A Guide to Supporting Your Accountants’ Mental Health

Gusto Editors

How do you go about supporting mental health in the workplace? Why should you foster community in your firm? If you want your team to thrive, you’ll need to take their mental and emotional well-being into account. When you’re spending so much time with a team, it works in everyone’s favor to support their well-being.

Gusto’s mission is always to create work that empowers a better life. We’re breaking out of the paradigm that separates career and personal fulfillment. That’s why we partnered with CPA Academy to bring you a webinar by coaches Amber Setter and Jamie Greene, “Mental Health Initiatives: A Business Imperative.” The coping skills and techniques they shared can be applied to any high-stress work situation. 

Amber Setter is a consciousness coach who helps individuals and groups cultivate awareness to expand what is possible in their professional and personal lives. She is a certified, non-practicing CPA who worked as an accounting recruiter before pursuing her coaching business. 

Jamie Greene is a coach with 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist. He has a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to coaching and holds workshops on everything from relationships to dealing with difficult personalities to understanding human behavior.

Important note: Gusto is not a mental health expert or provider. We urge you to seek advice and insights from mental health professionals should you have questions or concerns about any of this content. Insights for this article are drawn from Amber Setter and Jamie Greene.

Foster community through connection

Creating a supportive environment at work doesn’t require having a dedicated coach or therapist on site. It’s up to every team member to build a resilient community. This can be as simple as showing a sincere interest in other people’s well-being through compassionate listening and curiosity. When dealing with sensitive issues such as mental health, you’ll want to take a nuanced approach. 

Jamie and Amber shared four tips for communicating with someone who may be in distress:

  • Reflect the behavior
  • Be curious: ask open-ended questions
  • Create safety
  • Identify actions

We will review each in detail.

Reflecting the behavior means that you reflect what you’re noticing to another person and let them come to their own conclusions. This is a subtle way of bringing something up. Oftentimes people are blind to their behaviors and changes in demeanor. It takes someone on the outside to show us what’s changed.

“You’re holding a mirror up for someone to show them maybe what they can’t see. … I’ve commonly heard people say this year, ‘Wow, this year was really weird,’ or ‘I was in a dark place.’ … [So you might say] ‘I notice that when I review your work, there are a lot more errors than there were before. And I’m just curious, how have you been doing? How is it working from your kitchen table now for an entire year?”

– Amber Setter

You’re not directly asking if they slept the night before, why they’re not as motivated as they used to be, or if there is a reason they are making mistakes. Reflection is simply stating what you are noticing in a neutral, soft tone, and inviting them to draw their own conclusions.

Businessman talking to colleague in at work

Asking open-ended questions shows that you are curious while also lessening the chances that you’ll get an unhelpful one-word response. It’s also best to avoid asking, “How are you?” Most people are conditioned to respond by saying they’re fine. Instead, you might  ask “How has working from home been from you?” or even, “Is there anything you need?”

“Ask a question that’s going to be open-ended, so it’s not a yes or no, and it gets them out of the automatic response that is, ‘I am fine.’ Because a lot of people don’t believe it’s safe to say, ‘I’m having an issue with my mental health,’ because [they might think] ‘I’m a knowledge worker and, if I can’t think straight, I’m going to lose my job.”

– Amber Setter

Creating safety is all about how you approach someone. You want to be warm and friendly, not judgemental. If you start off with a negative judgment, people will feel it, and they will shut down. Consider your own biases and try to approach people with an open mind. 

“Even though someone may be not being quite as productive or may be yawning a lot, don’t assume it’s because they’ve been partying or they’re just lazy. We have no idea what’s going on in their personal life. I think it’s very important that people feel like it’s a safe space. They’re going to feel appreciated that you notice if they feel that you’re caring for them as opposed to dismissing them or judging them.”

– Jamie Greene

Considering that there are real consequences to disclosing sensitive information to the wrong person, people have a right to be wary. You should never press someone for details that they don’t want to give or should not give. You can still be helpful to someone who acknowledges that they’re overwhelmed from balancing home and work obligations. They don’t have to tell you they’re having panic attacks for you to be helpful.

Identifying actions is all about creating change. It can be comforting to share our emotions, but at the end of the day, we want things to get better. So if someone is having a hard time, consider what would make things better and whether you have the power to provide that for them. Maybe they need a lighter load for a while? Maybe they just need someone to laugh with for a bit? Maybe they just need someone to take them out to lunch? Assess what is in your power to address and seek support from appropriate colleagues, as needed, always being respectful of any confidences you’re privy to. 

