From XU Magazine, 
Issue 22

Talking Point: Mental Health in the workplace

Helping people to tackle stress, anxiety and other mental health issues is central to promoting a positive and professional workplace culture. And that goes for accounting practices big, small or multinational.

For Accountex 2020, we’re sharpening our focus on the topic and making sure it takes centre stage in the expo’s educational seminar programme. Here, four of our speakers - all wellbeing experts - share their knowledge on this important subject...

Meet our panel of speakers:

Sharon Critchlow: Council Member, ACCA

Nick Elston: Founder, Forging People

Richard Jenkins: Psychologist & spokesperson for CABA

Sarah Jones: Founder & Directer, Sarah-J Coaching

ZL: Can small practices skip subjects like mental health and wellbeing?

NE: In short - no! In fact, small practices may have the greater challenge - especially as an owner/partner as we can sometimes fall into the trap of self-care being selfish. Even though this is in the context of a professional environment - to be happy and strong in business - you need to be happy and strong personally. We very often forget that we have a small thing called ‘choice’ that we have every day - but we frequently relinquish that and fall into the trap of firefighting and just going with the ebb and flow of life. Take back control!

RJ: No matter the size of an organisation, mental health support and wellbeing need to be acknowledged and should still bra a key consideration for their workforce. No one is exempt from poor mental health, whether that’s a CEO of a multi-national corporation, or a junior member of a small start-up.

The scale of the support on offer will vary across different sized practices, but ultimately, the clear line of non-judgemental and safe communication needs to exist, whether there are 3 accountants employed, or 300.

SJ: Small businesses have a great opportunity to include staff in the strategy and work together on forming a plan. If your employees are not healthy, happy or appreciated - you will lose productivity and results in your business as your teams shut down.

Health & wellbeing is like the foundation of a house – it needs to be supported and I would argue it is a priority for every business, no matter how big or small. - Sarah Jones (Founder & Director, Sarah-J Coaching)

The FSB tells us that the annual bill for sickness is 25 billion in small businesses and we have 60% of employees in the UK employed by small businesses – that is a significant percentage. There are many programmes that exist and you can adopt – so it’s not a one size fits all – work together to co create the programmes you can adopt into your organisation to have productive, loyal and supportive colleagues. Key areas can include physical health, diversity, inclusion, mental health, social connection and sustainability contribution but each company can devise its own strategy, involving employees. There is a duty of care here for organisations.

ZL: How can small accounting practices help to foster a positive approach to mental health?

SC: Be open and talk about it before it is an issue. If there is a history of mental health issues ask them before there is a crisis what they would like you to do if an issue occurs. That approach is also very useful for staff with epilepsy, asthma and diabetes.

Have a group discussion or during one to one conversations ask about how stress feels to them. Some people go quiet, some are vocal under pressure. Consider as a group what you can do to support each other. Sometimes its easier to talk about stress than to label it mental health and it starts a conversation around triggers and workplace work arounds which tend to work in both scenarios.

As a leader If you have lived experience of mental health and feel you can share it, then do so. Its hard for an employer to embrace change for their staff when they are struggling themselves.

Mental health is only one part of the wellbeing landscape, embracing the other areas such as creativity, creating community, getting better sleep, understanding our group and individual goals all help to provide a collective support framework.

As leaders we need to listen, not to respond but to understand. Accept that you are there to help a solution but do not feel the need to become a mental health professional or to find a solution for them. It is their journey and you can signpost and encourage.  Do not under estimate the power of being in someones corner.

SJ: By being open about it and making it clear that this is a priority for the company. Have a clear strategy and plan across different facets – health, fitness, mental health, environment, diversity and inclusion, community, wellbeing. I think be open about it and introduce programmes that walk the walk such as mental first aid.

ZL: As an employer should we be keeping an eye on our employees burning out?

