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Balancing the mind ledger: Mental health realities in accounting

November 20, 2023

Explore the hidden challenges of mental health in the accounting sector and discover how firms are innovating to create a more balanced and resilient future for their professionals

In the precise and structured realm of accounting, the topic of mental health is often an overlooked narrative. Behind the precision of financial statements and the clarity of audits, accountants confront a set of unique challenges.

Balancing demanding deadlines, adapting to rapidly changing technologies, and managing the expectations of accuracy and diligence, these professionals navigate a landscape where stress and mental well-being are significant considerations.

“While accountancy is a demanding profession, it’s important for all of us to understand when stress becomes unmanageable and how to seek more formal support,” says Dr Cristian Holmes, Chief Executive of caba.

“We would encourage all members of the community to use resources supplied by their employer, as well as those available from caba and other support charities.”

The unique stressors faced by accountants
According to ICAEW nearly a third of accountants (30.4%) suffer from mental health issues, with more than half (51%) admitting depression and anxiety leaves them dreading going to work. More than two in five (43.5%) accountants believed their job was a key contributor to their poor mental health.

Accountants often face long hours, tight deadlines, and high-pressure environments, which can contribute to stress, anxiety, and burnout. Additionally, the profession requires ongoing study and exams, flexible working patterns, and the pressure of delivering accurate and timely financial information.

These factors can be manageable for some, but for others, they can lead to a decline in mental well-being, manifesting in various ways such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, or panic attacks. Research from the Healthy Professional Work partnership showed that more than half of accountants have experienced a mental health issue at some point in their lives.

About 80% of respondents to the study indicated their work stress is impacted by accounting cycles or the time of year

The impact of mental health on the profession
The ripple effects of mental health issues within the accounting profession are profound and multifaceted. On an individual level, accountants grappling with stress, anxiety, or depression may experience diminished concentration and decision-making capabilities, directly impacting their professional performance.

This decline can manifest in various forms, from increased error rates in financial reporting to delayed project completions, affecting the overall quality of work.

At a broader organisational level, the mental well-being of accountants influences workplace dynamics significantly.

Firms with high levels of stress and burnout among staff often face challenges such as decreased overall productivity, heightened employee turnover, and a strained office atmosphere. These factors not only affect the firm’s operational efficiency but can also impact client relationships and the firm’s reputation in the industry.

The accounting sector experiences a higher annual turnover rate of 13.4%, compared to 9.5% across other industries. This increased turnover is partly attributed to the intense workload during the ‘busy season’ leading many to leave before the next season begins.

Moreover, the stigma surrounding mental health can exacerbate these challenges. A culture of silence and discomfort around discussing mental health issues can lead to underreporting and a lack of support for those in need.

This situation underscores the importance of fostering a workplace environment where mental health is openly addressed and supported.

Initiatives like mental health awareness training, appointing well-being champions, and offering mental health support services are becoming more widespread. Some firms have taken innovative approaches, such as implementing flexible working arrangements and promoting work-life balance, to alleviate the pressures faced by their employees.

The Big Four accountancy firms have led the way in mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Their approaches have included appointing a full time Mental Health Leader, campaigns encouraging people to talk about mental health at work and reduce stigma.

EY has trained over 500 staff as mental health first aiders, and KPMG has introduced the “Be Mindful” program to create a safe space for colleagues to share their experiences and gain support regarding mental health

Additionally, firms are working towards creating cultures of openness and trust, where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health issues. This cultural shift is crucial, as it encourages early intervention and support, potentially mitigating the long-term impacts of mental health challenges.

Charting a healthier future
The journey towards addressing mental health in the accounting profession is both crucial and challenging.

As accounting firms increasingly recognise the importance of mental well-being, their efforts not only support their employees but also contribute to the resilience and sustainability of the profession.

Looking ahead, the integration of mental health awareness and support into the fabric of accounting culture is not just a necessity but an imperative for a thriving future in this dynamic industry.

[Accountancy Age]

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