3 ways firm leaders can support employee mental health
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3 ways firm leaders can support employee mental health

3 months ago · 3 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

Mental health is a complex issue with myriad contributors, but even simple actions can have noticeable benefits to your employees.

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, argues that improving mental wellness should be proactive rather than reactive:

“Don't wait to address mental health because these issues aren’t going to go away on their own,” said Vetter, CEO of The B3 Method Institute. “If you don't do something about this, it's going to hurt your succession planning and the future of your firm.”

Nearly one out of every five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, which means it’s very likely that some of your employees have struggled with their mental health at some point.

And even those who aren’t living with a diagnosed mental illness often experience stress and burnout and could benefit from a more supportive workplace that acknowledges the importance of mental wellness.

World Mental Health Day is October 10 and is an ideal time for firm leaders to show support for employees’ well-being. Here are three simple ways to improve mental wellness across your firm.

1. Openly discuss mental health

One way to improve mental health within a firm is for leaders to exhibit vulnerability and openly discuss the topic with their teams.

Vetter mentioned a managing partner who had an honest and open discussion about his mental health journey with everybody in the firm at an all-staff meeting. After the partner shared his story, employees started to open up about their struggles, helping to create a more supportive firm culture.

“I think sharing your own story is really important,” Vetter said. “In the past, partners have felt the need to have a certain persona, but when you're vulnerable and more transparent it opens that door.”

Vetter is open with her team about the fact that she has gone to a therapist for the past 20 years. Anything leaders can do to normalize therapy and destigmatize mental illness can help those around them seek the help they need, she said.

Vetter added that managers need to know where their limits are and when they should direct an employee to a medical professional.

2. Set clear boundaries around time

A lack of balance can cause increased stress and anxiety and lead to burnout, Vetter stated. Firm leaders and managers can restore balance by setting boundaries between work and personal time.

Vetter recommends outlining rules around communication and clearly stating that employees aren’t expected to respond to emails outside of normal work hours. Weekends and vacation time should be respected, and managers should make sure their teams are fully unplugging during their time away.

“If people don't have time to decompress and remove themselves from daily work, it's almost impossible to avoid stress and burnout,” Vetter said.

Managers should lead by example and resist the urge to email after hours or work while on vacation.

Vetter also recommends every firm schedule a “shutdown” once or twice a year. She describes a shutdown as a time when all work stops, and no emails are being sent/received and no one is being interrupted. She said good times for a shutdown can be around the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.

“You might think a shutdown isn’t necessary until you've actually done it, truly decompressed and realize how refreshed you feel after,” she said.

3. Don’t blame stress on the profession

In her work with firms, Vetter often hears partners say, “This is just the profession.” They insist overwork and stress are intrinsic aspects of the job and true balance is a pipe dream, but Vetter disagrees.

“It’s something that can change with the right discipline and rigor, but we have to want to do it,” she said.

“We do have the opportunity to change the profession, and it takes one person at a time. Don't fall back on old belief systems that this is ‘just the profession.’ It is possible to create a work and personal life that is desirable to everybody who works in your practice.”

Although mental health is a complex issue, these three simple actions provide a clear starting point.

As you seek to implement or enhance workplace policies to promote mental wellness within your firm, resources are available to help you.

Hannah Pitstick, B.A.

Hannah Pitstick is a content writer at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA.

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