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Three ways small CPA firms can support mental health

Heather Walker  

Heather Walker  

Amidst the backdrop of the pandemic, there’s never been a more important time to highlight Mental Health Month. It’s been a devastating year and while signs point toward a return to normal, the impact of our mental health on our personal and professional lives remains top of mind.

From a small CPA firm perspective, the intensity of the workload during this extended tax season is like nothing we’ve seen before, compounding already heightened stress levels. From shifting tax laws and COVID-19 relief packages, to the disruption of in-person activities, to balancing life at home (ha!), it’s time to take a step back and find ways to support our collective mental health.

  1. Invest in wellbeing

We hear this all the time, but the reality is that if you invest in mental health and wellbeing amongst your staff, the entire firm benefits. As a small CPA firm owner, recognizing the positive impact of mental health on your firm’s performance is the first step to prioritizing it.

During a recent interview with Will Hill and Paul Miller, hosts of Pulse of the Practice, Amber Setter, an executive leadership coach who is also a CPA, discussed the importance of mental health for tax practitioners.

“Your emotions come up during the day,” says Amber. “When it comes to a knowledge worker who is using their mind and their thoughts to produce good quality work, if you have a lot of emotions running in the background, you’re not able to focus as well.”

While smaller CPA firms often run lean in terms of staffing, the opportunity for closer connections and personalized support is more readily available. Offering something as simple as a mental health day can symbolize your support for staff and give them an opportunity to return to work recharged.

“Busy season is hard enough when it’s not a 15 month busy season,” she says. “Investing in people’s mental health can yield some really significant rewards that will actually save your practice money.”

In that same vein, offering flexible work schedules is another way to show your support. Given the acceleration of virtual work, it’s a no-brainer that working from home is here to stay. However, emphasizing that flexibility amongst your staff is a way to convey your support for mental health and work-life balance.

  1. Encourage deeper connections

If there is any silver lining to the past year, it’s that we can all relate to one another in terms of the stress and anxiety we’ve experienced as a global community. It’s an opportunity to connect more deeply with both ourselves and our families, as well as with peers, staff and clients.

Checking in one-on-one with staff and clients to offer words of support and encouragement can strengthen relationships and build community. For some small CPA firms, you may have known your clients and staff many years. When you reinforce these relationships, it can be mutually beneficial from a mental health perspective.

If you find yourself in some dysfunctional client relationships, it’s important to focus on clarity. Amber is a big advocate of eliminating billable hours and moving to value pricing as it changes the dynamic of the relationship and lays out a clear scope of engagement. For a CPA, not having to wrestle mentally with billable hours can alleviate stress.

“One of the most valuable aspects of working with a professional coach is the clarity it provides,” says Amber. “A practitioner might come to our coaching call and say they have a sticky situation with a client regarding fees. Finding clarity frees us up to make the next choice in situations like these,” says Amber. “Pause, regroup, and take action with clients from a place of clarity.”

  1. Don’t forget yourself 

As the owner of a small CPA firm, it’s important to decide what you want to convey as a leader. Firm owners have a tendency to neglect their own mental health — and that is certainly not the signal you want to send to your staff.

“It’s really important for the person at the top to be modeling healthy behaviors,” Amber says.

To be a role model for mental health, take a step back and reflect on why you built your own CPA practice in the first place. It was likely for work-life balance and autonomy, so be sure to take time for yourself and prioritizing those goals. As the saying goes, make sure your oxygen mask is in place before assisting others.

For more information on Mental Health Month, visit mhanational.org.

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Heather Walker is the General Manager of Emerging Accounts within the Tax & Accounting Professionals segment, focused specifically on firms who prepare fewer than 250 tax returns per year.

You may be a small firm, but you are not alone. Add Thomson Reuters to your staff with solutions and resources tailored specifically to the small firm. View some of these now and check in for more tips, guidance, and small firm stories in the Small Talk with Heather Walker blog series.