ICAS President, Indy Singh Hothi CA: The importance of mental agility
Indy Singh Hothi CA says businesses will only be fighting fit if they think about mental fitness
Last year, ICAS did its first mental fitness survey. I admit to being shocked by some of the findings. Most respondents said they had experienced anxiety at work. Likewise, more than half said they had suffered from exhaustion, while the proportion saying they felt an inappropriate amount of work-related stress exceeded 80%.
Those are damning statistics that speak to a problem in the financial profession. ICAS has created a clear mental fitness pledge to support our staff and members, with a broader aim to move the dial on this issue across the profession. Since then, there has been a wave of new initiatives. We have brought in a mental fitness hub on the website, signposting resources and wider support. For students, many of whom had to cope with new conditions of study as a result of the pandemic, we’ve introduced a 24/7/365 helpline to support them during what can be a very challenging time. Meanwhile, the wellbeing team at ICAS are currently refreshing their strategy.
Discussing mental health presents challenges from different generational, ethnic and gender perspectives. Part of that is around language. The term “mental health” itself tends to carry negative connotations; replace “health” with “fitness” and you frame it in a far more positive light. Through the articles that appear in this issue of CA magazine, we’re providing expert insight, but also breaking down the stigma.
Here, leaders have a vital role to play. By sharing their stories, they can help to counter that stigma. As a young male, I never gave mental fitness much thought. It was something people in my community never talked about, and I’m sure that was the same for many others, irrespective of background. It’s only since meeting my wife, who was diagnosed with anxiety and low-level depression, that I began to recognise the extent to which mental fitness affects us all – even people who don’t appear to have problems. My wife opened up about her experiences in a TEDx Talk on the power of creative writing to promote positive wellbeing. She is an inspiration to many, including me.
The right stuff
We all went through a very difficult period in 2020 and into 2021 and some of us are still coming to terms with it. The gym and physical fitness have long been part of my life – I competed at semi-pro level in Muay Thai boxing – and when lockdown took that away from me, I soon realised that physical exercise is both a form of release and meditation for me.
People in our profession are in the wider “knowledge economy” – our mental agility, the way we approach the obstacles we face, whether in our organisation or as sole practitioners, is probably our most important asset. Some reading this may say, “We didn’t talk about mental health – we just got on with the job.” But a workplace where people had to find a way to cope regardless of long-term personal cost sounds like a very negative environment to me – and to the next generation of talent that all businesses need to attract. We may have grown up in an era where you were considered a great business leader if you increased profitability while reducing overheads. But we rightly expect so much more from our leaders now. We’ve become more progressive and open, which in turn lets us tackle these issues more constructively.
It’s no longer just about profit, but about ensuring a business does right by the planet, environment, customers and people. We’re entering a period of economic uncertainty. At such times, the reliance on CFOs and FDs grows, along with the need for them to make hard decisions. Our members in practice will be helping their clients navigate a very challenging time.
It all adds up to more pressure for CAs, who will need to maintain their mental dexterity, creativity, focus and resilience. So the subject of mental fitness has, if anything, just become even more important.
Last year, the International Organisation for Standards published its first-ever global standard on wellbeing (ISO 45003 – psychological health and safety in the workplace), which provides a structured framework and guidance on how to embed and track wellbeing within an organisation. As a result, we now know how to promote positive mental fitness, and how to measure and improve it.
For those who still think this is a private matter with no place in business, I’ll end on this: in April, a Deloitte report estimated poor mental fitness – consequences of which can include absenteeism, presenteeism and high staff turnover – costs employers £56bn a year. So if you believe a business’s only responsibility is to the bottom line, you now have all the evidence you need – mental fitness is very much a matter for CAs.
Visit our Finance + Mental Fitness hub