This year, searches for “work burnout” hit their highest peak in almost 20 years, and with tighter finances on the horizon and greater personal and professional stress to remain financially healthy, it is no wonder why. 

Running a business, managing finances, and pleasing clients are all highly stressful and pressurised elements of everyday work for many, and research has shown how such situations can negatively impact the mental health of those in under-pressure businesses. 

We are always seeking to genuinely help accountancy businesses and business owners do meaningful work, build confidence and motivation, and create successful organisations without making sacrifices. We therefore wanted to discover what the current state of mental health is in small and medium sized businesses, and how we can help combat stress and burnout, utilising insights from experts.

Current state of mental health support in UK businesses

We conducted a survey of 750 UK businesses and discovered that 55% of business owners say mental health support for employees either isn’t in place or isn’t utilised enough, suggesting a lack of awareness or employee confidence to be able to use such support. However, 41% did say they have processes in place that are used often, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

The benefits of this are clear, with a massive 92% saying that this internal mental health support has increased performance and productivity among their workers, underlining the importance of a workplace that can provide this help. So why is mental health support underused? 

Business owners said the biggest barriers to employees talking about their mental health and stress included the fear of career implications (40%), a heavy workload (38%), the feeling that there is no one to talk to (32%), and even just long working hours (29%). 

We spoke to Dr Chloe Mitchell, a BPS Chartered Counselling Psychologist, to gain her insight into how to cope and speak about mental health in a business environment:

“There is no shame in discussing physical health in the workplace. We accept that when a person has a physical health issue they go to a doctor for guidance, prognosis and treatment. The same does not apply to mental health conditions and leaders need to lead the way to normalise mental health discussion. 

“A lot of it is about holding space in the workplace that allows for vulnerable emotions to be seen as human, for conversations about stress, depression, anxiety and grief to be completely normalised and not seen as signs of a loss of talent, or performance.”

What causes employers stress in businesses?

But what in particular causes most stress in business environments? The biggest stressor was said to be the pressure of making mistakes that cost the business money, with 46% of respondents thinking this was the main stressor impacting mental wellness in employees. This is followed by over a quarter of people (28%), saying pricing conversations with clients causes the most stress.

The worries of making mistakes and tricky conversations are tough to cope with, in addition to the rising levels of administrative tasks (27%), poor technology or systems (21%), poor processes (18%), and overservicing (18%), which were also noted as areas of pressure.

According to our survey, accounting businesses in particular find pricing conversations and poor processes to be more prominent issues than other sectors, underlining the need to avoid clunky tools or inefficient services. Whether it’s producing proposals or letters of engagement, the last thing teams need are time consuming and underwhelming systems that increase that mental strain at  work.

Accountancy business breakdown

What else is specifically stressful for those in the accounting businesses in particular, and what do they say alleviates this stress?

Biggest impacts of stress and mental wellness issues on accounting employees

% in accounting businesses
Mistakes and errors in work
Low morale or motivation
Low productivity and efficiency
Staff turnover

What helps to improve mental wellness and reduce stress?

Mental health support
% in accounting businesses
Flexible working
Work life balance
Online mental health resources
Physical benefits: gym membership
External experts to discuss/train

Where in the UK do businesses have the most mental health support?

We broke down the data from our survey to reveal which regions in the UK have businesses that offer mental health support that is utilised the most:

How are business owners coping with added pressure?

While business owners seek support for those they work with, they are of course, under a lot of pressure themselves, with running a business providing constant challenges and taking its mental toll, too. Our research found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, over 1 in 2 business owners have worked long and late hours to keep their business on track and running well. 

Many regularly lose sleep worrying and thinking about their businesses (54%), and 48% have even taken on multiple roles to get things done when understaffed, despite perhaps not being qualified to do those jobs, which can result in bottlenecks

The blurring of work life and home life was apparent for a further 47%, and this can inevitably lead to strong feelings of low confidence or motivation, which a third of bosses said they felt, and feeling unsupported or lonely, which a quarter said they had experienced. 

James Ashford, Vice President of GoProposal, explains how everyone goes through tough moments of high stress and low confidence, and said it’s crucial to feel able to ask for help when you need it:

You have to be able to say the words ‘I need help.’ Outwardly I’m seen as a successful, confident, entrepreneur. But no-one other than my wife saw the times when I was on the floor, on my hands and knees, with my head in my hands, in tears. Thankfully those moments were few, but when they happened I reached out to those closest to me and simply said… ‘I need help.’ And help came.”

What can be done to improve mental health support?

As stress mounts on businesses and those that work in them, what can be done? 

According to UK business leaders, 1 in 2 say more government support and initiatives would help them manage mental health better, with 44% also saying more funds were needed to specifically provide support and training to their employees on how to cope with mental health worries at work. 

Access to free online support, guidance, and tools was also said to be something that would help provide better assistance to employees, while 31% said having mental health experts physically in the workplace would be a big help, perhaps just for a couple of days each week. 

Dr Chloe Mitchell, explains how an absence of empathetic leadership when it comes to mental health can damage a business:

“Discussing mental health in the workplace is of vital importance, as people are not able to leave their mental health at the door. There is a direct connection between levels of stress, working conditions, psychological safety at work, financial stress and living conditions and mental health; as well as with physical health. We are currently seeing a massive wave of silent resignations, mainly due to the absence of empathic leadership which puts the wellbeing of its workforce first.

“All the research in mental fitness and resilience shows us that people are much more likely to work harder, focus more, and give their teams and employers their best if they feel valued on a human level first. If not, the costs of presenteeism are huge and mental health deterioration profound.”

“Leaders need to deepen their understanding of mental health and see it as a subjective measure of happiness and wellbeing, and must realise that to ignore it leads to greater distress and causes deterioration. 

Dr Mitchell believes that to work towards avoiding overworking and burnout in business, that “everything is about pace, balance, and good daily self-care routines, including “listening to your body and ensuring you take breaks from the constant treadmill of stress.”

James Ashford agrees, saying that to put your health above your work is vital to improving mental health:

“Never check your email before addressing the most important thing for YOU today. What will make things better, even by just one degree? Put yourself first and focus on that, before anyone else. Do that day in, day out and I promise you will begin to feel better.” 

For further advice on how you can help run your businesses with fewer stress-points, more efficiency and greater consistency without overservicing, read more advice from our experts on our education and training page for accountants.