The topic you should be talking about (and probably aren’t)

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA senior content manager 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’re publishing stories each week talking about this area with accounting and health professionals. Read the feature story on mental health in the accounting profession in the May/June issue of CPA Voice, out at the end of May. 

Mental health remains a difficult topic to talk about in the professional world, but that shouldn’t deter firms and organizations from integrating it into their culture.

“I have heard some partners saying that they have staff members who are taking leaves of absence for mental health,” said Matt Rampe. “I have seen and heard that more frequently. But I have not heard a lot beyond that in terms of initiatives.” 

Rampe is principal at Rampe Consulting, which helps CPA firms in practice management and leadership development. He said it can be difficult for leaders to know where boundaries are when it comes to discussing mental health, but it’s not helping your firm or your staff to ignore it completely. 

“I think step one is talking about it and normalizing it as leaders,” Rampe said. “And saying ‘This is a human issue. This doesn't mean you're weak.’ Raising your hand and saying, ‘I need help,’ is an act of strength when it comes to mental well-being.” 

Leaders shouldn’t position themselves as therapists or think they need to be the person to solve their employees’ mental health problems, Rampe said. Instead, the firm should be ready to support people with appropriate resources, whether that’s directing them to HR, support groups or other areas where they can get appropriate help. 

Having happier, healthier employees can increase retention in the long-term, Rampe said, and creating a proactive culture of supporting mental health is part of that. He said it’s valuable to check-in with employees to see how they’re doing and be prepared that if an employee stays with the company for long enough, there might be times that their workload needs to be pulled back in favor of their mental health. 

And while Rampe said some managers might not be comfortable with this idea, it could be what ultimately keeps an employee at the organization instead of leaving for somewhere else. 

“There are two paths you can walk. One is you can work the person as hard as you can, but your risk of burnout is high,” he said. “Or you can say this is a long-term relationship. We want this person to be healthy and at the firm and productive over the long term. Sometimes, you can go faster, and sometimes you have to go slower.”