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Partner Pages 2020: The mental health mindset


Feb 3, 2020

By Zac Hayes, Managing Director, HA Accounting, New South Wales

Welcome to Partner Pages: a magazine made up of stories from the Xero Partner community, for the Xero partner community and shared as part of Roadshow Australia each year.

The studies are unanimous: organisations that focus on the mental wellbeing of their team reap the benefits. For Zac Hayes, running a mentally healthy workplace isn’t just a matter of numbers – it’s about applying the lessons learned from personal experience to reshape his business (and his life) for the better. 

Here Zac, who was once the youngest registered tax agent in Australia, shares why putting mental health first makes for a more profitable – and sustainable – practice.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years it’s this: regardless of how hard you work or how meticulously you plan, sometimes life just happens. What matters most is how you choose to respond. 

To say that I’ve been under pressure since I started HA Accounting would be something of an understatement. From hospital visits to forced buyouts, robberies and letting people go, in short, it’s been a lot. And at times, I’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and burned out. Which is why I’ve adopted a series of tools to help manage my own mental health and that of my team.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions experienced in this country, and they tend to affect us during our prime working years. So even if you’re not struggling to find balance at the moment, chances are someone in your office will be. 

Self-care and setting boundaries 

When I was at my lowest, I said to myself, “Everyone has difficult things happen. But it’s entirely up to me what comes next.” As humans, we need to experience both the good and the bad so that we can find perspective, and make room to thrive. I’m of the philosophy that every problem has a solution, and every day can be treated as an opportunity to learn and grow. This is the message I share with my team.

My biggest takeaway is to listen to your own needs and practice self-care. That means becoming aware of what your limits are and setting boundaries to make sure you have the time and space to recharge. After all, how can you expect to bring your best to work when you’re falling apart?

As a young leader, I’m the first to admit that I’ve had to do a lot of growing in this space. Starting a practice in my twenties, I was so caught up in progressing my career and advancing my skills that I didn’t make time for personal development. It wasn’t until I hit a roadblock in my own mental health that I became aware of just how integral it is to foster a safe and inclusive workplace. I’ve had to learn as I go.

Growing and learning on the job

There’s a noticeable cultural shift happening in regards to addressing mental health in the workplace. It’s being driven in part by millennials who enter the workforce with expectations of a more holistic approach. But reality doesn’t always line up. Research from Beyond Blue shows that while 90% of employees think mental health is an important issue for businesses to address, only half of them feel that theirs is mentally healthy. I think it’s high time this changed.

In my office, there’s an open-door policy. I encourage my team to talk to me about their concerns, be it job related or something at home. I tell them, “If you arrive at work feeling flustered, stressed or uneasy, come and knock on my door.” As a leader, it’s my responsibility to create a space where people are comfortable having those conversations. And if they need to take a mental health day or if we need to put new frameworks in place so that they feel supported, then that’s what we do. 

Part of practicing self-care is about setting non-negotiables for your own wellbeing and that of your team. For me, that means meditation every Wednesday night. Mindfulness might seem intimidating at first, but it’s simply about listening to your body and figuring out what it’s calling for – in my case, that’s usually just a bit of rest, while for the team, we never miss Friday night drinks. It’s our time to unwind and hang out, free from the pressures of the work day. 

The mental health ROI

A lot of traditional business owners are grappling with the fact that their company values aren’t aligned with what the incoming generation expect. The thing is, if businesses aren’t shifting their values to meet cultural changes, including mental health being destigmatised, then they’re going to struggle with creating a productive and profitable workplace, not to mention recruiting and retaining top talent.

Research from Beyond Blue has shown that organisations with a positive approach to mental health have increased productivity, improved engagement, and are better at attracting and keeping talented people. They also have a reduced rate of absenteeism along with a lowered risk of conflict, grievances, turnover, disability injury rates, and performance or morale problems. 

There’s no denying the facts. And when you promote an open and inclusive workplace environment, you’re likely to start noticing improvements in your bottom line as well. Indeed, a study from PwC has revealed that every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace results in a positive return on investment of $2.30. 

Overcoming traditional boundaries

It’s safe to say that ours is a stressful industry. Often, clients tend to ‘drop the bag’ (inside of which you’ll find all of their troubles, financial and otherwise) and leave it for us to pick up. And with that comes a lot of pressure.

We choose to work with Xero because as a company they put human connection at the centre of all that they do. In the same way, I strive to create a working environment where every single person feels secure, supported and heard. 

There’s no question that firms with a positive focus on mental health see better productivity and engagement from their teams. But beyond the numbers, it’s about ensuring that everyone shares in the company’s purpose, vision and values. And that they always feel a sense of belonging in the workplace.

My tips for creating a mentally healthy workplace:

  1. Make time to check in with yourself: You can’t be your best self at work if you’re not looking after your own mental health.
  2. Have an open-door policy: Create a safe space for conversations about mental wellbeing and set aside time for people to talk about any issues in their headspace.
  3. Keep reasonable working hours: Long hours have been linked to excessive fatigue, burnout, irritability and stress. 
  4. Focus on your purpose and have non-negotiables: Whether it’s weekly personal training sessions or practicing meditation, find your self-care tools and stick with them.
  5. Find your tribe: Build a supportive community of friends and colleagues with similar values and purposes to help keep yourself connected and motivated.

A Xero expert says:

We all wear an invisible backpack. You can never tell how light or heavy someone else’s pack might feel on any particular day. That’s why it’s important to foster a workplace where everyone feels comfortable sharing their load. Being vulnerable takes courage and, often, that only comes when you see others setting an example.

Rebecca Gravestock, General Manager Global People Experience, Xero

If you’re in need of further help, please call the free Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or visit

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