On-the-Job Stress Leads to Sleepless Nights for Compliance Professionals

Is your job in compliance stressing you out? You are not alone. Compliance professionals face on-the-job stress that leads to sleepless nights and thoughts of quitting work, according to a survey conducted in October and November of 2011 by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) to assess the degree of stress and the causes of that stress. Overall, 58 percent of respondents to the survey reported that they often wake up during the middle of the night worrying about job-related stress and 60 percent report having considered leaving their job in the last 12 months due to job-related stress.

Responsibilities of compliance professionals include identifying legal, regulatory, and ethical risks an organization faces and developing and implementing effective compliance programs to mitigate those risks. Compliance professionals may have to change long-standing practices and confront possible violations of the law. In doing their job, compliance officers may find themselves in situations in which continuing in the role would compromise their integrity, the survey explained.   

Respondents to the survey identified the top causes of on-the-job stress as follows:

  • Fifty-eight percent of the respondents reported that they believe that they are in an adversarial relationship with their colleagues or are isolated.
  • The greatest causes of stress cited were (1) keeping up with new laws and regulations, (2) preventing compliance and ethics violations, and (3) remediating compliance and ethics violations. Although some respondents also cited detecting compliance and ethics violations, investigating alleged compliance violations, it is notable that a number of respondents selected “all of the above” as the source of stress.
  • Twenty-nine percent of respondents believe they had no where near enough budget for their compliance program while another 44 percent believe they did not have quite enough.

Intestingly, among the respondents that had a relationship with the legal department, 54 percent gave the relationship the highest rating and another 26 percent gave the relationship the next highest rating. Human resources, Internal Audit, and Health and Safety followed closely with highest or next highest rating from 65 – 70 percent of all respondents.

“Six out of ten people waking up in the middle of the night from job related stress is unacceptable for any profession,” SCCE and HCCA Chief Executive Officer Roy Snell said in a January 10, 2012 release. The Compliance profession’s purpose is to prevent and detect the problems that have occurred in organizations such as Enron, Tyco, and Penn State University. There are reasons those who came before the compliance profession stopped short of fixing these problems. Fixing these problems is very difficult and stressful, he added. 

SCCE and HCCA will work to help their 10,000 members deal with this stress, Snell announced explaining that the associations “have dedicated a day and a half strategic planning session in January 2012 to this issue and this issue alone.” He stressed, however, that SCCE and HCCA “can only do so much” and emphasized that “[c]ompliance professionals, who are asked to do this difficult job, need support from leadership, reasonable authority, and independence. If society wants to us deal with these issues—so difficult that others have chosen to look the other way—then society should make an effort to support this profession.”

How aware is your organization of  job related stress for its compliance professionals? What steps has the organization taken to address and alleviate the issue?