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Study Finds Compliance Officers Are Highly Stressed

Reese Darragh | January 11, 2012

Many compliance and ethics professionals will tell you that they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and a recent study conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) confirmed their claims. According to the study, an increase in public attention on corporate integrity has resulted in loss of sleep for compliance officers.

The survey found some disturbing results: 58 percent of the 970 respondents say they often wake up in the middle of the night worrying about job-related stress. And 60 percent say they have considered quitting their jobs in the past 12 months due to work-related stress.

In the Stress, Compliance, and Ethics survey, respondents cite challenges to comply with new and changing laws and regulations (24 percent), preventing compliance and ethics violations (16 percent), and remediating compliance and ethics violations (14 percent) as contributing factors to on-the-job stress. Other causes include stress related to finding compliance and ethics risks, detecting and investigating compliance and ethics violations, and others.

Roy Snell, chief executive officer of SCCE and HCCA, said it is unacceptable to have six out of ten people from any profession to lose sleep every night due to job-related stress. “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. 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,” he said in a statement.

Negative treatments from peers in other departments also increase the level of stress faced by compliance professionals. According to the poll, 58 percent of respondents say they are either in an adversarial situation or isolated from their coworkers in other departments. Not surprisingly, their relationship with the sales, marketing, and manufacturing departments was the poorest, while 54 percent of respondents claim to have a good relationship with peers from the legal department.

Budget is also a factor contributing to compliance professionals' stress. 29 percent of respondents say they have “no where near enough budget” to operate their compliance program, and 44 percent say their budget is “not quite enough.”

More key conclusions from the survey include:

  • Compliance professionals are likely enduring an unhealthy level of stress
  • The causes of the stress are widespread
  • Legal department remains a strong ally for compliance
  • Serious work needs to be done to improve relationship with the sales department