insight magazine

Why CPA Firms Should Prioritize Employees’ Mental Health

Promoting mental health services as an employee benefit provides CPA firms with an abundance of positive benefits, including talent retention. By Dr. Jessica Levin, CMP, CAE, DES | Digital Exclusive – 2024

Known for long hours and busy seasons, the accounting profession has seemingly finally begun to acknowledge the importance of mental well-being as a means to reduce its perpetually higher-than-average turnover rates—the culprit, not surprisingly, burnout. According to the Illinois CPA Society’s Insight Special Feature, “Righting Retention,” 48.84% of respondents cited working too many hours and burnout as the leading reason for why they left their employers.

Fortunately, through my doctoral research, I found that prioritizing mental well-being in the workplace can positively affect talent retention, among many other benefits, including a reduction in absenteeism, increased productivity and engagement, and improved overall job satisfaction among employees.

What’s more, mental health professionals agree. "It's important to prioritize mental health in the workplace so that employees can achieve their full potential personally and professionally,” says Andrew Hewitt, a board certified psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner at Caliper Wellness. “Leaders who recognize that mental health issues may require professional expertise are more likely to retain their talented employees. Don't lose a valuable employee due to a mental health concern.”

How Firm Leaders Can Promote Mental Health

As an accounting firm leader, you may understand that mental health is a real concern but might not know what steps to take to address the problem. To help, here are some examples of benefits that could support the mental health of your employees.

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): These programs are becoming increasingly common in modern workplaces. EAPs typically offer a range of services, including counseling sessions, mental health assessments, and referrals to other resources to help employees deal with a variety of issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, relationship problems, addiction, financial worries, and legal concerns. One of the key benefits of EAPs is that they provide a safe and confidential space for employees to discuss their concerns. This can be especially important for employees who may be hesitant to seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Many employers now offer employees more flexible work arrangements to promote a healthier work-life balance and reduce the stress that often comes with traditional schedules. These arrangements can include remote work, hybrid work, and flexible hours, allowing employees to set their work schedules within certain parameters. Additionally, compressed workweeks, where employees work longer hours for fewer days per week, can benefit those balancing family obligations. By offering flexible work options, firms can recognize the needs of their employees to have greater control over their work lives, which can lead to increased job satisfaction, better mental health, and higher productivity levels.
  • Mental Health Education and Awareness: Investing in comprehensive mental health training programs beyond what’s available through traditional EAPs also yields benefits. These programs provide employees with the knowledge and skills they need to manage stress and build resilience in the workplace. They typically include workshops on stress management techniques, guidance on identifying signs of mental health problems, and resources for seeking help.
  • Wellness Programs: Physical health and mental health are intrinsically linked. One way firms can acknowledge this is by offering various programs that support physical health, such as yoga and meditation classes. These activities are known to positively impact mental well-being, reducing stress and anxiety levels among participants. Some firms also provide subscriptions to wellness apps that offer a wide range of resources for mindfulness and relaxation. These apps can be accessed from anywhere, making it easier for employees to care for their mental health even when they’re not physically present in the office.
  • Creating a Supportive Culture: It’s increasingly important to build a culture in the workplace where mental health is openly discussed and supported. This involves encouraging open communication, reducing the stigma around mental health, and providing a supportive environment for those seeking help.

The Impact of Mental Health Initiatives

Incorporating these mental health services into your firm’s employee benefits could have several positive outcomes.

From a business perspective, for example, there’s a direct correlation between mental well-being and financial performance. Mental health issues, if unaddressed, can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher health care costs—all of which can negatively impact a firm’s bottom line.

When employees receive support for stress, anxiety, or depression, they’re more likely to maintain consistent performance and demonstrate increased engagement and creativity. This directly translates to better quality work and client satisfaction, which are critical factors in the profitability of an accounting firm. Further, firms that prioritize mental health often see a reduction in turnover rates. Retaining experienced staff saves on recruitment and training costs and ensures a high level of service continuity for clients, further enhancing the firm’s reputation and revenue potential.

Another benefit is that providing mental health support can lower the firm's health insurance costs. As mental health is closely linked with physical health, effective mental health interventions can reduce the incidence of physical ailments, thereby decreasing health insurance claims and related expenses. This not only contributes to cost savings but also positions the firm as a responsible employer, which can be a key differentiator in the competitive accounting sector.

As you can see, addressing mental health is not just a matter of employee welfare; it's a strategic business decision with tangible impacts on profitability. By fostering a mentally healthy workforce, you can ensure higher productivity, reduce operational costs, and strengthen your firm’s market position.

Dr. Jessica Levin, CMP, CAE, DES, is the chief operating officer of Abacus Worldwide, a global association of independent accounting and law firms. Based on two decades of experience in helping create firm cultures that support growth, she authored the doctoral capstone, “Strategies to Create Positive Culture to Attract and Retain CPAs.”


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