Mental Health: Why is one in four accountants at breaking point?

“There are many contributing factors behind the rise of mental ill-health within the accountancy workforce. However perhaps one of the most pressing, and one that employers have a great deal of control over, is the workaholic-crazed culture that has pervaded just about every facet of the industry,” says Kelly Feehan, service director of wellbeing charity, Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA).

The accountancy sector is on the brink of a mental health crisis. According to a recent study by CABA, one in four chartered accountants is ‘close to breaking point’ at work, with employees spending 31 minutes complaining about their boss in an average week alongside two hours and 45 minutes complaining about their job in general.

The study found employees in the accountancy sector lose five hours of sleep each week because of the “pressures they face at the job.” But why are more accountants in the field suffering from mental health problems today?

The research suggests that there are many pressures within the workplace which contribute to their rising stress levels. The most common reason behind 41% of accountants feeling stressed, is feeling “constantly overworked”, resulting in three in five accountants feeling stressed even whilst on holiday due to the thought of falling behind on work.

A term has been coined for this phenomenon: ‘hustle porn’. This “toxic” mentality was been described by Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian as the fetishisation of people overworking themselves. Speaking at a summit in 2018, Ohanian mentioned that his own failure to prioritise self-care during the early days of his business ended up having a negative impact on the quality of his own work. 

“Increasingly in today’s society, people believe that to achieve personal success and happiness, they need to be busy at all times, often at the expense of their health and relationships,” says Feehan. “This is compounded by social media, as users often paint an unrealistic picture of what it means to be successful.”

In a bid to tackle the rising number of accountants suffering from stress and other mental health conditions, The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), has aimed to tackle the problem from the root, by launching a new wellbeing hub to provide mental health and community support, aimed at students.

The new programme is available to over 500,000 students and offers tips on meditation and nutrition, a three-part podcast series exploring anxiety and sleep alongside exclusive articles on the study, meditation, exams and sleep. 

Julie Hotchkiss, executive director of people at ACCA, says the launch of the hub comes following a survey issued to students and affiliates – seeking their views on mental health, wellbeing, support available to them. “The survey garnered a strong response, more than 4,600 students worldwide replied showing the strength of feeling on this serious issue,” she says.

According to CABA, the things people complain most about in their jobs, are the amount of work in general, lack of recognition, money, colleagues as well as content of the job itself. The list also includes company culture, long hours, clients and career progression.

Among other findings in the study: 70% of people surveyed vented to their families, partner, colleague or friend about their job; 46% of those who felt stressed at work did not acknowledge it, hoping the problem “would go away.”

According to Receipt Bank, the best way to support mental health in the workplace is to create a safe space to relax in the workplace, as “being able to rest means you can work twice as effectively afterwards.” It also suggests introducing mental health aids to the workplace, where employees can openly speak without judgement and embarrassment. 

These meetings can take place outside the office with an independent person who does not work for the company. Feehan advises that “accountancy firms need to cultivate an open and more supportive work environment, in which people feel safe and empowered to speak up and communicate their needs. 

“Employers also need to set clear boundaries when it comes to workloads, including overtime and out-of-office email checking, as an always-on work mentality can lead to a significant drop in staff productivity and motivation, often due to fatigue.”

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