January 11th, 2021
After two national lockdowns in the UK during the spring and autumn of 2020, we find ourselves in yet another – but this time it is in the darkest days of winter.
The pandemic has highlighted issues around mental health with everyone experiencing challenging and worrying times but for accountants, the toll has the potential to be even worse as they tussle with their busiest month of the year and the Self Assessment deadline on the 31st January.
The pressure is mounting on the profession in the US and Australia too with their own deadlines drawing nearer and every country faces the same challenge, of prioritising wellbeing and putting mental health at the top of the agenda.
A recent survey by Nuffield Health reveals that four out of five (83%) are concerned about the ongoing negative impact of the pandemic of their mental health with more than a third reporting increased stress and anxiety (38%) or feeling more low or depressed than usual (31%).
This same research revealed that more than a third (37%) wouldn’t seek help for mental health and wellbeing concerns because they don’t feel their problems are serious enough prompting fears that thousands of people are going without support. Furthermore, nearly half of those surveyed (42%) don’t understand that poor physical health can impact on mental health or that factors such as diet, exercise, relationships, sleep and taking time out can boost mental resilience during times of change and adversity.
Alastair Barlow, joint founder of the award winning practice, Flinder, spoke honestly about the mental health challenges the profession faces during one of our recent COVID-19 Support Webinars. He explained during the webinar that the world of accountancy is very much a black and white profession with Accountants working to multiple deadlines with exceptionally high expectations placed on them.
“Because we are always working towards sprint deadlines, we don’t have time to think and because we are so number focused, we are less open to talk about our feelings.”
He likened it to a ‘Catch 22 situation’ as Accountants battle against an overriding desire to get their work done. He cites the ‘law of diminishing returns’ with the more hours worked, the less efficient we all become and strongly advocates that everyone should learn to take a step away to clear their minds with the help of practical tactics such as mindfulness to help improve productivity, keep focused and reduce anxiety.
“It’s all about unlocking our people’s potential and it is very easy to forget we are a people business,” he says. One of the things that Flinder does every Friday to nurture the team is to hold a ‘Self Reflection’ session.
Alastair stresses that it’s not an opportunity to talk about what we did during that week but it’s about whether you had a good week and crucially whether you are feeling happy or sad then a decision can be made on whether intervention is needed to nip any negative feelings in the bud. “It’s important to understand what is going on in their minds so we can change something and give them additional support if they are working with a challenging client.”
The firm has also implemented a fitness channel on Slack which features a selection of workouts and recipes for healthy meals and drinks to add more ‘touch and feel’ to the business.
In the ‘How to Reach Peak Mental Fitness’ guide that accompanies the webinar, Alastair’s tips are highlighted along with practical advice from Luke Doherty, mindfulness coach for the highly successful Harlequins rugby team and working with corporate clients to establish mindful programs for executive teams, who outlines some simple ‘mindfulness’ exercises that could help relieve stress and protect emotional wellbeing.
As wellbeing is brought to the fore again and we are being made aware that several factors play a part on our health, Nuffield Health in partnership with the mental charity, the Mental Health Foundation, has launched a digital questionnaire they are encouraging people to complete.
It only takes around five minutes to fill in and the questions focus on key areas which are known to contribute to mental fitness. Once completed, there is a pointer to further information on how to improve and maintain emotional wellbeing, hints and tips, sources of support, and where to seek help for any problems.
During this strangest of times, it is fascinating to hear what firms like Flinder are doing in their quest to think more holistically about mental health and how to maintain it. A supportive environment and knowing that it’s ok to take the time to step away for a few minutes can only help to create an improved sense of wellbeing and a more productive workforce.
Business Development Director