ICAS CEO Bruce Cartwright CA: On the road to a healthier and happier new normal
One year on from the launch of the ICAS Mental Fitness Strategy, CEO Bruce Cartwright CA says now is the time to build upon our progress and turn open conversations around mental health into concrete actions.
It’s now a year since ICAS launched its Mental Fitness Pledge. The pledge was the driver of what was then our new mental fitness strategy, a three-year plan that aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental ill-health in business, provide access to resources and see ICAS become a leading voice for the promotion of mental fitness.
The pledge and strategy were in part reactions to the world around us. We were in the midst of the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone was struggling, to one degree or another, to cope with the physical, financial and social impacts and the toll that these were taking on our mental health.
The accountancy profession was not immune to those effects either. As I noted at the time, a mid-pandemic poll conducted by AccountingWEB found that 47% of accounting and finance employees rated their overall wellbeing as poor.
Pressures from beyond the pandemic
In many ways, we’re now in a better place than where we were back then, and overall people’s mental health is improving as the worst effects of the pandemic appear to recede. According to recent research by The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the amount of people who rate their mental health as ‘good’ has increased since 2021, from 52% to 55%, getting closer to the pre-pandemic levels of 58% seen in 2020.
But whilst these improvements are clearly welcome, even if those pre-pandemic levels are achieved, there will still be a large proportion of us who are impacted by poor mental health. Indeed, the results of the ICAS Mental Fitness survey from the end of last year revealed that 64% of ICAS Members either had, or knew someone who had, experienced anxiety, and 38% had, or knew someone who had, experienced depression.
The ICAS survey also showed that impacts upon our Members’ mental health go beyond the effects of the pandemic, and many may have their origins in the pressures of the workplace. 90% of respondents to the survey said they had experienced working long hours on weekdays, 87% had experienced the inability to switch off and relax, and 82% reported feeling ‘an inappropriate amount of stress related to work’.
Clear progress is being made
Whilst the continuing problems are clear, it’s also true that progress is being made. When we launched our pledge and strategy in May 2021, we knew that the first step had to be kick-starting a discussion and working to remove stigma associated with mental ill-health.
We’re now consistently having open conversations – at ICAS, within and across our teams, with you our Members, Students and firms, and with other organisations in the professional sphere.
We’ve worked hard to speak up on your behalf and to listen and learn from leaders in and out of the profession, amplifying insightful voices through channels such as the CA magazine and the CA Summit.
This willingness to talk about mental health is reflected in the content you’ll regularly find across icas.com and which will be the feature of our Finance + Insights series throughout this month of May.
That openness is also a reflection of progress being made in wider society. The BACP research I mentioned earlier found that over four fifths (84%) of the public think it’s more socially acceptable to discuss mental-health issues now compared to five years ago.
Time to turn words into action
At such a moment of clear consensus, it’s obvious that now is the time to advance these open conversations and turn words into actions.
We have an opportunity to put the old ways of the past behind us, take what worked, drop what didn’t and shape a better way of living and working. This new and improved ‘normal’ must hold wellbeing at its heart, support the resilience of individuals and develop organisations that are both sustainable and successful.
And no matter the size of the organisation, it’s key to remember that long-lasting progress takes leadership. The drive to improve must be genuine, come from the top down and shouldn’t be seen as the sole preserve of HR departments. Mental fitness must be treated in the manner of any other business strategy that’s imperative to growth and success. It must be planned, resourced, executed and monitored.
Finance + Mental Health
To help you in your journey, we’ll be running a webinar later this month in conjunction with Richard Rutnagur of the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), who’ll share the basic principles, practical steps and guidance that can help all organisations to develop their own mental-health plan.
Join us for that and keep an eye on our Finance + Mental Fitness hub and the ICAS social-media channels throughout May for more insights and advice.
Let’s keep the conversation going and keep making progress down the road to a healthier, happier and more successful new normal.