Prime Accountants Group is a medium-sized accounting firm that employs around 100 people across its offices in Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry.
The firm, which can trace its roots back to the 1940s, provides a range of financial services for clients, including auditing, bookkeeping, tax, financial advice, and payroll services.
Prime had always encouraged its staff to look after their physical and mental health but had not adopted a specific method at the company for staff to get help if they were struggling.
After signing up to the West Midlands Combined Authority’s ‘Thrive at Work Workplace Wellbeing programme’ – one of the free resources offered through Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council – Prime has seen positive results in staff productivity and morale.
Prime had to fulfil several criteria to earn Thrive at Work’s Bronze award which they achieved in March 2020 with the support of Jenny Duggan. This proves a firm has clear procedures in place to monitor staff‘s attitudes to health, including mental health and to help workers address any needs that arise.
Prime first heard about the free Thrive at Work programme through Coventry City Council, at a Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce event. Steven Harcourt, a director at Prime Accountants Group, immediately felt signing up to the programme would be immensely beneficial.
He said: “We had always done things here and there to help our employees’ mental health, but Thrive at Work looked like a programme that would bring it all together. We decided to sign up for the programme at the start of 2019. We felt it had the potential to really help not just the mental wellbeing of our staff, but their productivity too”.
Prime conducted an anonymous survey of its employees to assess what the mental health of staff was actually like, rather than what directors had simply assumed.
Three ‘mental health champions’ were appointed, who would be responsible for assisting staff to monitor their own and each other’s mental health and spotting any signs something may be wrong.
Alongside regular intranet messages, a signposting system was put in place to enable employees to find the help or support they needed.
Steven said: “The survey showed us there were more problems than we might have thought – as staff, understandably, would not have mentioned these problems to us directly. We knew we had to put in proper systems to support health and wellbeing, and these included the three mental health champions.
“Through online training, we also made it clear throughout the company that mental health was nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, making it clear if something is wrong early on can often prevent more serious problems in the future.”
Just after Prime Accountants Group achieved its accreditation, the country was placed into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime had to furlough some of their staff, with the rest having to work from home. This created a new set of pressures on mental health that may not have been present before.
The new mental health champions at Prime were diligent in checking on staff members – all were regularly contacted throughout the lockdown, even those who were on furlough.
Steven Harcourt, Director at Prime, said: “The changes we made meant we could be a lot more proactive with our workers’ mental health rather than reactive.
“We hope it also means that any stigma associated with mental health issues has gone. The commitment we made by achieving our Thrive at Work bronze accreditation means our employees can now be confident in talking about any issues they are experiencing, instead of keeping it to themselves.
“For example, we had a lady working for us who lived far away from her friends and family, and when the lockdown was enforced, she asked if she could move away to live with them for the time being as she was finding it very hard. As we were all working remotely, we were happy to grant this request for her.
“If we hadn’t signed up to Thrive at Work and shown our commitment to supporting staff mental health, I’m not sure if she’d have felt confident enough to raise the issue with us. But because she did, we were able to find a solution that positively impacted her mental health, and meant she was able to continue working for us. If she had not said anything, it may have resulted in long-term sickness further down the line.”
Steve feels other companies should take a keen interest in staff mental health.
“I’d really encourage businesses to sign up to a workplace wellbeing scheme like Thrive at Work,” he added.
“We have always said that our staff members are our biggest asset, and a good business needs to protect and nurture them. We want to support our staff to deal with any problems early on, and to prevent long term absence or low productivity which is crucial for our business.
“The pandemic put a huge strain on our employees’ mental health. Thanks to Thrive at Work, we were supported to put measures in place to ensure staff could reach out to colleagues and discuss any issues they might be having and could easily find help.”