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Almost one third of accountants concerned their manager would think they are unreliable if they sought help for their mental health

Yesterday marked the beginning Mental Health Awareness Week, and many are reflecting on the impact their working environment has on their mental health. Accountancy in particular has one of the worst collective levels of stress and burnout across all industries. In a recent study conducted by Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (caba), the well-being charity for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) members, more than half (56%) of accountants surveyed said they were struggling with stress and burnout, when compared to 41% in other sectors. Chris Biggs stresses that a change needs to be made throughout the industry to keep accountancy workers content in their jobs and to avoid industry-wide burnout.

The notoriously long hours, heavy workloads, and little margin for error in the industry are tipping many over the edge with no support to fall back on. The accounting industry also has a prominent stigma when it comes to speaking out about one’s mental health. According to the caba study, when compared to other sectors, accountants were much less likely to admit they were suffering from stress due to the consequences it might have on their career progression. Almost half (48%) said they would be worried about being treated differently while 42% said they would be worried about their career progression if it was discovered they had reached out for help.

This stigma surrounding reaching out for help within accounting is actively barring employees from receiving any company-funded mental health resources. When asked why they weren’t accepting mental health initiatives offered to them at work, 36% said they don’t have the time, 32% said they don’t think their condition was severe enough, and 23% said they don’t think it would help them.

With notorious long hours and gruelling workloads propagated by the ‘big four,’ mid-sized firms are striving for an employee first approach, ultimately hoping to increase recruitment and retention by improving employee mental health and eliminating the stigma surrounding basic human needs.

Offering flexible work options is a fundamental way that firms can put their employees’ mental health first. Research by Theta Global Advisors LLP found that 35% of Brits think that working full time hours in the office hinders their mental health and performance, while 38% of Brits would prefer to be offered flexible working options over a pay raise.

However, big companies such as Deloitte and Goldman Sachs are still somewhat reluctant to fully adopt flexible work environments due to the fear of lowered productivity. This was another key finding of Theta’s research, showing that 24% of Brits haven’t been offered any flexible working options despite this becoming commonplace post pandemic. Goldman Sachs have been in conversations about changing their work-life balance for almost a year after a leaked report disclosed abusive working conditions among junior bankers, who were working averages as high as 105 hours a week, yet most employees are still expected to come into the office five days a week.

Chris Biggs, partner at consultancy and accounting disruptor Theta Global Advisors comments: ‚Äč

“So many in the accounting industry are reluctant to participate in services to improve their wellbeing for the very fear that it could affect their career progression. Mental Health Awareness Week is about breaking the stigma surrounding speaking about your feelings, and is a great time to reflect on how your work environment is affecting your mental health. It’s great to see the workers at the big companies realising how integral they are to their company and are calling for benefits which they rightfully deserve.

“The option of having a flexible work schedule has become fundamental for post-pandemic workers. But the big companies still seem reluctant to offer these benefits to their employees because of the fear of decreased productivity and therefore a loss of profits.

“At Theta Global Advisors we realise the importance of a reasonable work-life balance and how important flexibility is for workers. We find that this can increase productivity and provide workers with a working environment which they are happy with. The big companies are in a dangerous position where they need to change or could face a mass exodus of talent.”