Do you absorb and carry stress from your clients?
All accountants should mark Mental Health Month in their calendar. Accounting expert Coco Hou explains why.
Coco Hou is a CPA accountant and CEO of Platinum Professional Training (PPT) and Platinum Accounting, and she believes that Mental Health Month is an opportunity to share some important mental health matters involving accountants.
Mental Health Month takes place in October every year, a month dedicated to the promotion and awareness raising of mental health. World Mental Health Day takes place on the 10th of the month and it is designed to encourage people to bring the topic of mental health into the light and to express how they are feeling in order to stimulate an open and honest conversation about mental health.
“Mental Health Month and World Mental Health Day remind us all to make more of an effort to consider the mental health of others. Importantly, it also reminds us to check in on our own mental health and wellbeing. I work with accountants and accounting students every day, and I know how important these messages are for the profession,” Hou said.
“Most accountants enjoy their jobs, but sometimes their roles can be very stressful, and at times quite lonely. Accountants often work with people and businesses who are experiencing some level of stress around their finances and it is our role to assist and support them and suggest ways to improve things. As a result, we tend to carry and absorb a lot of the stress ourselves – which is only natural because we care about our colleagues and our clients.
“I believe the mental health of accountants is something we should all be aware of, regardless of whether we are accountants or not.
“Accountants often don’t get the recognition and praise that they deserve. Most people don’t understand an accountant’s role, so they don’t recognise the challenges they face in their roles. In-house accountants are regularly taken for granted in a lot of firms.”
Hou has years of experience under her belt as an accountant. At Platinum Professional Training (PPT), Hou ensures that graduates of her training program are aware of the importance of taking care of themselves, as well as their clients. She has several tips that she gives to budding accountants.
1. Use a standup desk
“Accountants spend a lot of time sitting down working with computer screens. We know that physical health has a positive impact on our mental health, so a lot of accountants I know actually have standing desks that they use from time to time,” Hou said.
“This is something that I strongly recommend for accountants. Work with an adjustable desk that allows you to stand up as much as possible. This works the body, keeps you alert and keeps the blood moving. Stress creeps up on you. By taking measures to keep yourself physically well, you are taking care of your mental wellbeing also.
2. Walk around during breaks
“When you go on your lunch break, walk around and get outside. Try and find a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon to go for a quick walk around the building. This gets air moving into the lungs and helps to release endorphins through the body. This improves your mood and helps you to feel happy.
3. Avoid eating lunch at your desk
“Try to avoid eating your lunch in the office. If there’s a park nearby, go for a walk and eat your lunch on a park bench. Studies have shown that being around nature has a positive effect on your mood. This helps to reduce your stress levels.
4. Connect with work colleagues
“Work parties and work events can seem boring and unnecessary, but they’re actually a great way to meet people and stay in touch with work-related events. Try to go to as many as you can. No accountant should isolate themselves from their office. If your boss has separated your office from the rest of the staff, request if you could move closer to the group.
5. Talk about mental health at work
“Most importantly, engage with Mental Health Month. Talk about it with others at work and agree on some activities you can undertake to emphasise the importance of mental health, being supportive and checking in to see if your colleagues are OK. Continue the activities all year round.
“If someone asks you if you’re ok, give a genuine and honest response. In conversations like these, it takes two to tango. People feel more at ease and likely to open up if they can see you are being honest and open. Being able to talk about issues in a supportive environment is important.”
According to Hou, mental health awareness benefits accountants’ clients, as well as the accountants themselves.
“While accountants are often in need of support, they can also be the ones providing support. If an accountant has a client who’s isolated, stressed or working flat out, their accountant could be one of the only people they talk to on a regular basis,” Hou said.
“Accountants regularly interact with clients facing money problems and financial stress. That means accountants are regularly interacting with people who are at risk of mental health problems.
“Accountants could actually be the people best placed in society to help individuals facing mental health problems which are a result of financial stress. After all, if your business is facing financial problems, you’re far more likely to hire an accountant than a psychologist.
“An accountant will never be able to replace a trained mental health professional, but they can at least know the benefit of asking: are you ok? Accountants need to be able to empathise with a client’s situation, and comfort them in times of stress.
“They also need to understand how best to work with their client so as not to overload them. There are a number of things an accountant can do to support the wellbeing of their client – but importantly the accountant needs to ensure they are looking after themselves too.”
Platinum Professional Training (PPT) is Australia’s largest private accounting training institution for accounting graduates. PPT was founded by Hou in 2008 after she personally witnessed the challenges that accounting graduates faced in the workplace.
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