Peter Picton-Phillipps, Partner and Market Leader of EY Hong Kong’s Financial Services practice, discusses the issue of mental well-being for accountants and auditors, and steps that companies, team leaders and individuals can take to protect themselves and their teams
Talking about mental health issues is traditionally a taboo topic in societies all across the world. However, dealing with our own mental well-being is something we all have to do. We all know someone, a friend or family member, who finds the pressures of work or personal matters challenging to manage at times. Unfortunately, too many of us will also know someone who struggles or has struggled with more serious mental health issues. The good news is that here in Hong Kong the taboo is beginning to break down, and individuals and companies are recognizing the importance of maintaining good mental health and providing support to help everybody achieve it.
Why is this so important for accountants and auditors? Research conducted by the City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (CMHA HK) from June to July 2020 has shown that within the corporate Hong Kong community, 27 percent of employees have experienced mental health issues within the last 12 months. The alliance is a collaborative venture founded by businesses in Hong Kong. It is business-led, expert-guided and aims to create a culture of good mental health for workers in Hong Kong, share best practices and increase mental health understanding in the workplace. While common symptoms such as anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, feeling agitated and stressed can be caused by many different factors, there is clear evidence that the working constraints placed on all of us in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated these symptoms as people worry about job security, fear of contracting the disease and the lack of normal social activities. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a similar CMHA HK study in 2019 found that 37 percent of professional services employees had already been experiencing mental ill health while in employment. We can only assume that these figures have risen over the last year.
So what can companies do? At EY in Hong Kong, we began to think about this in 2019, and launched our mental well-being programme as an addition to our broader well-being programme in October 2020, aligned with World Mental Health day. The objectives of the programme are threefold:
- To explicitly acknowledge that mental well-being is as important as physical well-being and an area the firm is committed to invest in to support our people.
- To educate managers and staff to build a better understanding of mental wellness and how to maintain it, and how to identify mental well-being issues among team members. For a smaller group, we are planning to train them in mental health first aid.
- To provide enhanced support for our people who need it, both internally, and through external providers.
We also recognized that we couldn’t do this alone and turned to the CMHA HK for support. For companies that want to find out more, details can be found at www.cmhahk.org.
While we are still developing and rolling out our programme at EY, we have set ambitious goals to educate all our people over the next few years, and dispel the fear of talking about and dealing with mental well-being issues in a constructive way. We believe all companies owe it to their employees to help them look after their mental well-being, support them in times of stress and anxiety and help promote good mental health and happiness.
What actions can individuals take to support their own mental well-being? Here are my suggestions:
- Establish an exercise routine. There is plenty of research now to support the link between physical and mental well-being, and the old saying “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is not just a common sense statement. Over my 28-year professional career, what I have learned is the importance of establishing a routine that I can stick to whether I am under pressure at work or not, which in my own case, is one hour of exercise in the early morning. I find that that time to myself, without the distraction of phones and emails, allows me to assess the day ahead and bring some perspective to whatever challenges I am facing.
- Develop strong relationships. Having strong relationships with your manager and teammates is important as it provides an infrastructure of support when things get tough.
In addition, companies can champion well-being and mental health. With COVID-19 restrictions likely to be remaining in place for some time, it is even more important that companies address and champion well-being and mental health in the workplace, and individuals monitor and protect their mental well-being, especially as we enter the traditional year-end busy season for accountants and auditors.
From a business perspective, a lack of support for mental health can lead to lower workplace productivity, higher staff turnover and affect the business’ long-term success.
Individuals and companies are recognizing the importance of maintaining good mental health and providing support to help everybody achieve it.