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Support staff as WFH depression spirals

Philip Fisher is concerned that accountants may be struggling with depression while working from home.

7th Jan 2021
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Stressed Businessman

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.

Replies (12)

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By AnnAccountant
08th Jan 2021 10:50

Tell staff to come into the office - they get hysterical
Tell them to work from home - apparently they get depressed.

Can't win - and they still want paying at the end of every month, rain or shine.

Covid is setting up the biggest skivers charter since the 'bad back' boom of the 80s and 90s - and that's before we get onto 'long covid'.

It's all a massive mess on so many levels.

Thanks (5)
Replying to AnnAccountant:
By Metaller76
12th Jan 2021 10:28

What a thoroughly unpleasant individual you sound, Ann.

Whilst you may be made of stone, other, normal, beings may not relish a trip to the office where a) they could catch the virus and or b) spread the virus

Depression can creep from these restrictions. People who thought they were mentally healthy prior.
Do you have any idea what it feels like to have depression? To feel so low and hopeless is not something I'd wish on anyone. Depression is not a choice. It's chemical.

And Long Covid is real, Ann. Medically proven. By experts. So no need to write 'long covid' as if it's not real.

Your post was a massive mess on all levels.

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Replying to Metaller76:
By meadowsaw227
12th Jan 2021 12:01

What a thoroughly critical person you sound Metaller6.
Whether I agree or not with Ann she is entitled to her opinion without people having a "hissy fit"

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Replying to meadowsaw227:
By Metaller76
12th Jan 2021 13:01

Hardly a hissy fit.
It's opinions like Ann's that have led this country where it is: not trusting experts and not trusting that mental health issues are real.
I only replied as these issues are very important and very close to my heart.
Of course people are entitled to their view. And, as she decided to write that view on a public forum, I am entitled to counter it with mine.

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Replying to AnnAccountant:
By GaryW69
12th Jan 2021 11:09

Whilst you may be right in some cases, the vast majority are not "skivers". The issues raised in this article are real. Some people get their energy from interacting with others and some are more capable being on their own. It takes different personality types to make up a constructive team and the tone of your comment smacks of a dictatorship rather than a collaborative team. Trust in colleagues/staff is important and if you are not getting the work you are expecting out of them, you need to look at yourself first. Are you trying to put a "square peg in a round hole" or are your expectations correctly aligned?

I believe the ideal way of working is a combination of WFH and the office, so there is a good balance of personnel interaction, as well as the opportunity to focus without distractions. We are, after all, "social" animals and if that social interaction does not exist effectively, it then creates an imbalance. Imbalances, by their nature, are not good and cause problems. On a human level, that can invoke chemical imbalances in the brain, resulting in depression. Depression is an illness which is VERY different to "being sad".

People generally want to do a good job and if you have a "skiver", there is probably a good reason why they are that way and it is worth finding out why.

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Replying to AnnAccountant:
By Self-Employed and Happy
12th Jan 2021 11:48

This is actually a real thing Ann!!!!

I am a VERY social person, I went S/E nearly 2 years ago and hugely missed the interaction in the first year, which meant I relied far more heavily on my "outside work" stuff for interaction.

We are lucky (because it was planned) that we have our own offices in the house.

But if I was still employed, living at our previous property which was smaller and expected to work from home continuously I would struggle massively.

I even have clients where there have been employees on Part Time Furlough (employer tops them up) since November, during this latest lockdown the staff have INSISTED they maintain that rather than Full Time Furlough, even though they would get paid EXACTLY the same for sitting at home. I'm in no doubt there will be plenty of Accountants / Accounts Staff that feel exactly the same, admitting that you need some sort of interaction to help you through life isn't admitting you are weak in any way, it's just a person realising what they value.

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By lionofludesch
10th Jan 2021 12:11

A chat with your boss could deepen your depression rather than alleviate it.

Thanks (2)
By Ben Alligin
12th Jan 2021 10:06

If 1 in 30 people are now contracting the virus, then 1 in 30 people (assuming they survive, and the new variant does not appear to have a higher mortality) are getting natural immunity, that is how your immune system works. On top of that various vaccines are being rolled out, so overall the herd immunity is increasing rapidly.

Thanks (1)
12th Jan 2021 10:10

You missed the fact that many many people are also having to home school, their children, self isolate with a toddler as well as trying to juggle their work, emotions, worries....Etc etc....

Several people on poor internet connections working in cramped conditions ....

I'm surprised any work is getting done.

It's the most stressful time for everyone .

I found my clients were later than ever getting their information to me.,they are all stressed too.

We're all very stressed, we have to be as kind and understanding as possible let's hope that SA deadline gets extended .

Hopefully the vaccine programme works and some elements of normality returns before too long.

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By flightdeck
12th Jan 2021 10:48

Not surprised, working from home is featureless and colourless, a never ending treadmill without any social lubrication and support. Its like being on the turbo trainer instead of going outside for a ride, one is simply torturous whereas the other is a satisfying workout.

I'm coping fine but I can't wait to get back to the office and back in a work environment.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
12th Jan 2021 11:03

I love working from home.

Been doing it for years out of choice, albeit I do have a proper dedicated office set up.

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By Paul Donno
12th Jan 2021 11:06

Very important to support our valuable teams and for us to identify those that need the support. We all have different lifestyles and home environments and it can't be a "one shoe fits all".
As a firm with the exception of one person who can't work from home we are all working from home and we have a Zoom call at 10am for client work catch ups 45 mins and 20 mins at 3pm with the questions - what has been good today?, what do you want to moan about? and do you need time with anyone?. This has kept our team going since March. We have also organised Quiz afternoons, Zoom Xmas Party & in Feb a virtual wine tasting is on the cards. We have a team of 11 so not too big but larger firms can split this up. Telling our team to work in the office to get paid is out of the question for us.

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