Chief Compliance Officers and Stress
Compliance professionals are fast-rising stars in every organization. They are the unsung heroes who try to ensure compliance, usually with a shortage of resources.
The compliance profession is undergoing a significant change. Directors and senior management are empowering chief compliance officers and elevating their status.
With increasing power and influence, come some of the burdens as well. A recent survey of compliance professionals revealed that compliance officers are under significant stress. In response to the survey, 58 percent admitted that they wake up in the middle of night with worries about their job; and 60 percent have considered leaving their jobs.
It is interesting to look at the causes of compliance officers’ stress. Almost one-third of all compliance officers surveyed stated that they have nowhere near enough resources to do their job; 44 percent said they had not quite enough; and only 23 percent stated they have enough resources to do their job.
The three most significant stress factors were: (1) identifying risks; (2) preventing violations of law and policies; and (3) keeping up with new laws and regulations. These all make sense. Compliance is a fast-moving world, especially in this regulatory environment. The Obama Administration is churning out new regulations by the buckets, complicating matters with multi-agency regulations of similar conduct, and asking more and more of compliance officials.
At the same time, the stakes for compliance have grown even larger. With more whistleblowers searching for complaints and lucrative payoffs, to class action plaintiffs increasing the number of multi-district actions, and to increasingly aggressive criminal prosecutors, the dangers are abundant and the risks even more significant.
Compliance professionals often are isolated in an organization. They are viewed as the enforcer and employees try to avoid dealing with them. That is not good for morale. The support of senior management for compliance officers is critical to making the job fulfilling.
Whatever the stress or challenge, one thing is clear – compliance officers area special breed. They live in a world where their job is never done. Once one fire is put out, several others are still burning and they need to turn their attention to another emergency.
It takes a special person to operate in these conditions. If something goes wrong, management always asks the compliance officer “why” or “what happened”? If compliance officers do their job, they never hear from senior management because there is no reason to do so – the company is in compliance.
With the increasing importance of compliance professionals, it is important to focus on working conditions and environment. As they rise in importance to the C-Level Suites, compliance professionals have to be mindful of their own stresses, their own personal challenges and keep everything in balance.
Funny that you should choose this topic as I almost suggested that you write about it. As a consultant, I find that no Compliance Officer ever thinks he/she is doing as well as his peers — everyone feels like they are behind. But few will search for a consultant to help pull them up to speed. I also find that many don’t know what they can own. Organizations tend to want to pile everything on the CO’s plate but they cannot own everything. They need to decide if they should have oversight or if it is something that they can audit, if they can institute steps for remediation or if they can just make recommendations. I think CO’s have a tendency to take on too much and need to learn to step back and just have the oversight. And I think they need to reach out for help so they don’t feel like they are out on a limb alone. Consultants make great mentors.
That free-floating anxiety will never go away, until we can figure out how to do a metric called “Number of Compliance Failures Prevented” and a companion metric called “Fines, Penalties, Defense and Remediation Costs Saved.” As long as the only thing newsworthy about the compliance office is the occasional bad news about failures, that imbalance in the data that the C-suite, board and others draw their views about C&E from will always result in a feeling that you can never do enough.
The key is to not act out the anxiety in “Mr. Bill” fashion. (Great illustration, even if only a certain generation can identify it. He was the “Ohno” before Apollo.)