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Stressed accountants too busy to seek mental health support

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 08 Feb 2022

In a recent caba survey, eight out of 10 respondents said stress and poor mental health are a problem within the accountancy profession. Are we facing a mental health pandemic?

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.

The study, conducted by caba, the well-being charity for ICAEW members, found that more than half of accountants surveyed – 56% – said they were suffering with stress and burnout, compared with 41% of employees across a wide range of sectors, business sizes and job roles. 

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.

The research, which sought to shed light on the mental health of the industry, also surveyed 500 HR professionals across multiple sectors on mental health within their workforce. 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.

While employers seem to grasp the importance of helping staff through difficult situations, the stigma means that many employees are reluctant to turn to work-based support for help. Half of those surveyed acknowledged that throughout the pandemic their employers have increased the amount of well-being support on offer. However, 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.

When asked why these employees weren’t accepting their employer-funded mental health support, 36% said that they don’t have time, 32% that they don’t think their condition is severe enough and 23% said that they don’t think it will help. In contrast, many accountants would instead be willing to accept some slightly more informal advice: 85% said that they have followed advice to take regular breaks, and to take a proper lunch break and go for a walk.

Dr Cristian Holmes, Chief Executive of caba, said: “It’s very encouraging that many in our profession are attentive to improving their mental health and well-being, are open to exploring advice and are incorporating this into their working lives. Yet for many others, this has been a much more difficult time, and it’s troubling that the survey indicates there hasn’t been adequate and timely support in place. 

“While accountancy is a demanding profession, it’s important for all of us to understand when stress becomes unmanageable and how to seek more formal support. We would encourage all members of the community to use resources supplied by their employer, as well as those available from caba and other support charities.”

The charity is re-prioritising its services and moving to a digital-first approach, to ensure training and support are highly accessible for all ICAEW members and their families, including a new website with easy access to mental health resources.

“At caba, we want to build greater support and understanding around mental health, well-being and resilience. We offer emotional support for those who need help with mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression, and aim to be in the best possible position to assist accountants in this ongoing period of change,” Holmes said. 

Learn about the revitalised catalogue of mental health, well-being and support services caba offers to the accounting community here

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