It might seem difficult to believe, but it has now been over a year since we were first instructed to remain at home. And with a year of lockdowns under our belt, you might expect that things would get easier – that the more time we spend working from home and minimising social contact, the more we would acclimatise to it. The reality, however, is that the longer the pandemic lingers on, the more many of us seem to be struggling, writes Kelly Feehan, service director at CABA


While business itself is persevering, last year, a survey by Accounting Web found that more than half (53%) of accountants and bookkeepers’ stress levels had given them serious cause for concern.

That is something we have also seen here at CABA; of all the enquiries that we received throughout 2020, support with emotional well-being was the second-most-common reason for people getting in touch. And those concerns seem to have carried over into 2021. We have seen audit directors trying to juggle reporting season with home-schooling, trainees struggling without an office environment in which to hone their new skills, and even the UK chair of KPMG having to resign after telling staff to “stop moaning” about the impact of lockdown.

It is clear that some accountants are struggling – a fact that poses a significant problem. The reality is that we need accountants to be on form. They are crucial to the smooth operation of the economy and will play a vital role in rebuilding it after the significant beating that it has taken over the past year.

With Covid-19 vaccines now being rolled out and businesses starting to gradually open their doors, accountants will be essential to the nation’s recovery process. It is so important, therefore, that accountants are equipped to take care of their mental health. Here are some of the different ways they can go about this.

Remove the stigma around mental health

Accountancy environments are often work hard, play hard. The hours can be long, the deadlines are tough, and the pressure to deliver for colleagues and clients can be exhausting. The ability to cope and the badge of honour mentality all adds to the stress and worry.

In addition, we know there is often still a stigma attached to showing that you are struggling. Even in ordinary circumstances, this stigma needs combating. But these are not ordinary times. We are in the midst of a pandemic; now is not the time to try and put on a brave face if you are struggling.

Firms must create a culture of openness and encourage early intervention to remove the stigma attached to mental ill health. Senior role models must lead by example, rather than taking a hard-line approach. They need to show empathy and a great deal of understanding. In short, it is OK to need help or to flag that you are struggling.

Share the load

With small and large businesses alike extremely concerned about what the future holds, many are relying even more than ever on their accountants for advice and consultancy to plan for the future.

It is easy in these kinds of situations to slip into a role where you are relied upon to provide reassurance, but that kind of pressure can be a lot to take on, so it is essential that accountants get support themselves. We must encourage team members to share the load. We all need to be taking care of ourselves, but that is impossible when all of our energy is spent taking care of those around us.

Flag to your team if your workload is becoming too much, or requests from clients are too demanding. Do not try to take on everything by yourself. Likewise, look for opportunities to offer help to those around you. If you are struggling with the pressures of the job, you can guarantee that others will be too. If you notice a team member working longer hours than they ought to or who seems withdrawn, consider a quick message to ask if they are coping.

 

Set boundaries

It is important to find ways of separating our work from our everyday lives. This can be difficult when the government advises working from home where possible, but it is vital to avoiding burning out.

Be strict with your working hours. Assign a particular room of the house that will be used only for work, or, if you have no choice but to operate from the kitchen table, make sure you put your laptop away at the end of the day. The environments in which we spend our time have an enormous impact on the way that we feel. When we log off for the evening or weekend, it really is crucial we are not still surrounded by constant reminders of work.

Take advantage of the support available

While there is still progress to be made in encouraging accountants to be more open about their well-being, firms are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of positive mental health. And many are going above and beyond to offer support.

It is becoming commonplace to offer GP helplines, employee assistance programmes, flexible working hours, meditation classes and mindfulness groups. Even prior to the pandemic, this was an incredibly positive shift. If a firm is not in a position to offer facilities such as these, or if team members would simply prefer to look elsewhere for support, at CABA, we are always available to offer guidance and counselling, amongst a plethora of other services, to members of the accountancy community.

For more advice, visit CABA’s dedicated coronavirus support page, which has more information on how we can help, including emotional support and financial assistance.

 

Additional information from the ONS

Earlier this year, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) published some worrying data on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on mental health.

In the period between 27 January and 7 March, around one in five (21%) adults experienced some form of depression, an increase from November 2020 (19%) and more than doubling since before the pandemic started (10%).

The data suggested a level of correlation between those suffering from some form of depression and financial anxiety. The research from the ONS found that 35% of adults who would be unable to afford an unexpected expense of £850 ($1,198) experience depressive symptoms in early 2021, compared to 13% of adults who would be able to afford such an expense.