Dealing with mental health issues in firms
Dealing with mental health issues in firms Vertical

Dealing with mental health issues in firms

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Although it might not be top of mind compared to client service and growing your firm, addressing mental health issues in your firm is serious business and could very well affect service, growth, and much more.

To get a variety of input and insights on the topic, I met with a group of three CPAs who have authored articles for the Intuit® Tax Pro Center, and are also members of the Tax Council:

Here is what they had to share—some of which is very personal and all of it transparent.

Scott Cytron: What is most important to you when it comes to mental health well-being in your firm?

Al-Nesha Jones
Al-Nesha Jones

Al-Nesha Jones: Protecting my most valuable business assets, which are my people and me. Ensuring that our mental health is in a good space is based on whether we can serve our clients and serve them well, because it’s unsustainable to burn yourself out. I came from a larger firm and know what happens when you see all the people at the top on fire and not taking care of themselves; it just trickles down. I need my team to be healthy in order to serve our clients—and I need them to have clear minds. That stems from our overall well-being, and specifically, our mental health.

Randy Crabtree
Randy Crabtree

Randy Crabtree: The most important thing is the people. You know what? If people are mentally healthy, there’s an offshoot of that: business productivity. It’s just a positive life outcome. If people are in a good mental health state, everything else falls in line. A friend of mine told me to call it “life-work balance,” not “work-life.” When you have life-work balance, everything else falls in line.

Terrell Turner
Terrell Turner

Terrell Turner: Well-being is about encouraging people to be honest with themselves. One of the big things we encourage our team to do is understand what being well means for where they are in life right now. For example, how you define well-being before you get married may be very different from how you defined it when you were single or how you define it after you go through life changes. I think well-being is making sure that we create a space where everybody can be honest with themselves about where they are and what they want now, but also understanding that those things may change as life changes.

Scott Cytron: It sounds to me like it’s also different for generations in your firm. A younger person would look at it differently than maybe a more seasoned staff person, right?

Terrell Turner: Yes, generational experiences do play a role in how each person defines well-being. That is why we have to have the openness and flexibility that allows for each person to develop a mutually-beneficial relationship with the company.

Scott Cytron: Al-Nesha, in your quote in an article on the Firm of the Future blog on mental health resources, you encourage open discussions about personal well-being in your firm. You use a 1 to 10 scale to gauge and support each other’s mental state. How does that work?

Al-Nesha Jones: Our team meetings are always on Monday mornings, and prior to the meeting, the team fills out a sheet that describes their priorities, what they are currently stuck on, big wins from last week, and what they need to do to make this week a win. We also ask how they are. With a 1 to 10 scale, the team can elaborate on the points in the meeting, but I also have 1:1s with every team member every week. If I see anything in there and it could have been a 1, a 5, or even a 10, I always ask them if they want to discuss any of the items with the group or during their 1:1 with me.

We have some team members who love to share; they’ll tell you if they’re having a terrible day or had a perfect weekend, while others don’t share as much, but give you enough of a glimpse to know when things aren’t okay. I ensure that I’m honest when I’m not always a 10 on Monday mornings. I haven’t always had the best weekend or the best start to the week, but I find that being honest and forthright with how I’m feeling creates capacity for the team to also be honest. Sometimes it’s as quick as a conversation, or may require something more.

Scott Cytron: That makes me think of bullying. When I was researching this topic, bullying is something that definitely affects mental health in firms. I relate that to what I call something “toxic” in a firm. Randy, how do you reinforce non-toxic productivity, or try to avoid that kind of situation?

Randy Crabtree: We actually have a policy on this. I don’t know if this is the right terminology to say here, but we internally call it the “no jerks allowed rule,” and that also refers to hiring. The bottom line is we just want to understand who people are before they come in as much as we can, because we do not tolerate bullying. Nobody ever leaves the firm because of the culture we created, but the culture is making sure that we have the right people in place. So if somebody’s not going to mesh, there is usually a red flag, and in some cases, there are a lot of red flags. We make sure we don’t set up other people to have to suffer because someone else is creating a toxic environment; we will cut that toxic environment out right away. As a friend of mine says, we invite that person to be successful elsewhere.

Scott Cytron: Do you conduct personality tests before you hire?

Randy Crabtree: No, we don’t do it before we hire. However, we’ve done CliftonStrengths, which is more about understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to play to those strengths. 

Scott Cytron: Terrell, do you test before hiring?

Terrell Turner: No, but we use the first 90 days as a temporary period to gauge new hires’ character under the normal conditions of the role that they were hired for. It’s hard to judge this from interviews alone, so we observe their behavior over time. They may seem perfect initially, but true character shows as they navigate their duties, responsibilities, and opportunities. This period helps us identify and fix any internal issues.

Scott Cytron: Terrell, I have another question for you. One of your articles you wrote for the Tax Pro Center was “How to create a healthier work environment” where your company can function without you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Terrell Turner: Sure. When I started the business, I did everything myself. I accepted being busy and running around, but as we grew, I kept the same mindset. It wasn’t until I was burned out that I realized I couldn’t keep doing this. My team stepped up and performed better without my constant involvement. I learned that the business could grow more when I let my team do their jobs. Now, I focus on being a cheerleader and implementing processes that let the team thrive.

Scott Cytron: It’s the hardest lesson to learn, but once you get there, it’s the best, right?

Terrell Turner: Absolutely.

Scott Cytron: Randy, do you see mental health being an increased focus for accounting firms now and in the future? 

Randy Crabtree: Over the last several years, mental health has become a prominent topic. Previously, it was rarely discussed. I’ve shared my story many times. At 51, I had a stroke, unaware that it was related to mental health and stress. I had mental health issues that I didn’t recognize as such, but previously attributed my struggles to the stress of running a business and raising a family.

Recently, there’s been increased focus and willingness to discuss mental health. A recent report highlighted mental health as a major topic, noting that around 70% of small business owners see it as a significant issue. This implies it’s also a major concern for their employees. We need to prioritize mental health, and the accounting profession has become more open to discussing it in recent years.

Scott Cytron: Thanks to all of you for your time. This was a great conversation.

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