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Top accounting firms unite to tackle mental health

Three of the big four accounting firms have now joined forces with some of Australia’s biggest employers to tackle the growing issue of mental health in the workplace.

Business Tony Zhang 14 October 2020
— 2 minute read

The Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA) has now been formed, composed of 15 of Australia’s largest employers, including Deloitte, KPMG and PwC.

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The organisation will be dedicated to improving mental health in the workplace, after the Productivity Commission found that mental ill-health and suicide was costing the Australian economy in the order of $43 billion to $51 billion per year.

KPMG national managing partner people and corporate affairs, Deborah Yates, said it was vital for leaders to actively build mentally healthy workplaces.

“People want leaders to be human first. I wonder if, in all the technical training of how leaders ‘should’ lead, we’ve lost some of the confidence to just be ourselves, connect as humans and lead with kindness,” Ms Yates said.

“A key part of our mental health strategy has therefore focused on helping leaders develop the capacity and confidence to ‘lean in’ to conversations around mental health with their teams, conversations that they worry they might not get 100 per cent ‘technically’ right. Being willing to listen, care and have the conversation is what matters.”

Deloitte Australia national leader for public sector and public policy, Ellen Derrick, said that mental health is a key focus of the firm’s wellbeing strategy. 

“We are committed to creating an inclusive, safe and respectful environment every day. We want our leaders and people to have a good understanding of mental health and the confidence and capability to take care of themselves and others,” Ms Derrick said.

“We are committed to creating a culture where those experiencing mental health challenges are comfortable to share their experiences and be provided with the support they need.”

The establishment of CMHAA comes at a time when mental health issues in the workplace are increasing in prevalence.

According to Safe Work Australia, more than 92 per cent of work-related mental health condition claims can be attributed to work-related mental stress including work pressure, harassment or bullying, exposure to workplace violence, and sexual or racial harassment.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated mental health issues, with increased anxiety and uncertainty, self-isolation, family stress and financial hardship having a very real impact on the quality of life.

The Institute of Public Accountants chief executive Andrew Conway has also urged the accounting profession to better address the impacts of mental health and provide better training and support to practitioners as they approach confronting client conversations.

The alliance, which includes members such as CBA and Woolworths along with major law firms, recognises that the wellbeing of their employees transcends market dynamics, and that working together will give them the best chance of delivering real impact for their people.

Lucy Brogden, chair of the National Mental Health Commission and part of the 15 members on CMHAA’s expert advisory group, added there is a growing awareness of the need for businesses to go beyond the “yoga and fruit bowl” approach to addressing mental health in the workplace.

“It’s effectively an extensive network of mental health champions across the Australian business community, who are each saying in unison, this is really important to us. We are committed to this. We are here to be a part of the change,” she said.

Top accounting firms unite to tackle mental health
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