Covid-19: mental health concerns for accountants and SMEs

Wellbeing amongst finance professionals and the small businesses they advise has taken a dive since lockdown restrictions were enforced in March, according to separate surveys by recruiting experts Hays and ACCA released during Mental Health Awareness Week

In a poll of over 16,000 professionals including around 2,000 working in accounting and finance, Hay found 64% rated their wellbeing as positive before lockdown restrictions were introduced, but say this has now dropped to 34%. 

Those who rated their wellbeing as negative has risen from 5% to 23% over the same period. Over a quarter (26%) of accountancy and finance professionals said a lack of social interaction has been the greatest challenge to their wellbeing, followed by isolation and loneliness (13%).

While three-quarters of finance professionals (76%) say their employer has a responsibility to look after their wellbeing, over half (54%) state that their employer has not provided any wellbeing support during the lockdown.

Of those who said their employer was providing support, close to a fifth (17%) also said their employer is offering social activities, followed by counselling (14%) and training (12%).

For nearly half (45%) of respondents working in the finance industry, work-life balance has become more important to them since lockdown, despite 49% rating their work-life balance as average or poor.

Having adequate mental health support from their employer has also become more important since being in lockdown, according to 42% of those surveyed.

Karen Young, director of Hays Accountancy & Finance, said: ‘The wellbeing of staff needs to be a top priority for all finance employers as the impact of the virus is felt on our personal and professional lives.

‘Everybody will be having different experiences, so it’s important to maintain frequent updates and be as transparent as possible as our way of working continues to change.’

Steps to take can include managers having regular video updates with their teams, being flexible with schedules and expectations, and offering wellbeing training.

Meanwhile, the latest weekly ACCA UK and The Corporate Finance Network (The CFN) SME health tracker data reveals the mental health of SME owners is also being impacted by the effects of Covid-19 on their business.

Asked about their clients’ mental health, 89% of practitioners say their clients have reported feeling more stressed than usual and not sleeping, with 78% stating a worsened mental health condition, 56% unable to cope and a worrying 11% reporting suicidal thoughts.

The poll among an expert panel of accountants representing nearly 3,000 SME clients in the UK reported that 4% of firms had decided to liquidate, compared to 3% last week.

SMEs’ concerns about accessing cash during lockdown have increased, with 23% saying they will not be able to access cash to last them two weeks or more of lockdown compared to 12% the previous week.

Perceptions about trading conditions have also changed, with just 16% saying they think they will be trading normally in the near future compared to 21% a week ago.

For the accountancy firms who made a coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) application for their SME clients, 26% have been declined, 10% have been approved and 6% are waiting for a response.

As the UK begins to unlock, SMEs say the ability to implement social distancing is the most important concern for them, closely followed by cashflow and possible staff restructures.

Claire Bennison, head of ACCA UK, said: ‘It’s important to acknowledge the wider and vital role accountants continue to have in helping small business best navigate life changing choices during this pandemic.

‘As the weeks pass, the impact on lives is becoming clearer; as more small business owners decide to liquidate, we’re also seeing a worsening picture of mental health in the small business community.

‘Having someone to speak to at this time is vital, and we know some hard conversations are being had, and will continue for months to come.’

Kirsty McGregor, founder of The CFN, and an accountant, pointed out: ‘While the extension to the furlough scheme is to be welcomed, it would be easier for business owners if the flexibility could be brought in before the planned date of 1 August.

‘As businesses make plans to reopen, they need the ability to bring employees back part-time now, and not have to make that difficult decision to make some employees redundant, which is a very stressful decision to make and enact.’

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