Getting through the past year has been a stressful experience for many accounting firms. The client workload has increased significantly over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as many have seen a downturn in their finances. Not to mention the added pressures from the fallout of Brexit and changes to tax legislation.

Accountants are professionals who take these ups and down in their stride. But they’re also human beings. The additional workload and pressure is likely to have had a considerable impact on their mental health and wellbeing. So it’s no surprise that 47% of accountants rated their mental health as bad or worse in AccountingWEB’s wellbeing pulse survey from August 2020.

Promoting a culture of wellbeing is so important for your team’s health – and that of your firm. In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve shared some practical tips for supporting your staff’s wellbeing.

1. Move towards hybrid working and ease ‘Zoom fatigue’

For the majority of the pandemic, your team is likely to have been working remotely. This level of home-working has generated its own challenges and pressures. The less-than-ideal working conditions will no doubt have affected individuals differently depending on their set up. The lack of physical contact and the constant reliance on video calls and Zoom meetings have no doubt added to your staff’s wellbeing issues.

With the country gradually easing out of restrictions, how can you ease those home-working pressures and reduce the level of ‘Zoom fatigue’?

  • Cautiously bring people back to the office – some people will be desperate to return to the office. Others will be extremely worried about a return to the HQ. The key is to talk to your team, gauge their opinions and to cautiously bring smaller groups back where it makes sense. This has to be done safely, of course, and without undue pressure on individuals with valid concerns.
  • Operate a hybrid working approach – remote working has been proven to be both efficient and productive. And having the freedom to decide where people work is beneficial for your team’s wellbeing. Operating a ‘hybrid working’ approach, gives staff greater control over where they work and when – with hybrid work making for a more positive work/life balance.
  • Get the work balance right – don’t overwork your people. Forcing them to sit through eight hours of Zoom meetings is hugely tiring. And keeping them at the office until midnight is definitely not productive for their wellbeing. Encourage your team to balance their workload with time off, lunchtime walks, visits to the gym or team socials. You could also look into company-wide Strava competitions, encourage coffee meetups for locals or organise Deliveroo vouchers for the team.

2. Help the team to manage their workload

The twin impacts of COVID-19 and Brexit have resulted in multiple additional problems for your clients. It’s meant dealing with cash flow problems, reduced revenues and multiple applications for government financial support. That’s a lot for your team to take on. So, as we move towards the recovery stage, it’s important to help the team manage this increased demand.

Key ways to do this include:

  • Review your resourcing – if the team really is drowning, you have two main options. 1) Take on more staff to increase your capacity. Or 2) reduce the size of your client base by slimming down your portfolio and focusing on the most valuable clients. Reducing client numbers and taking a cash hit now to allow for better work management can boost your firm’s performance in the long run.
  • Streamline and automate your workflows – apps like Dext and Auto Entry can automate much of the tedious data entry. And tools such as Silverfin or MyWorkpapers help to streamline your workflows. Both approaches can help to reduce the team’s manual workload and free up time. More time = less stress, which is critical.
  • Support each other as a team – when people work together as a team, that builds a bond and level of trust and understanding. If one person is feeling overloaded, make sure the whole team is pulling together to support them and to share the workload. The key here is creating an environment where people feel they can speak up about work pressure. Encourage these conversations between juniors and managers, and make sure your people feel they can share without negative consequences.

3. Look out for the signs of stress, anxiety and mental health issues

As a partner in an accounting firm, you have a duty of care to your staff. Being up to speed with the ‘soft skills’ of people management is vital. As a people manager, you need to know how to spot the tell-tale signs of a problem. And you also need to be well versed in caring for and supporting a colleague who is struggling with their own mental health issues.

For example:

  • Learn to look for the signs – it’s important to check in with your team, both as a group and individually. Does a team member seem more anxious? Are they making more errors than usual? Are they subdued and not taking part in meetings? Keep your eyes open and try to talk to people openly and honestly about what may be troubling them.
  • Become a good listener – don’t try to ‘fix’ someone. The best thing you can do is to let them talk and to just listen. By listening, your colleague gets to share their worries and you get to understand and empathise with their situation. That’s valuable for both of you and helps you move towards some kind of meaningful dialogue.

4. Put wellbeing at heart of your core values as a firm

As with all things in business, if you want change then you have to act. To promote an open, human and supportive culture in your firm, wellbeing has to be at the heart of your values.

That means talking positively about mental health and providing the support mechanisms for any team members who may be struggling. Wellbeing has to go beyond being a box that’s ticked on the firm’s website. You need to live this reality and make sure that your culture and your firm ethics all focus on keeping your team fit, healthy and empowered.

There are ways to drive this agenda and lead from the top:

  • Make sure your door is always open – a top-down approach can work well, so make sure you lead by example. Make sure staff know that you’re always available for a chat, or to ask for help. The more open and transparent you are, the less stigma there will be around mental health issues within your culture.
  • Provide access to wellbeing services – give your staff access to wellbeing specialists and mental health experts, so they have a route to follow when help is needed. Where possible, offer yoga, gym memberships, head massages or other therapeutic activities that will boost health and wellness. And include these in your benefits package.
  • Share helpful books and resources – include a wellbeing section in your team huddles or in internal newsletters. Share tips on good books, podcasts or courses about wellbeing and foster a culture of learning and education for the whole team.

We’re making great strides in bringing a broader focus on wellbeing into the workplace. But change will only happen if we act as drivers in this process.

So, talk to your team today. Find out how they’re doing, what issues they may have and where you could be offering more support. Become an agent for change in the journey towards improved wellbeing and a more caring attitude to mental health in the accounting industry.

Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week on their site and by following the #MHW2021 hashtag.