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Despite this, mental health still suffers from the stigma attached to it and is often not addressed as desired within professional environments. Countable’s Co-founder and CEO, Atin Gupta,  in a recorded webinar (https://countable.co/mental-health-in-accounting/) with mental health expert Mike Stroh spoke about ways to understand and prioritize mental health. 

Mike Stroh, holds a Masters in Psychology and has worked with companies like Amazon, Hyundai, and Canada’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board. As well, he is regularly featured in Canadian national news, and has presented on many occasions raising awareness on Mental Health in the workplace. Here are the highlights from that interview. 

Understanding Workplace Mental Health

Mike identified that workplace mental health is a misunderstood topic that needs to be addressed before it can be worked upon. He also highlights the challenge in distinguishing the difference between mental illness and mental health. 

“The way we manage stress differs from the way we would help someone who has mental health problems. It’s best to implement best practices and guidelines to prevent a bad situation from getting worse or happening at all. To accomplish this there needs to be an environment where people are comfortable in reaching out and being honest about what they are going through. There is a saying that goes: the first step in resolving a problem is recognizing there is one; and the second in this case is to make those who need to be involved aware of it. As this is a question of company culture and work environment, these changes and adjustments start from the top. If leaders are able to be good role models for addressing the importance of mental health in the workplace, everything else should soon follow.” 

The pandemic and its aftermath has amplified the importance of understanding this issue. Mike agrees and says “Workplace mental health has become a prominent point of focus in contemporary workplaces, which reflects as part of  safety standards in the workplace. Companies are not only responsible for maintaining a safe physical workplace environment but also the well being of their employees mental health. In recent years, mental health factors have been more seriously taken into account and there has been a redefinition of what it means to look after employees’ mental health, or their health and wellbeing in general.”

Mental health in accounting

The accounting ecosystem experiences an annual turnover of 13.4%, compared to 9.5% across all other industries (Accountants Daily, 2017). The reasons for this can be varied but its link to the “busy season” phenomenon cannot be disputed. This “season” runs from roughly January to June  every year and is marked by intense workloads in the face of approaching annual tax deadlines. It has often led to the fourth quarter of the calendar year as the “quitting season” because people will leave before the next busy season starts. 

This phenomenon combined with the general stress levels in this industry has highlighted the need for solutions. 

Mike shares that,  “It comes down to perspective and practice, imagining what can be different and how to go about it. Accountants need to see the benefits of mental health practices in order to consider adopting them, and these benefits can be seen in aspects of life outside of the accounting workplace, in theirs and other people’s personal lives. As long as they’re open to change, anything is possible.”

How to prioritize accounting workplace mental health

Profits, clients, marketing and other priorities in accounting firms can place mental health as a secondary issue. Mike provides insights that conclude businesses can make some inaccurate assumptions about their ability to address and remedy mental health issues and its impact in the workplace. It has been found that businesses sometimes assume that they aren’t equipped with the human or financial resources to support mental health programs. As a result, they may settle or compromise on solutions, believing that simple online training or education is sufficient, or that simply providing information to employees is enough to make an impact. The bigger impact is missing on how these issues can have an effect on performance, productivity, and group dynamics.

There is no one-size fits all solution to workplace mental health but there is a way to get started on this journey.  Mike adds that “It is important to recognize the factors that can impact mental health and how to find solutions for them. While there will be differences between individuals, groups, and the working environment, these factors are common to all. Leaders can help by demonstrating the importance of and role modeling steps that can be taken to lower and minimize mental fatigue and stress, including taking periodic breaks or completing certain tasks in a more organized and less stressful manner. Employees are more likely to respond more positively and take action when leadership demonstrates what is being presented not just in words but also in actions”.

One such action is implementing programs like The 5 C Program 

Implementing the 5 C program

Mike outlines, The  Five C program as “an initiative aimed to create connected, effective, and purpose-driven mentally healthy teams. The Five C’s are: Clarity, Courage, Creativity, Constancy, and Compassion.”

It is a simple, creative, and effective strategy that organizations can use to implement workplace mental health initiatives and strategies and is derived from what’s called the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace. The Mental Health Commission, insurance companies, and large organizations created this national standard in Canada but its content is unfortunately very lengthy and dry, thus it hasn’t been all that well adopted in workplaces across the country. Using information from the standard, a program was created consisting of a short simple list of five steps that are easy to follow.

The first C stands for clarity. This involves an organization auditing itself with regards to its investments in workplace mental health initiatives and programs.

The second one is courage. Once there’s an understanding of the situation, does the organization have the commitment or courage to actually implement changes?

Third is creativity. Now that there’s clarity about the situation and there is a commitment to make changes, what creative ways can be used to do things differently and enact change?

The fourth is constancy. Tackling mental health problems can be challenging but with patience, persistence, and the right mindset, positive changes can happen. To keep things going it’s best to review what’s been done and see if the initiatives are yielding positive results. If yes that’s great, if not then some adjustments need to be made.

The fifth C is compassion, advancing the cause of human wellbeing. Experiences and lessons learned can be shared amongst colleagues, peers, and other organizations through reports, books, community fundraisers, and open conversation to foster change and spread awareness.

Mike leaves us with a deeper understanding. “The nature of a working environment has significant effects on the mental health and wellbeing of those that work within it,” he says. “Statistics show that a large share of the population suffers from various forms of mental issues, and considering the dramatic shift to mentally-intensive and knowledge-based work over the past few decades, is an issue that cannot be ignored. Workplaces that promote mental health, support those with issues or disorders through support programs, and promote a positive and open working environment are significantly more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, improve morale, and realize economic gains as a result of their initiatives. Mental health awareness is on the rise and companies that address and take steps toward maintaining and improving the mental health and wellbeing of its employees are those that are most likely to succeed.”

To gain more insights on this topic, watch the full webinar Here