Mental health considerations today are front and center for all of us. While practitioners have always balanced busy season with personal and family obligations, many firm members at all levels hit a breaking point during the disruptions and uncertainty of the pandemic. The Great Resignation, which has seen millions of employees resign voluntary throughout the past year, has loaded more work onto remaining firm members’ shoulders. It has exacerbated the talent shortage the profession was already facing, especially in smaller firms.
If not addressed, mental health issues can be costly not only for the people they affect directly but also for the businesses where they work, according to an analysis by the National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago. However, when employees received effective treatment for mental distress, the analysis found companies saw greater productivity and lower total medical and disability costs and absenteeism. In fact, companies can expect a return of $4 for every dollar invested in mental health treatment, the research found.
The most effective and long-lasting solutions for employers will involve changes to firm culture to remove unnecessary pressures on staff and promote approaches that will benefit the firm and all its people. Here are a few ways to make it happen.
Leverage technology to drive meaningful change. If your firm has been putting off upgrading technology, now is a good time to begin using cloud-based applications to tackle redundant tasks. Not only will this minimize workload pressures, it will also allow firm members to take on higher-level responsibilities, which will improve job satisfaction, productivity and, most likely, retention. In addition, now that firms have succeeded with remote work, it’s a good idea to be as flexible as possible in offering all-remote or hybrid options. Many firms were skeptical for years about how productive their people would be if working remotely, but the pandemic has shown that those concerns are unfounded. It’s now clearly easy and efficient to use technology to connect people to their work and each other. More flexibility in where and when people work offers them greater control over their schedules and the chance for better balance between work and personal life.
Be a visible role model. No matter how much you talk about reducing stress, the culture will not change unless the owners and partners lead the way. That means taking advantage of the options your firm offers, including hybrid work, if it’s best for you. It’s healthy for your people to see that firm owners have a life outside of work, that you’re not responding to emails 24/7, and that you take time for activities that are important to you and believe they should too, even in busy season. In addition to practicing what you preach, make sincere recommendations that your team take advantage of whatever work arrangements that best suit them.
Examine your benefits. Does your employee health care plan offer adequate mental health coverage? If not, including it can provide employees with welcome resources and send a strong signal that your firm cares about their wellbeing. Consider also allowing people to take mental health days as needed. They should not be part of their normal PTO, but a separate option just to make life a little easier. In fact, now that busy season is over, many firms are closing the office once a month for a mental health day. If the entire office is closed, employees won’t come back to a full inbox from colleagues, and it sends a great message to clients who will hopefully consider doing the same.
Drop timesheets. This sounds like a process consideration, but you’d be amazed at the impact it can have on mental health. First, changing your metrics to focus on output rather than input emphasizes the importance of the work and not the time spent doing it. That switch to value rather than volume will resonate with your people and your clients, because it makes more sense. In addition, when you’re at the end of a day, filling out timesheets can be a truly unwelcome task. Bonus structures that are built on time spent also encourage longer hours. It’s questionable whether those structures improve the quality or level of work, and they can certainly add to work overload for your people.
Start the day fresh. That’s how your people will feel if your firm adopts the First 15 Reading Program. Instead of jumping into the business of the day immediately, this program encourages firm members to spend a quarter hour with some quiet reading. The program was founded by Chet Buchman, managing partner of Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd, and it can improve morale, foster lifelong learning and enhance productivity. Personally, I can tell you that it has a calming effect that can stick with you through the day. PCPS has embraced the program and offers a related toolkit to help your firm get started.
Realign the culture
A positive and more relaxed staff can lead to more frequent and satisfying communications with clients, better client and staff retention and potentially improved productivity and collection. It’s well worth considering ways to realign your culture to support better mental health. For more ideas on promoting employee mental wellbeing, firms can also turn to PCPS tools as well as local and national mental health organizations.
Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-252-4618.