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How to tackle stress at work

23 March 2020: increasing pressures on audit, dealing with Brexit… stress levels among accountants are growing. CABA and Mind sat down to discuss how to deal with a problem on the rise.

Kelly Feehan, Services Director at CABA:
Our research has shown one in three accountants feel stressed every day. How does this compare to other professions and sectors?

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind: Stress, anxiety and depression are common in most workplaces. Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index found 48% of all 44,000 employees surveyed said they had experienced a mental health problem in their current job. All employers and managers must take an active role in helping employees stay well and supporting staff when they need it. Every sector has its unique challenges and accountancy is no exception.

KF: Is there more stress than there was, or are people just talking about it more?

EM: There is now greater recognition that we all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health, that we need to look after it, and that it can fluctuate from good to poor. 
It’s not clear whether mental health problems are more prevalent or whether people just feel more able to ask for help. What is clearer is that our modern lives are full of factors that lots of us find stressful. 

There is some evidence to suggest that social media can negatively affect mental health, particularly for younger people who spend lots of time on it. This could be because of the tendency to compare our own lives to those of others, which are often portrayed in an unrealistic light. 

Modern technology means that many workers are now contactable around the clock. Some employees feel pressured to work out of hours, which is sometimes perpetuated by senior management. That’s why it can be helpful to have in place policies and procedures that discourage staff from reading and responding to emails within certain hours, such as between 8pm and 8am.

KF: What can we do to break down the stigma of talking about mental illness?

EM: We need to see improvement in the Equality Act 2010. In a Mind survey sample, less than half were aware that a mental health problem could be classed as a disability under this Act, so staff are missing out on important workplace rights and protections. The government must urgently improve and clarify the definition of a disability under the Act.

KF: CABA’s research shows that a third of employees would not talk about mental health with anyone at work, of those that would, only 25% would talk to a line manager and only 5% to HR. What systems are needed to encourage these conversations to take place? 

EM: The onus should largely be on employers to create environments conducive to open conversations about mental health, equipping managers with the skills and confidence they need to talk openly and sensitively about mental health, as well as creating the space for their colleagues to do the same.

You don’t have to be an expert, just remember to keep asking colleagues how they’re doing, listen to their response carefully and non-judgmentally, ask them how you can best support them. We’d urge all employers to sign the Time to Change pledge and make the effort to take part in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index.

KF: Considering our recent campaign ‘drop the pressure’, what are the best techniques to release pressure?

EM: We always advise people who are struggling with their mental health to speak to a colleague they know and trust as a first step. And it’s also important to make the point that people should not be too hard on themselves – it’s not possible to get everything right all the time.

Take care of your physical wellbeing too. Even light exercise releases endorphins, natural chemicals the body releases to deal with stress and pain, and reduces cortisol, which can build up when we’re stressed. 

And when we’re under immense stress we might be tempted to skip our lunch breaks, but this is a false economy. We’re far more productive if we’ve had some time and space away from our work to process things and solve problems. 

It’s also really important to maintain a life outside work. No matter how passionate you are about your job, try to leave work at work. 

KF: What causes a toxic workplace and how can it be prevented?  

EM: Long hours, excessive workload, unrealistic targets and poor relationships with managers and colleagues. Most of these factors are preventable. It’s really important that organisations regularly survey staff anonymously, providing them the opportunity to give honest feedback on where they are doing well, as well as highlighting any gaps in provision or anything that is contributing to a toxic culture. 

It’s in an employer’s interests to tackle the causes of poor mental health at work, as those that do prioritise workplace wellbeing report having healthier, more productive and loyal staff that are less likely to need to take time off sick or perhaps even leave the organisation altogether.

If you’d like confidential advice or support, visit CABA online or call +44 (0) 1788 556 366.