Mental Health Awareness Week: How organisations can help ensure good employee wellbeing

  • May 14, 2018
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My name is Reafad. I started working in a big accountancy firm, BDO LLP, five months ago, in my first ever job in a professional environment. Before this I studied AAT at college and before that I did my A Levels. I now work in the Audit team as a trainee in the Tech & Media sector.

Accountancy can be a high-pressured environment. We need to ensure we are providing the best possible service for clients and are delivering for the partners. Our firms invest a lot of money into our training and we need to study hard outside of work to get through it. We are given a tremendous amount of responsibility from day one and sometimes it is extremely difficult to settle down. Especially for school leavers like me.

I’ve suffered with anxiety disorder since school and I could tell that the expectations on me were starting to take their toll. I was panicking about things going wrong and my performance at work started to suffer. I felt as if I was letting the other team members down and I felt helpless. Having anxiety means that I find it hard to control my worries. Stress can be a trigger for anxiety but it’s not quite as straightforward as that – my feelings are more constant and I can feel more anxious about situations than I necessarily should be.

I realised I needed to speak to my manager and try to explain how I was feeling. That wasn’t easy to do and I felt like I was taking a leap of faith, hoping that they would understand. Mental health issues are often not openly discussed in workplaces and there can be a great deal of stigma attached. But the reality is, many people take sick days and in some situations, their absence could have health issues attached because their mental health is affecting them at work.

Luckily, once I explained how anxiety disorder affects me, my managers were more empathetic about my situation and it’s now something we are able to discuss more regularly and openly. I work for a big firm which has an employee assistance programme and there is support available to me, although this is something which might not be offered in a smaller environment.

I feel that there are a number of things organisations like mine can consider:

  • Company sickness policies should also include sections relating to mental health. This will help members of staff know what to do if they or a member of their team start to suffer from poor mental health. Companies could also look at their sick leave policy, and allow employees to use sick days as mental health days if they need time off to deal with stress or other problems.
  • Managers should receive training on looking for signs of stress. Many people keep the fact that they are struggling secret because they are worried of being stigmatised. This means that it’s not always easy to spot when someone you manage may be suffering.
  • Mental health should be covered in the induction process, possibly by going through the company’s sickness and mental health policies. This will help make sure that new starters at the organisation know exactly what support they can receive, and how to receive it. This will also be particularly helpful for individuals who may just be starting out in their first job after school or university, and may not be aware that companies offer support for employee mental health and wellbeing.

I think we need to be more open about mental health issues and the impact they can have at work. I’ve found talking about it has been positive and my managers have encouraged me to share my experiences. This mental health awareness week, what can you do, either to help manage your own situation or that of those around you in the office?

Reafad is a trainee accountant at BDO LLP. He completed his Professional Accountancy qualification with AAT in 2017.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 14-20 May 2018. Find out how accountants can best support their mental health and that of others by taking a look at our Mental Health Awareness Week content. 

For more examples about dealing with mental health issues in the workplace, visit the AAT Comment website. 

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