NE: Sometimes, just sometimes - you never see it coming.  That’s important to know.  I never saw it coming when I had my ‘meltdown’ - it just happened.  I now know why people reach that stage - they do not schedule recovery.  They will fill up their diary with all of their work stuff - then the rest of their diary with everyone else.  But where do you figure in your own life?  If you do not schedule recovery - the things that you love - that life, recharge and energise you - YOU WILL STOP.  Some tells can be excessive tiredness, lack of attention, high anger/aggression - basically erratic or irrational responses to situations or events.  But as I say - we mask ourselves - so not even we see it coming sometimes.

RJ: Every member within an organisation should be mindful of burnout, as multiple studies have shown a considerable number of us feel mounting stress from demanding workloads, and the more stressed we feel, the lower our productivity and overall wellbeing. Lack of productivity is a huge barrier for employers, therefore spotting the signs of burnout, and being mindful when adding to people’s workloads or unreasonable deadlines, will go a long way in ensuring the positive mental wellbeing of colleagues.

SJ: I think promoting a culture of mental first aid is key as this makes the topic less taboo. Watch your teams typical style and identify any changes in behaviour- are they late, sick, injured, irritable, overworked? what changes or behaviours do you notice? And then making sure you have given permission to discuss it. It’s not about interfering with employees’ personal lives but more about giving them what they want, which is access to services and tools to help them look after themselves.

ZL: How can you spot the signs of someone struggling with mental health?

SC: It’s different for everyone, the important thing is to note changes in how people are. They may lose interest in how they look so there could be visual clues. They may argue more or not speak up at all. If this is different to normal, it could be a sign. Interestingly this includes flamboyant behaviour or extreme expenditure which could be a way of masking issues or not facing a situation. With mental health can come addictive behaviours from drugs and alcohol to gambling.

RJ: There isn’t a definitive checklist of signs to spot mental health issues in people, as all symptoms will differ depending on the person.  Changes to a person’s usual habits, however, may be a more obvious sign. If someone is usually on time has begun arriving later than usual and tired, or if an employee’s work isn’t up to standard or if they’re missing deadlines, these could all be red flags. It is important to be as sensitive as possible when handling these situations, and to not come across as accusatory.

ZL: How much of being a great manager or leader is down to mindset?

SC: It is all down to mindset. Yes, you can learn some techniques or approaches to leadership but you have to want to see your team grow, to stretch their abilities and encourage them to learn new things. If you have done it well, they may start to excel in areas which were your speciality. Having a growth mindset will allow you to keep pushing yourself and get out of the way of your teams progression.

RJ: A strong and positive mindset are of course great assets for leaders and managers, but to really excel, there are more factors to consider. Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills, adaptability, responsibility and communication are just some of the assets a leader needs to exude.

Leadership is much more strategic, and very much future-focused. Effective leadership skills empower you to build trust with, influence and motivate people to achieve goals.

SJ: The concept of having a fixed (closed) mindset or open mindset is a key to success. Without an open or growth mindset we can take a one size fits all approach to life and shut down the possibility of solutions that we, or our team, may not have thought of. Our roles are different today – we are working often across several generations in our employees, with part-time arrangements, cultural aspects with working across borders or different backgrounds and a great manager will adapt and flex his or her style accordingly according to team and business requirements.

Years ago – when we were in more of industrial age rather than service age – maybe a more top down approach worked, but not anymore. You can see some of this appear in comments that ex-employees add on Glassdoor and other sites, and I cannot tell you how many Masterminds I attend where finding and retaining good staff is a challenge. We are in a service industry and when I meet accountants and financial experts it seems the ones that succeed have an open mindset and a commitment to providing a more rounded (above compliance) service to customers, putting themselves into the customer’s challenge and offering a flexible approach to working.

Many leaders need to influence and act to support future transformations in their organisation, their own development and that of their team so it’s critical. Your team need to see you can listen, appreciate and adapt your approach rather than sticking to methods that are outdated and not bringing results. The ability to be inclusive and react to change means this mindset is a key success factor. Listening, asking questions, opening debates and listening to feedback always ranks highly on effective leadership traits, we don’t always need to know the answers ourselves as leaders!

