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illustration of grief | accountingweb | Accountants encouraged to open up about grief
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Accountants encouraged to open up about grief

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Grief is an “intricate and often overlooked emotion,” and this year’s Grief Awareness Week is emphasising open conversations around loss and bereavement. Molly Macfarlane spoke to caba, the occupational charity supporting ICAEW chartered accountants, about dealing with grief in the accounting profession. 

7th Dec 2023
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Grief Awareness Week (2–8 December) is a chance to foster a better understanding of loss, helping people who have been bereaved feel less alone. It is important that workplaces create a safe environment for open conversations.

Encouraging these conversations not only supports individuals experiencing grief but also educates others, creating a sense of empathy and solidarity among colleagues or clients. 

Paul Guess a mental wellbeing expert at the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (caba) – the occupational charity supporting Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) chartered accountants – told AccountingWEB that grief is an “intricate and often overlooked emotion, not only in the workplace but also in social contexts due to its challenging and uncomfortable nature.

“Paradoxically, it is this discomfort that underscores the urgency of discussing grief, particularly in the workplace, where a significant portion of our lives are spent,” he added.

Looking after yourself at work

Dealing with grief in the workplace is extremely tough and this can be made harder during stressful periods such as self assessment season. 

“Be patient with yourself and prioritise nutrition, rest, staying connected with loved ones and consider reaching out for professional support,” was Guess' advice for those who are grieving. 

It is easy to feel overwhelmed trying to balance the physical and emotional demands of grief alongside the pressures of work. Guess encouraged others to not set strict expectations of how to deal with grief at work.

“There’s no right or wrong way to feel, and no set timeline for the grieving process. Accepting that grief fluctuates daily is the first step,” he said. The bereaved should immerse themselves in work for a sense of purpose on the days when it feels right but grant themselves the freedom to step back when needed.

Guess went on to explain that openly discussing priorities and challenges with the team can create an environment where others can support the bereaved and may take some of the pressure off. However, he stressed the importance of only doing so if comfortable. 

Supporting employees and clients 

Businesses play a massive role in fostering open and safe environments for both employees and clients. 

In a recent Any Answers Live, Richard Hattersley asked Bilal Ahmed, specialist dental accountant of Heath Hill Green Ltd, what he does when his clients submit their tax returns late. Ahmed responded that you have to remember what clients may be going through. 

“What we don’t want to do is go in too heavy. If they’ve suffered some sort of bereavement or some sort of loss in their life that’s taken precedence, we ring fence that, we make sure we’ve got the time allocated,” Ahmed said. 

He explained that their focus was on communicating with their clients as opposed to making it more stressful for them. 

Ahmed added: “Part of our service is making sure we’re available to be flexible around what’s happening with them.”

This flexibility helps foster a safe space for open conversations, encouraging employees and clients to express their thoughts and concerns freely without fear of judgment or reprisal.

“Teams should allow employees to navigate grief at their own pace and if you can, be flexible with working hours or locations. While bereavement leave is fundamental, it’s just the beginning of the grief journey,” Guess said. 

Advice for sole practitioners 

Experiencing bereavement as a sole practitioner comes with its own challenges. Not having support from colleagues can lead to a greater sense of isolation. Sole practitioners may feel pressure to continue working, not allowing themselves to have the time they need to grieve and seek support. 

At the beginning of this year, an Any Answers post asked the community about mental health as a sole practitioner. One AWEB member, Codling brought up his experience with losing his brother. 

Recently, Codling spoke more about his experience grieving, his support network and how he put himself first. “We are actually a partnership, with just myself and my partner and she is great for bouncing things off and helping to cope and hopefully vice versa,” Codling said. 

He continued, “It is a case of getting on with life but it does make you think whether it is worthwhile putting yourself out for some clients who are last minute and late payers, so a decision has been taken to try to cull some of these to give ourselves a little more free time.”

When asked how sole practitioners can support themselves while grieving, Guess stressed the importance of having a support network and recommended exploring social communities with shared experiences as a way to build relatable connections. “Self care is the anchor for those without a traditional support network. Try to engage in comforting activities to navigate grief effectively. These will look different for each person.” 

If you’re an ICAEW member facing bereavement, caba offers helpful tools and resources. You can also reach out for free, confidential advice from their support team. 

As part of Grief Awareness Week, The Good Grief Trust is running a series of events and webinars and has information on a range of related topics on its website.  

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