Creating win-win solutions

Amber shared a coaching technique she uses to help people see different points of view. By having people walk in a triangle in the middle of a room, she takes them from their own perspective to that of another and finally to the relationship itself. It’s a simple but powerful technique for enabling people to step beyond their own perspective and find solutions that fit everyone involved.

“Let’s just look at this: If I need to ask for what I need in the workplace, I need to go ask my manager and tell them I’m overwhelmed and I’m burned out. Well, number one, what am I feeling? What am I present to? What do I need? Now, I’m literally going and walking over to what it is like to be in the shoes of the manager hearing that. [They might think] ‘Oh, this person is overwhelmed. Oh, I didn’t even know that they’re feeling this way. They have too much work.’ And as needed, going back and forth, kind of really getting in the shoes of each side of that situation.”

– Amber Setter

What’s wonderful about this technique is that you get to see the perspective of the relationship itself. This helps create the capacity to solve issues from a more objective viewpoint.

“And then you go to the top of the triangle, and you imagine you’re sort of looking down. What does the relationship need? So when you’re making requests like this, what I notice is sometimes when you’re like, ‘I need something different at work,’ there’s a real business case to it. You can share, ‘This is what I need, but this is the value that I think it’s going to create.’”

– Amber Setter

Amber shared that coming from this third perspective often helps to create surprisingly beneficial solutions. When someone can get their needs met while honoring the other person and the organization’s needs, it’s a true win-win solution.

Man giving high five to his female colleague

Modeling positive behavior

It’s all too easy to get sucked into a negative mentality yourself when you’re around it every day. There may be some colleagues who are visibly and audibly irritated, bitter, or stressed out, and they make sure everyone knows it! Instead of judging people, consider where they are coming from. Everyone has their own past experiences and wounds that they’re carrying around.

“We all have a unique prescription lens. That is how we make meaning in the world. … It filters everything I see. And everyone walking around your organization has a filter. … How do you respond when you bump up against their filter that’s counterproductive? The metaphor I like to use with my leaders is — think of yourself as [the] Waze [traffic app]. When you hit a bump or you hit a roadblock, Waze doesn’t get mad. Waze isn’t like, ‘Dammit, I took the wrong way. I’m just going to sit here and get mad at myself.’ Waze is just like, ‘Reroute, reroute, reroute,’ and can you not get down in it and reroute?”

– Amber Setter

Avoid descending into negative emotions as much as possible. While it can sometimes feel tempting to wallow in your own dour mood, it will not serve you in the long run. Instead, consider how you can uplift other people. Your ability to do this effectively will depend on your own level of well-being but it’s preferable to taking others down a negative path. Similarly, be mindful not to be negatively influenced by the emotions of others 

“It’s not easy because people walk around [with] self-fulfilling prophecies. If someone is a doom and gloom, half-empty kind of person, you’re not really going to change it. I think what you can do—and it depends on the role you have in the office, or how influential, impactful you are to that person—is to not get sucked into then complaining about the complaining.”

– Jamie Greene

Remember that people respond to you based not only on your personality and reputation, but also on the unspoken and unseen things you carry with you day-to-day. That’s why you may notice people react and respond to you in different ways, even before you’ve said a word. This field of energy around you impacts your effectiveness in the job, your relationships with colleagues, and your own sense of confidence. 

“Context’ is a leadership term that describes the kind of atmosphere we’re creating with our energy, with our personality, with our outlook.”

 Jamie Greene

Learning to strengthen your context and avoid being influenced by others is one of the most important skills you can master.

Learn more about supporting your accountants’ mental health

Talking about mental health isn’t always possible in the office, but you can still support your colleagues who might be struggling. If you notice something’s off, try reflecting their behavior to them in a kind and compassionate way. Ask open-ended questions to get a feel for where they’re coming from and show a non-judgmental attitude. Make sure you’re providing a safe space for them, and look for ways you can help improve their situation.

If you’re faced with a colleague whose performance is suffering, consider first where they are coming from. You’ll also need to take in the needs of the firm, but by considering all perspectives, you’ll find more workable solutions. 

Protect yourself from being influenced by those who are very vocal about their unhappiness, and be mindful not to promote negativity yourself. Strive to model positive behaviors for them instead of complaining about their negative attitudes. When you uplift others, you do a service to yourself and your team.

Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We understand that professional aptitude and personal fulfillment go hand in hand. Don’t forget to check out our other two articles based on the same webinar, “Signs of a Mental Health Crisis in Your Accounting Firm” and “Why Prioritizing Mental Health Is a MUST for Accountants.”

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Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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