Xero Study Finds Less than 50 Percent of Canadian Accountants Have Mental Wellness Practises
Yearly May reigns in mental health awareness month. Amongst the onslaught of unpredictable changes the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, fluctuations in mental health reports have been widely recognized.
Around the world 450 million people currently live with mental illness. The additional stress and anxiety evoked by the pandemic, has caused experts to openly insist on an urgent review of current mental health statistics. Not only is there little known about how society is fairing with new distancing regulations, but research into how the virus can affect the mental wellness of those who contract it has yet to begin.
Accounting software and research company, Xero, conducted a survey in January that collected a comprehensive overview of the state of mental health within the industry. The results of which have become even more poignant as society navigates what is called ‘the new normal’.
“In hindsight it was a really good time to launch the survey just to get a pulse check on what people’s attitude and perception was towards looking after mental health and other wellbeing categories.” said Will Buckley, Canada Country Manager at Xero.
The study found that (pre-pandemic) 50 percent of Canadian accountants and bookkeepers did not have daily practises supporting mental wellbeing and were not motivated to do so. It also reported that more than 40 percent did not have enough time to focus on mental wellness if they wanted it.
The findings while alarming, raise additional questions about the ways in which, if at all, companies are placing emphasis on mental wellness as a way to cultivate success.
“We’ve seen some statistics that Canadians’ mental health has dropped as much as 16% over the past couple of weeks since COVID-19.” said Buckley, “Knowing that we were already starting behind the eight ball back in January, I think being that May is mental health awareness month, there is a big opportunity for us to put the spotlight on wellbeing and mental health.”
Discussions around mental health gain and lose momentum throughout the course of the year. However creating and maintaining positive practises require a daily commitment not only from employees but from employers.
Buckley says what sets companies, like Xero, and their employees apart when managing mental wellness is ensuring that striving for innovation and success includes the support of the individuals behind it. “At Xero, people are at the heart of everything that we do….Our philosophy and our approach is that we don’t want to forget the human side to innovation. We don’t believe that computers are the ones that drive change, organizations are what drive innovation.” Said Buckley.
Although the study is specific to the accounting industry, it is understood that the conditions in which companies are now working in, have impacts on productivity and employee morale. An article published by Industry and Business writes, “Work can contribute to and enhance mental health by providing a person with purpose, financial security, a sense of identity and belonging, and social contact. But work can also negatively affect one’s mental health and may even trigger or exacerbate mental illness.”
As companies across Canada continue to try to manage effectively and support employee’s, we spoke with Will Buckley about putting employee wellbeing at the centre of success, what Xero is doing to support it’s innovators and what small steps anyone can take to improve mental wellbeing.
My first question as I was reading the statistics and going through the study was just, how did the state of mental wellness within this profession arrive here? How did it get to such a low degree?
The accountant industry is a traditional industry. It’s certainly evolved over the years. But I think over the past couple of years, advancement in technologies definitely brought a fair bit of disruption in how the industry works not only amongst themselves but within firms.
This is especially true in terms of how firms and accounting professionals work with their clients. Early adopters of technology within the accounting industry have kind of set a new bar and a new standard for how employees can expect to be treated within the practice, which is setting a new standard for the industry.
Being a big industry, like the accounting industry, there are always a lot of eyes on what is happening with the different trends throughout the country. We’re starting to see a shift now where about half of the firms, as we saw in the survey, report that we’re not feeling on top of, how we feel both at work and in our personal lives. So there’s probably that disruption trend of both ends of the spectrum where some firms are really doing a good job of advocating on behalf of their people and looking to invest in their people’s wellbeing. The rest of the industry has realized this and is starting to transition and come through as well.
How is Xero supporting mental wellness now after finding what the results of the study were?
It was fortunate timing for us that we chose to undertake that work ahead of COVID-19 because we did start to see and hear that it was going to become more and more important. We were hearing that firms were starting to ask us for more access to more resources, more assets to help them champion more wellbeing and mental health for their staff, but also for their clients.
We’ve [Xero] published some resources. We have a library available to our accounting and bookkeeping partners which provides some really simple tips and tricks which firms can look to implement within their practice. One of them is the ‘Working From Home With Kids Toolkit’.
Working from home is one thing, working from home with kids, as a lot of us will know from COVID-19, takes it to a whole new level of stress and anxiety. So we’ve developed some tips and which we’re very happy to share with everyone to make sure that people have the opportunity to put in place. And they’re pretty simple and easy actions to improve wellbeing throughout the day when juggling the multiple priorities that we all have at the moment.
Mentioned a few times in the study is the phrase ‘barriers to wellbeing’. What defines a barrier to wellbeing? How was that classified?
