Support staff as WFH depression spirals
Philip Fisher is concerned that accountants may be struggling with depression while working from home.
The country is once again completely locked down with the likelihood that before most of us emerge blinking into the light of day, the coronavirus emergency will have reached its first anniversary.
Sadly, given the latest statistics, hospitals are about to be overwhelmed. Worse, while the streets might be relatively safe, indoor public spaces are vectors and even our homes may be invaded by this pervasive virus.
Apparently now one in 50 people are currently suffering with the rate hitting one in 30 in London, which is terrifying.
The vaccine will definitely help to slow the spread of the virus but already there are signs that the rollout is going much more slowly than the spin had suggested.
While working from home has probably literally been a lifesaver and has certainly helped most of us to keep our businesses operating reasonably smoothly, it could also be hiding serious problems.
We and our colleagues will soon have spent a whole year working from home, many not even making a single visit to the office since last March.
This is an unprecedented situation and could easily be hiding a series of underlying issues particularly those relating to wellbeing.
Typically, as we work side-by-side in offices it is easy to recognise when someone is feeling unhappy. They will be interacting with many other people on a day-to-day basis and someone will quickly identify an issue and take action.
That is not the case at the moment and while those that live alongside happy families in palatial homes with acres of garden are probably relishing their relative isolation, we can’t all be partners in successful practices.
Many staff members could be living with uncaring flatmates in cramped accommodation that has no designated workspace. To compound the problem, they are now prevented from meeting friends and family, getting properly organised exercise and many might feel fearful of emerging from the front door, even to go shopping.
This could then be compounded by insecurity about future employment prospects, financial difficulties and the kind of personal problems that arise when you are not allowed to catch up with loved ones.
A difficulty in this area relates to the emotive and unhelpful language that is used to describe those who are suffering. I can’t imagine that many budding accountants really want to admit to their bosses that they have mental health problems or are severely depressed.
There are a number of reasons why it would be good for every firm to take the bull by the horns.
First, it is practically a civic duty to provide emotional support when you have a degree of responsibility for workers. It is also humane.
Secondly, unhappy workers can be very costly. They may well be absent – though that phrase has taken on a new meaning when we are all absent all of the time – in this case, unavailable for work.
Thirdly, and this could be particularly concerning as we approach the frenetic end of the January tax return season, those who are wallowing in their own misery tend to make mistakes and it is probably harder to check and ascertain whether this is the case when you cannot see them in person.
If you have not done so already, please take action now, perhaps organising a programme of weekly individual chats during which every colleague can have an opportunity to air any concerns. Not only will you be able to avert potential disasters but also create loyal friends for life.