support for students in regards to wellbeing. What prompted the survey in the first place?

Julie Hotchkiss: We survey our students on a regular basis about their levels of satisfaction in all ranges of areas and their relationship with the ACCA; it is something that we do often. We were becoming aware that, obviously, the ACCA qualification is rigorous, as it should be, as it develops the accountants of tomorrow, and we do know that students want support for exams, but also the wellbeing side of things. 

With our students, and probably just more generally, there is more of a conversation around wellbeing now. So as part of the review we carry out on the back of our survey, we wanted to do something specific on wellbeing. 

That survey was quite extensive as we really wanted to fully understand the needs of our students. We received more than 4,600 responses globally to the survey, which is a very good size to work with in terms of the feedback that we got. 

More than 2,000 described the qualification as having a positive impact on their mental health; however, there was a third that said it had a negative impact. So that is what we wanted to really listen to. We then listened to quite specific feedback about what students would like to see us develop. They asked us for things like lifestyle tips such as dealing with pressure at work, dealing with general life pressures and obviously studying as well. They specifically wanted advice on exam pressures and the steps that they can take when experiencing mental health issues around those times.

From those results, it was quite clear that we had a demand there and we set about developing the resources really to match the demand that our students were telling us about.

We wanted to make sure that the hub was really engaging and accessible, and that it is really practical as well. Because if you are already busy – you may be working and studying, or really just focusing on your studies for a lot of the time – then you do not necessarily have a lot of free time at your disposal, so we wanted to make sure that the hub is as accessible and simple to its users as possible.

TA: Obviously you are supporting students who are in the process of exams. How is it tailored to help take some of the advice available on the Wellbeing Hub further into their careers? Is it quite transferable? 

JH: The hub has such a broad range of resources that I think there could be something for everybody in there.

We have concentrated on students, and there are some specific resources around exams, pressures, balance, study and so on, so there are some specific resources in there, but equally there are resources that are also generally helpful with everyday life. We feel that those are skills that, once learned, you can take with you on into your career and other areas of your life.

For example, there are resources on reducing stress. There is a podcast on anxiety, there are various lifestyle elements in there, and a very important podcast on sleep. If people can develop positive habits that help them, then they can take them forward into their careers.

I also think the skills that they learn there will possibly help to prevent any future anxiety or stresses going into the workplace, because it will perhaps provide more resilience and more coping skills. I think when you learn those skills, it is something that you take with you as you take the first step into your career.

TA: Do you think these issues are becoming more prevalent, or is it becoming less of a taboo to speak about certain issues surrounding wellbeing? Or do you think it is a mix of the two?

JH: I think mental health is a topic that continues to grow in terms of society more generally, and it is something we are much more comfortable to talk about now.

Mental health is something that everybody has, good or otherwise, and it is right that we start to address this and promote a happier and healthier society. As a result of that, society is more open than it has ever been to discuss mental health and wellbeing.

We all have a responsibility to help better mental health and really break down the stigma that may have been there in the past. I think people now are more open to that.

I think the other thing is that people are more willing to candidly share their stories, how they have been on a journey, perhaps. Certainly, our ambassador is one of those people who is keen to share their story. I think that really helps other people. 

However,  it is also important for us to highlight what we can do, and provide clear and concise advice on how people can address these kinds of situations.

TA: Talking about breaking down the stigma, having the Wellbeing Hub goes some way to do that and aid that cause. Are there any other approaches the ACCA is taking to help break down that stigma further? 

JH: Our Wellbeing Hub is on the website and clearly available for students, but it is equally available to our members if they want to access that.

Some of the activities that we may undertake in our markets may focus on mental health or dealing with stress, if that is something that our local students or members want to talk about, but the hub really is the heart of it. The hub is where we have all of those resources and we will look to refresh that on an ongoing basis.

TA: Are you finding different issues affecting members? Obviously these things can affect anyone, but are there any specific issues affecting members that are not affecting students? 

JH: I think it is safe to say that students have some quite specific point-in-time needs, pertaining to studying and coping with exams, so those needs are addressed very specifically, but the other areas of the Wellbeing Hub really apply to anyone. 

Wellbeing at work is a section on the hub, and lifestyle as I mentioned. That not only applies to topics such as sleep, but we have also got some articles in there about social media, and whether it is good or otherwise for your wellbeing. 

There are also topics on managing your finances, as well as nutrition, and then mental health, which I have mentioned in terms of reducing stress, dealing with anxiety, and also if somebody is really suffering from ill mental health, how to deal with a panic attack. 

So beyond the studying and coping with exams, which are very specific to students, actually, the other resources really are very applicable to our members as well, and can be used freely.

TA: What was the reason behind appointing Ross Anderson in the newly created role of wellbeing ambassador? Alongside launching the hub, can you tell me a little bit more about his role? 

JH: Appointing a wellbeing ambassador is really part of our commitment to working with accredited mental health professionals to really deliver clear messages. Our ambassador, through his professional and his own experience, bring so much to that role

We work with Ross to develop content that we feel could benefit our students and affiliates and also, as we have talked about, our members can also benefit from that as well. We use his skill and expertise to advise us on that content. But also within the hub, you will be able to find podcasts and videos that Ross personally speaks in. He really does bring his own personal experience to that, as well as quite a lot of gravitas in terms of making it okay to ask for support.

Ross’s passion really did set him apart and make him an ideal ambassador for the ACCA, and one who is able to advise this from a wealth of experience, and not just through the prism of the accountancy profession. 

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