Mental health and stress look like becoming dominant issues for the workplace in this new decade. They’ve always been there of course, swept under the carpet for so long, but now no longer ignored.
Technology allows us to work 24/7 and be expected to be on call no matter our role. Inevitably, this feeds stress and makes work/life balance difficult to manage.
It’s well known that ‘front office’ or KPI driven roles are susceptible to high levels of stress and burnout but, in this article, I want to focus on the (equally challenging but perhaps less instantly recognised) stresses facing those in industry Finance departments, an area I have been recruiting in for two years.
Whilst I can’t claim to be an expert in workplace psychology, I have spoken to enough senior Finance professionals to know that managing the money for a business is a really big deal. ‘Money makes the world go round’ in every company and, whether it’s the cash, the funding or the preparation to IPO, it’s the crucial part of any business’s growth and success. That responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of those leading the Finance function.
Because the Finance team is a ‘back office’ department, their work – and the mental health pressures they are under – can (arguably) fly under the radar, not always receiving the same kudos and recognition as more ‘glamorous’, upfront roles. Those who have trained in a Big 4/Top 10 environment, in my experience, have often been expected to work late into the night, for example, simply because ‘they are used to it’ from their auditing practice. Internal Finance teams will have to work tirelessly during the end of month reporting process, annual audit and preparing figures to report back to the board or owners (be it private or PE/VC backed). These intense work cycles, plus the underlying responsibility for being the go-to for such a huge area of a business, will inevitably cause intense stress points.
The significance of mental health issues in finance has been recognised by CABA, the chartered accountants’ charity, which has identified mental wellbeing and stress as key reasons for calls to its office. And in 2012, so concerned were major City players in finance, legal and professional services at (unrecognised) workplace mental health issues that they established the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA). Its influence has become global, last year advising on the first mental health agenda for the World Economic Forum at Davos and helping the WHO create a global guide for workplace mental health.
So, what can be done to help reduce the detrimental impact on Finance teams’ mental health?
Many businesses now offer flexible working. The 2019 Flexible Working Survey conducted by Wildgoose, the team building events provider, found that 39% of employees who have flexible working believed it helped their mental wellbeing and 69% believed it contributed to better work/life balance. Nearly half (43%) currently not working flexibly believed being able to work flexibly would have a positive impact on their mental health.
Another option, particularly relevant to peak times such as audit, is to hire interim solutions to execute a specific task, and allow the core team to concentrate on their roles and largely maintain their flexible working practices. Thus, people are not spread too thinly, stress levels are managed and workplace effectiveness maintained.
Key to managing workplace wellbeing, according to research, is a culture of openness, of encouraging conversations around mental health issues – at all levels. The CMHA in its Thriving at Work guide focuses on embedding this awareness into structures and practice, so, for instance, line manager reviews include discussion around team wellbeing and their own mental health; induction and management training to include ‘wellbeing’.
Many employees will avoid talking about how workplace stress affects them – worried it will affect their career. But all the research I have looked at – and my own experience - emphasises how important it is that people inside a business are able to speak openly about this topic and for businesses to be open and responsive to individuals, as well as proactive with wellbeing policies, to avoid staff anxiety or serious burnout. Ultimately a happy CFO/FD will run a happy team and this will lead to high performance.
I have only briefly touched upon examples of how to reduce pressure within a specific division but I would be interested to hear others’ views on mental health pressures in the field of Finance and what can be done to help maintain a happy and healthy workforce.
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