- While large firms have this sort of ‘cheddar’ at their disposal and afford them the ability to research, design, implement and report on wellbeing programs, smaller ones usually don’t.
- 55% of SME owners feel responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.
- I work across a number of industries and one of the most important suggestions I hear is to learn from others. Communities such as The Balanced Firm, Facebook groups, member groups, or good ol’ friends and family, can all provide us with opportunities to ask, “What have you tried and what worked for you and your team?”
In May this year, PwC in the US announced a US$2.4 billion investment in its employee experience program, My+, with a focus on employee wellbeing, rewards, development and relationship building. In the words of my six year old, “that’s a lot of cheddar”.
Given the focus on attracting and retaining talent in 2022 – and the growing recognition that workplace wellbeing benefits are a key employee motivator – this investment in the wellbeing of PwC’s people is no doubt very welcome.
While large firms have this sort of ‘cheddar’ at their disposal and afford them the ability to research, design, implement and report on wellbeing programs, smaller ones usually don’t. Without a spare $2.4 bil, how might sole, small and micro business accounting practitioners embed wellbeing into their workplaces?
Pick on someone your own size
Just around the time COVID-19 hit in early 2020, a research report into the mental health of small business owners prepared for the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science found: “Small businesses make up the majority of all actively trading businesses in Australia and have been reported to experience higher levels of mental ill-health. Despite this, there has been a disproportionate focus on developing mental health programs suited to larger workplaces.”
Recent data from MYOB’s June 2022 Business Monitor Report also paints a clear picture as to the need and desire from SMEs to prioritise mental health. The report, based on a survey of 1000 Australian SME owners and operators found:
- 44% cites personal feelings of anxiety and one in five say they have experienced depression over the past year
- 55% of SME owners feel responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of their staff
- 61% think there is more they can do to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
At the same time the report found that just under one-third of respondents consider mental health to be an immediate concern, but almost one in three find it difficult to talk about.
Talking the talk
So, how might SME owners – and their employees – begin to talk about mental health in the workplace and feel confident in their ability to support staff and themselves?
I’m a big fan of simplicity, so I’m going to suggest the following framework (which also suggests I’m clearly a big fan of repetition):
1. Name it
It may shock you to know that I too am an employee – yes, an actual person who works within a business. In my experience and based on discussions with other employees, the most important first step a business of any size can take is to openly acknowledge that “this is important to us”. Explicitly stating that mental health and employee wellbeing matters to the business (no matter the size) can be the first step to supporting conversations around mental health at work.
There is formal training that can support you in this acknowledgement such as Mental Health First Aid training in the Counting on U program run by Deakin Business School. A less formal way is to gather your team and simply ask them how they’re feeling. I like the Cantril ladder adopted by Gallup that uses a scale of one to 10. Where are you on the ladder now? Where would you like to be in the future? How can we support you to get there? Or better yet, support your team members when they share their own stories of mental health challenges. And be explicit, make sure your staff and crucially your clients, understand that mental health is a priority for your business.
2. Model it
There’s no point in communicating that wellbeing is a workplace priority if you don’t demonstrate it. This might be through sharing your own stories or struggles with the pressures of running a business. It might be modelling good practices such as taking time out to go to the gym, or for a walk, or take some time off work to watch your child’s sporting event. As a sole practitioner, it might be assigning yourself time to assess how you are feeling (Heads Up has some free resources), or do something that energises and replenishes you.
3. Test it
I recently spoke with coach and small business mentor Amanda Gascoigne FCA, founder of The Balanced Firm online community (and also, frankly, the accounting community’s answer to TED talk star Brené Brown). She brought a perspective I – as a pragmatic researcher – hadn’t considered: that the size of the SME business is one of its greatest opportunities. She notes that as a small to medium business there is less risk in a “test and learn” approach to caring for employees. “Unlike the Big Four, we are agile, so can work out what works and what doesn’t work,” she says.
Gascoigne shares her own experience with running a small practice before she became a coach and mentor. Some of the approaches she adopted to support employee wellbeing included closing for an hour each day so her team could head to the gym to re-energise; closing at 4pm on a Friday (as time went on that early mark changed to noon) so the team could reenergise and re-balance; introducing staff rewards such as day spa visits and development days through training and conference attendance.
Most importantly, she asked staff what they wanted, checked-in on whether they were enjoying the benefits, and adapted them based on feedback and employee needs.
4. Account for it
In my conversation with Gascoigne, she reminded me that what really motivates SME and sole practitioners is the desire to help their own clients and that often comes at the expense of one’s own mental health. Some very practical advice from her is, “We need to engineer care into our business model. Put the ‘nice to have’ in your annual budget and you’d be surprised how little you have to spend to nurture that culture of care.”
5. Share it
I work across a number of industries and one of the most important suggestions I hear is to learn from others. Communities such as The Balanced Firm, Facebook groups, member groups, or good ol’ friends and family, can all provide us with opportunities to ask, “What have you tried and what worked for you and your team?” Don’t feel you need to limit yourself to accounting colleagues either. Our workplace experiences across industries are more similar than you may think. Ask, share and learn wherever you can, so that we all might feel more confident supporting each other in the workplace.
Resilience by Design: How to Survive and Thrive in a Complex and Turbulent World
'Resilience by Design: How to Survive and Thrive in a Complex and Turbulent World' by Mike Weeks delivers insightful and research-backed strategies and practical techniques.Read more