New research conducted across the pond by the accountant well-being charity caba shows that more than half of accountants surveyed — 56% — are stressed and burned out, compared to 41% of those across a range of sectors, business sizes, and positions.
Accountants are significantly more stressed than employees across other sectors, with workload, long hours and the lack of margin for error in the job tipping many over the edge, new research has found.
Worse, many of these burned out accountants do not reach out for help as they are afraid of being judged at work:
The survey results also highlight that the stigma associated with mental health problems is alive and well. When comparing accountants with employees in wider sectors, they were much more likely to be concerned about the impact on their career of admitting they were suffering from stress.
Almost half of accountants (48%) were worried about being treated differently (compared with 33% of employees), while 42% feared an impact on their career progression (up from 27% of employees). Alarmingly, almost a third of accountants said they would be concerned about their manager or HR department believing them to be unreliable if they sought help for their mental health.
Included in this research were 500 HR professionals across multiple sectors who were asked about mental health within their companies. While it looks like at least a few of them recognize there is a mental health problem, shockingly few of them recognize the workplace stigma that may prevent those suffering from seeking support:
It found that 42% agreed they had staff who were suffering from mental health issues and 43% had seen more employees than usual requesting mental health support during the pandemic. However, the fact that more than three-quarters (78%) of those HR professionals surveyed said they believed their workplaces ultimately provide adequate support suggests a disconnect between the experience of accountants and the feeling by employers that they are doing enough.
That’s not to say firms haven’t tried to do their part to address staff mental health concerns, especially during the pandemic. You are (hopefully) familiar with the resources available to you, from wellness apps to mental health initiatives (PwC’s Habit Bank is one example). According to the caba study, many of these resources, robust as they may be, remain unused:
86% said they hadn’t used an employer-provided counselling phone line, 63% hadn’t used apps or subscriptions for mental health tools and 46% hadn’t taken any mental health days. During the same period, caba saw an increase of 18% in emotional well-being enquiries and a 25% increase in those who they supported with counselling.
A November 2021 Journal of Accountancy article on the anxiety and depression plaguing the profession suggests that firms can — and should — address this stigma through further awareness and “normalizing the stress inherent in the profession,” which sounds to me like unhealthy minimizing but what do I know:
To remove these barriers, management must set the tone. A firm does not need to fundamentally change; it needs only to build mental health awareness into its culture and seek to be a place of “psychological safety” — where staff can express their true selves without fear of negative consequences. Creating or improving psychological safety could be as simple as explicitly normalizing the stress inherent in the profession and highlighting resources, like employee assistance plans, during onboarding. The firm could then have ongoing discussions of mental health issues at staff meetings. Firm leaders, perhaps supported by mental health experts, could encourage staff to watch for signs of distress in themselves and in colleagues. By openly discussing such issues, firms can signal that no one should feel bad about seeking help when they need it. Firms can also show their commitment to psychological safety by allowing employees, when possible, to have some flexibility to schedule counseling sessions. Making these small changes would help reduce the stigma of depression and anxiety, let people who suffer know they are not alone, encourage CPAs with anxiety or depression to seek professional help, and empower others to watch for colleagues in distress.
That same JofA article goes on to say the other part of the solution to the profession’s mental health problem lies in leaning on colleagues because you spend so much time with them so they should be able to tell if something’s off:
Anxiety and depression, although they are medical issues, are relevant to the profession because the CPA workplace is both a venue where mental health issues can be identified and one that will suffer if mental health issues remain unaddressed. It is also the home of ample stimuli that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety or depression. CPAs are in a position to notice and intervene if a co-worker is in distress. Aside from their families, CPAs spend more time with their colleagues than anyone else. A CPA can notice changes in a colleague’s behavior or performance that might not be noticed by others. Perhaps that CPA is the only one who notices.
The caba study isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. In fact, we can pretty safely assume the problem is even worse than reflected in their data since it clearly shows that respondents are reluctant to seek help, which leads us to believe many of them are struggling more than they’ve admitted to even themselves and have normalized these feelings because “stress” just comes with the territory. Anyone have any thoughts? Need to vent? Want to complain about how kids these days are just a bunch of snowflakes who don’t know how to suck it up and deal because there was no mental health hotline back in your day? Let ‘er rip in the comments.