Pandemic takes its toll

January 2021

Research from Hays shows accountants are struggling with mental health issues during the ongoing Covid crisis, says Karen Young.

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the pandemic has taken its toll on the wellbeing among professionals. Those in accountancy have certainly felt the impacts of this, as many in the profession have had to take on new responsibilities and projects outside of the remit of their role.

Our recent research suggests that the picture of wellbeing among accountants is complex and continuously changing. So let’s delve into this and find out: how has accountants’ wellbeing been impacted by the pandemic? And what can employers do to support wellbeing in their organisations?

Wellbeing plummets

The reality is that wellbeing among accountants has dropped significantly since the onset of the virus. We carried out some research in October 2020 based on a survey of nearly 500 accountants which brought this to light.

We found that only about two in five (42%) accountants rated their wellbeing positively in October, which is a significant drop to the 66% who gave this rating before the first national lockdown commenced in March.

Not everyone has been affected equally though, with results varying across ages. Fewer accountants in Generation X (those born between 1961-1982) rated their wellbeing positively than other age groups (38% gave this rating). On the other hand, Generation Y (born between 1983-1995) gave their wellbeing the most positive rating (47%).

Is work-life balance to blame?

Our research also shone a light on work-life balance and the degree to which this is an issue for accountants. Currently, 42% of accountants rate their work-life balance between average and very poor. This is more or less unchanged with what they felt in July (43%) and only a small drop from when the first national lockdown commenced in March (48%). Being part of such a vital profession means it’s likely that accountants will have found themselves taking on extra responsibilities to keep their teams and organisations afloat throughout the pandemic.

Worryingly, work-life balance looks to be an ongoing issue for the profession. Our research found that nearly three-quarters (70%) of accountants expect their work-life balance to remain at its current level over the next three months.

Support has ramped up

For the most part, employers are stepping up their support to help employees maintain a positive work-life balance. Many have established new policies to address work/life balance and offered resources to inform employees and allocated leaders to offer guidance.

Wellbeing support will only become more important to employees as further changes to our world of work are expected. The organisations which go above and beyond to support employee wellbeing will position themselves as employers of choice and benefit from drawing in top talent.

What further action is needed?

While it’s encouraging that employers are stepping it up where wellbeing is concerned, our findings suggest that more needs to be done.

In light of how different age demographics have been impacted, it’s important that employers tailor the support they have on offer.

After all, what an accountant over fifty needs to manage their wellbeing may be different to someone in their twenties. One size certainly doesn’t fit all, and the more employers realise and act on this, the more supported their employees will feel.

Another recommendation for employers is to lead from the front and overtly display a healthy work-life balance. If your team sees you sending emails after work hours, never taking a break during the day and working during annual leave, this sets the tone that it’s acceptable for others to do the same. People follow by example – so ensuring that the example from the top demonstrates a healthy work-life balance will go a long way.

Ultimately, this is an issue which needs to be addressed by employers and employees alike. Both parties have a responsibility to maintain a positive wellbeing and a healthy work-life balance, even if the spotlight is on employers to ensure they have the necessary support in place. By keeping wellbeing on the agenda and taking on board the above recommendations, accountants will be able to put their best foot forward as our world of work continues to adapt and evolve.

• Karen Young, Director, Hays Accountancy & Finance.