That’s a good question. The barriers to well being are anything within your working life that make you unable to take a step back. The biggest barrier is just feeling like one has an allotted amount of time to balance between their working and personal life.
Within the accounting industry, client demands, client expectations, team and staff expectations and activities really start to mount up. And if you don’t have really good time management skills in place and in practise then things can start to cascade and almost snowball in a bad way.
This is where bad habits start creeping into your day to day work life and potentially also into your personal life. In order to really give yourself the time to focus on wellbeing, leveraging technology and introducing technology to workflows and how you collaborate or connect with your team and your clients can save you time. This in turn will allow you to gain back that time to start focusing on wellbeing.
What are three tips that you would give employees or employers that can help them take a step back and implement moments of decompression into their day in order to foster better mental health?
- My favorite is just taking the time to breathe. It generally starts with that. Just give yourself a moment to relax. Stress levels are really high right now, so it’s important to not forget to take the breaks during the day to relax. And I find that breathing is a really useful and simple way to start that process. Get yourself to incorporate some good breathing exercises into your work day.
- Definitely staying connected is key as well. Working from home, it is easy to start to feel isolated. We’ve seen improvements in that through using technology to leverage connectivity amongst team members whilst working from home. Prioritize staying connected both in your work life and personal life as well. Hopping on a quick video call with your loved ones will boost morale in all areas.
- Recognizing and celebrating the wins, but also celebrating the learnings and the lessons. Something that we say internally at Xero is you’re either winning or you’re learning. It’s important to celebrate both of those aspects because we are all in this together. It is a collaborative thing and it’s community based efforts towards helping everyone that will get us through this challenging time and other challenges to come.
Why is it so important for companies to emphasize this specifically during COVID-19?
Our approach is that people are at the heart of everything that we do.
If we look at things through an economic or business lens, productivity and efficiency is incredibly important. If we as a global economy, want to come out of COVID-19 era and get to the economic growth levels that everyone was aspiring to before, we need to focus on how to empower our people to work to the best of their abilities.
If we don’t do that, then productivity levels start to drop and that will kickstart other snowball effects. Attrition is a massive cost to businesses; one, which often gets overlooked. So anything that we can do to invest in our people, in terms of retaining and recruiting talent and nurturing that talent I think is a really worthwhile investment for any employer in any business to be looking to make right now.
No business can function without its people, so why does employee mental health continue to be such a huge obstacle?
It is tough, but it’s certainly achievable. It’s a glass half full or glass half empty kind of situation. On the one side, slightly less than half of those surveyed aren’t practicing good habits on a daily basis. But on the other side of the spectrum, half of those within the industry are. So there certainly is opportunity to leverage best practices across the industry to connect and share better practices with our teams and organizations.
At Xero we feel like we have a really important role to play in facilitating connectivity and collaboration throughout the industry, which is why we do want to publish more resources. We do want to hold more panels, inviting different experts from the industry to share their own personal perspectives and journeys together as an industry.
We can all learn from each other and take the half that don’t feel like they’re on top of their wellbeing and mental health, and help them to start putting tangible steps of action towards lifting that statistic towards the hundred percent block.
What’s next for Xero? Is there anything that you guys are working on right now that you’ve started within the realm of mental health?
As we come out of COVID-19. One thing that we’re doing internally is we’ve also launched a new wellness committee in Canada which is something I would advocate for other businesses to look at potentially doing as well. It’s a good time to take the opportunity to get a finger on the pulse from your people by sending out surveys and looking at prioritizing specific initiatives that team members are asking to be rolled out. We want to make sure that we’re also championing wellness, not just externally but with our customers, our partners, and within our own people.
With such a broad wingspan managing a number of different clients, how do you guys quantify or qualify success?
Business owners can have a whole variety of goals, but it’s really important that business owners have access to support while they’re looking to achieve those goals. In keeping with that our north star has been how we impact the rate of small business survival.
The rate of small business survival in my opinion is too low. 50 percent of all small businesses in Canada fail within the first five years; which isn’t acceptable. Businesses fail for a number of different reasons. However, cash flow management has been a really important one. Xero certainly has done a lot to improve how businesses get access to real time financial information. But I think with one thing that mental health awareness week is going to really put the spotlight on, especially through these challenging times, is how important the people component is to running a successful business. So what I would love to see is bringing technology together with the human component of running a successful business and making sure that the two are quite intertwined and connected so that together we can innovate on both fronts.
What we’ve seen globally, is that when a small business uses Xero and connects with an accountant or bookkeeper on the Xero platform, that rate of small business survival increases from 50%, up to 83% over the course of five years. We certainly believe that getting access to support and advice from trusted accountants and bookkeepers that are knowledgeable in particular industries is really helpful for business owners to steer their business in the direction that they want to take it.