With burnout and absenteeism now a major workplace issue, finance professionals have to pay close attention to their emotional wellness in the workplace. Although companies are increasingly investing in wellness programmes and initiatives, individuals ultimately have to take responsibility for managing themselves. For finance professionals, who typically operate in high-pressure environments, ignoring emotional wellness can have disastrous consequences — including poor performance and declining mental health.
“Emotional wellbeing forms part of mental health, and it is the ability to understand and manage your emotions, attention, and behaviour to cope with daily tasks,” explained Annemarie Lombard, Ph.D., founder of Sensory Intelligence Consulting, a South African consultancy focused on health and wellbeing. “I am adding attention and behaviour, as they are key drivers into getting things done and are explicitly linked with emotion. Emotional wellness is therefore mental health — and forms part of the general concept of health.”
According to Lombard, when emotional wellness is compromised in the workplace, finance professionals can end up with a mental health diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, bipolar mood disorder, etc. Yet this outcome can easily be avoided.
Here are five practical ways in which finance professionals can nurture and maintain emotional wellness at work.
Cultivate self-awareness. Erik Kruger, founder of The Mental Performance Lab, a consultancy based in South Africa, explained that professionals have to “own their wellbeing”. “This requires developing a highly disciplined awareness of where you are at, and taking your own emotional temperature, so to speak, by continually assessing your emotional state,” he said. “Although this sounds obvious, it is very easy to become blind to how we are really feeling — primarily because we tend to function on autopilot throughout the day. Yet the only way that you can really change is with constant self-awareness.”
De-clutter your workspace. Our work environments play a major role in either helping or harming emotional wellness. “For example, an abundance of visual stimuli will overload the visual system and therefore the brain,” said Lombard. “A clean, organised workspace is therefore a must — not only for efficiency but also brain health. Also, take a look at your desktop. Having too many icons on your desktop, moving screensavers, and multiple tabs open can be distracting … less is more!”
Make time to rest. Although a visit to the gym or the yoga studio can do wonders for your mood, taking time to rest and be still is critically important. “High performance and emotional wellbeing only exist when you can achieve a balance between stress and relaxation (or the absence of stress),” Kruger explained. “By taking time off to rest, you essentially build your internal capacity to deal effectively with major stressors when they come your way.”
Master the art of self-regulation. According to Lombard, most professionals suffer from sensory overload — which she defines as “the constant bombardment of sensory stimuli to the human brain”. To prevent this overload from stressing them out, finance professionals have to learn how to self-regulate. “Self-regulation is the ability to calm and organise the brain using sensory actions,” said Lombard. “For example, move, stretch, and have lunch away from your desk. Movement is a key sense that has got the capacity to calm and organise your emotions — creating a quick recharge for the body and brain.”
Be positive and trustworthy. When listing the five key dynamics that make its teams successful, Google rated “psychological safety” as the most important factor. According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who coined the term, “psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes." Achieving psychological safety is a fundamental aspect of emotional wellness, added Kruger, yet it is not simply up to leaders and managers.
“Everyone within an organisation has to take responsibility for cultivating psychological safety,” he explained. “This means refraining from taking part in gossip and passing judgements. For your own wellbeing, you should be sending the message that you are trustworthy, as this contributes to a positive and more transparent environment for everyone.”
— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.