It might seem difficult to believe, but it’s been over a year since we were first told to stay 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.
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’s something we’ve also seen here at CABA; emotional wellbeing support was the second-most common reason for people getting in touch in 2020. And those concerns seem to have carried over into 2021. We’ve seen audit directors trying to juggle reporting season with home-schooling, along with trainees struggling without an office environment in which to hone their new skills.
It’s clear that some accountants are struggling; a fact which poses a significant problem. Accountants are crucial to the smooth operation of the economy and will play a vital role in rebuilding it after the past difficult year. With COVID-19 vaccines now well under way, and businesses starting to gradually open their doors, accountants will be essential to the nation’s recovery process.
It’s so important, therefore, that accountants are equipped to take care of their mental health. Here are just a few ways they can go about this:
Remove the stigma
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’s often still a stigma attached to showing that you’re struggling.
Even in ordinary circumstances, this stigma needs combatting. But these are not ordinary times. We’re in the midst of a pandemic; now is not the time to try and put on a brave face if you’re struggling.
A culture of openness is essential to encourage early intervention 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’s OK to need help or to flag that you’re struggling.
Share the load
With small and large businesses alike 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’s easy in these kinds of situations to slip into a role where you’re relied upon to provide reassurance, but that kind of pressure can be a lot to take on, so it’s 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’s 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. Don’t 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’re coping.
It’s important to find ways of separating our work from our everyday lives. This can be difficult with so many of us mostly working from home where possible, but it’s 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 the weekend, it really is crucial we aren’t 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 wellbeing, firms are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of positive mental health. And many are going above and beyond to offer support.
It’s 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 an organisation isn’t in a position to offer facilities such as these, or if team members would simply prefer to look elsewhere for support, at CABA we’re totally independent, we’re always available to offer guidance and counselling, amongst a plethora of other emotional support services to members of the accountancy community.
Written by MaryJane Gunn - Support Manager at CABA
CABA provides free lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff, and their close family members.
If you’re worried about the impact of the pandemic on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you.