Between recent tax changes, the impact of COVID-19, the lack of in-person client meetings, and balancing life at home, accounting and tax professionals need more support than ever. A firm’s commitment to supporting mental health starts with creating a psychologically safe and healthy work environment – one that’s free of stigma, harassment, and discrimination, controlling relationships, and factors leading to job burnout.

We need to encourage positive mental health, reduce workplace stress, and help our employees feel more fulfilled and supported. Placing importance on improving our employee’s well-being can bring monumental results to our firm’s health, the health of our employees, and a firm’s bottom line.

Here’s what to know about workplace mental health and employee productivity.

Developing Workplace Mental Health Strategies

Although the symptoms of mental health illness often go unnoticed, the economic consequences do not. Lost productivity is the biggest fallout from an employee’s poor mental health, with Canadian businesses reporting an estimated $6.6 billion loss annually – and that was before the pandemic. Mental health disorders negatively affect employee engagement, absenteeism and presenteeism, communication with coworkers, and physical capability and daily functioning. They’re also the leading cause of disability claims.

Supporting the mental health of our employees has to start at the top of our firms. A workplace mental health strategy mobilizes everyone in the firm to work toward a common goal of establishing and sustaining a healthy, safe, and successful workplace.

We need to create a well-organized plan that shows how much we value our team, helps reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, and creates a culture of support. We should invest in proactive workplace mental health programs that promote mental health awareness in addition to treatment.

Properly Manage Employees’ Workloads

Research from the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) found that 17 percent of chartered accountants cite unrealistic working hours as a leading contributor to workplace stress. Seven in 10 professionals say they’re mentally exhausted, with the main challenge being heavy workloads and blurred work-life lines. For many accounting professionals, COVID-19 is creating even more workplace stress.

Encourage positive mental health by properly managing employees’ workloads. Create a work environment that encourages employees to choose how, when, and where they work to better divide work and home life. A firm’s work environment should be comfortable enough for employees to feel confident speaking up when they need support on projects or when they need time off to rest and recover. Provide staff with personal/mental health days and encourage them to take them when needed.

Learn to recognize the signs of a toxic workplace – such as unrealistic expectations, a clear lack of communication, and unsupportive colleagues – and put measures in place to make the workplace more productive and enjoyable.

Implement Conflict Resolution Practices

When there are numerous goals, styles, and learning preferences in the workplace, conflicts will inevitably happen. Add in workplace stress, and two to three times more conflicts can arise. Too much unresolved conflict can lead to reduced employee mental health.

Although avoiding conflicts altogether is almost impossible, we can learn how to deal with conflict in our workplaces effectively. The key to conflict resolution? Address the problem, not the person. Get a clear understanding of the issue, treat everyone involved with respect and professionalism, and find common ground. Encourage respectful, non-derogatory behaviours while offering solutions. Understand that it’s completely normal not always to agree and focus more on the resolution than justification. Professional development training such as this Managing Difficult Conversations webinar provides additional strategies when engaging in difficult dialogue.

And remember, not all conflict is negative. When a firm has a healthy amount, there’s more room for creativity, better ideas, and more engaged employees. Debates, competition, and disruptions within a profession are all examples of conflict that can lead to firm growth.

Provide Mental Health Initiatives

If left untreated, employees suffering from poor mental health could soon be on their way to burnout and depression. Ensuing results include increased absenteeism and high staff turnover – which hurts the entire firm.

Unfortunately, the stigma attached to having a mental health disorder often prevents employees from seeking help. From a management perspective, it’s challenging to recognize when employees are suffering from a mental health disorder to offer assistance.

First, we need to create a supportive workplace that raises awareness and encourages conversation around mental health. Addressing the topic regularly in staff meetings and reminding employees about the resources available can start breaking down the stigma. Ask senior team members to speak openly about their mental health journey to help encourage others who are currently struggling. Employees can see firsthand that there’s no need to hide their struggles and that a successful career is possible with the proper treatment.

Next, we need to eliminate any barriers to accessing care for workplace mental health issues. Offer adequate, easily accessible mental health benefits in the employee group benefits plan, and regularly remind staff of these resources. Host stress awareness workshops, provide an employee assistance line, and organize weekly meditation and yoga classes. Deliver mental health training for senior staff to identify the signs and symptoms of employees with mental disorders and prioritize confidentiality when employees mention their struggles. During firm meetings, spend time completing well-being check-ins where open, honest conversations about stress and its impacts occur.

The Bottom Line

Workplace stress can negatively affect an employee’s physical, emotional, social, and mental health, leading to a loss in productivity and profit for the firm. With an adequate workplace mental health strategy in place, the challenges and demands of the accounting industry are easier to manage, employees are more productive and experience positive well-being, and firms can achieve their potential.

Research shows a strong link between education and health, making professional development an important part of your workplace mental health strategy. Our wide variety of online courses provide the most current and relevant professional development content to help keep Canadian CPA’s up-to-date with their annual PD requirements. Browse our online courses to learn more.