ZL: Are there any good resources that small business owners can tap into to help their employees that are struggling with mental health or at least help to point their employees in the right direction?

NE: It’s important to say this;  the reason why we are afraid of people that may open up to us about Mental Health and their challenges is because we inherently feel the need to fix people. It’s a human trait.  However, as employers, they are not coming to us to be fixed. Essentially in life - people just want to be heard and they want to be understood - and if you can do that - they will feel empowered to find their own way forward.  So our only responsibility is to ‘actively signpost’ - get very good at knowing where to send people. Whether it be through a Mental Health First Aider, Employee Assistance Program or an organisation such as Time To Change, Mind or Mental Health UK - all you have to do is listen - properly listen - then suggest a way forward to a professional or organisation.

SC: It is time to talk day on 6th Feb so take a look at their website for ideas on getting the conversation started. www.time-to-change.org.uk

Also www.mind.org.uk

ACAS can help with what to do as an employer - they have a mental health section on their website:
www.acas.org.uk

There are a lot of smaller charities local mental health charities around the UK who offer support services – google what is available in your area. Such as Off The Record: otrbristol.org.uk

Papyrus trust - papyrus-uk.org

We have Bristol resources here: discoveryourbounce.com/socialpassionproject

Join an employee assistance programme. They are available from as little as £1 per employee per month. This would allow them access to help. There is also training for managers for mental health awareness.
dpt.nhs.uk/mindful-employer

You could put up a list of useful apps in prominent place:
- Stay Alive helps people with suicidal thoughts  
- Calm and Rain Rain for getting better sleep
- Insight timer for mindfulness

There are blogs and resources you can share with positive messages:
- discoveryourbounce.com/blogs
- actionforhappiness.org

Online wellbeing tool kit:
discoveryourbounce.com/forbusiness/mywellbeing/

Giving back...

Why not adopt and support a local mental health charity with a sponsored event and ask them to speak in your office. Even if there is only a couple of staff you could arrange to have a chat about their services and do a fun run for them. It opens the conversation and gives a sense of human connection to a potential solution should they or a family member need it. It also provides an opportunity to reach out to your clients  - 1 in 4 of them will totally appreciate you are doing this as it directly impacts them too - a nd you may find they become closer to you because you are embracing mental health.

ZL: How can a show like Accountex help small business with issues surrounding mental health/wellbeing?

NE: When I first spoke at Accountex 2019 - I was the only Speaker on the line-up talking about Mental Health & Wellbeing.  My talk was absolutely rammed! So much engagement & interaction. I think it showed us just how much the Accountancy industry is crying out for more awareness, insights and solutions in this field. People were coming up to me to open up for the first time ever about their own challenges - I made so many friends, partnerships and new clients that day. I was then booked to speak at Accountex Summit North in Manchester 2019 - and again, the response was phenomenal - standing room only again. Accountex can truly lead the way in the industry & I’m excited to be partnering with them again into 2020.

SC: Have a debate and get the conversation started. Its hard being self-employed and its lonely.

Put it front and centre on your stage. Use your platform to promote positive mental health outcomes such as community problem sharing.

In April 2019 my business carried out public Hackathon for mental health in Bristol. It was fast paced and involved groups answering questions and recording their findings.  We discussed issues, resources, what everyone can do to help themselves and others. We created a report and issued it as part of our Social Passion Project. www.discoveryourbounce.com/socialpassionproject

If a Hackathon sounds a bit too sexy, why not carry out a survey? Find out what people in our sector are concerned about. What barriers are they experiencing? What would be helpful to them? If nothing else this could let people see they are not alone.

SJ: Shows like Accountex are pivotal in placing issues such as mental health higher on the agenda. Providing an open platform for discussion will only help to create an inclusive environment equipped to support everyone. This will particularly help to provide small businesses with tools and providers that can help them fundamentally shape policies and programmes.

Why leave it there?

Accountex is Europe’s No. 1 Accountancy & Finance Expo. Find out more and register for a free ticket (quoting priority code XU101)

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