More than half the compliance officers responding to a new survey on working conditions reported feeling burned out on the job, caused by stressful conditions and a lack of support.
And yet, six out of 10 compliance officers (60 percent) reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, while 73 percent said they were happy with their lives.
This paradox—of compliance officers being highly stressed but also satisfied with the job that’s causing that stress—was one of the more illuminating findings of the survey report, “Compliance Officer Working Conditions, Stress, and Mental Health,” published Tuesday by Corporate Compliance Insights (CCI). Conducted in August and September of 2021, the survey polled 240 compliance officers on their job satisfaction, working conditions, salaries, stress levels, mental health, and more.
In addition to reporting feeling burned out (59 percent) by their jobs, compliance professionals who took the survey said work caused them “a lot” or “extreme” job-related stress (51 percent) and negatively affected their mental health (56 percent).
Another 41 percent of respondents said they experienced anxiety in the previous year, with 64 percent reporting it to be work-related. A smaller number (23 percent) reported battling depression in the past year, with more than half of respondents (54 percent) pinning the blame on their job.
“[A] notable number of compliance officers are satisfied by their personal and professional lives while also experiencing a significant amount of stress,” the report said. Of note, 15 percent of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs despite being stressed at work. Another 24 percent reported satisfaction with their job despite it having a negative impact on their mental health.
“This contingent of compliance officers, perhaps, have found a job that really fits their mental capabilities and health. For this group, compliance appears to feed their needs,” the report said. “They may feel stress to a significant degree, and their job likely plays a role in this stress, but nevertheless, they love what they do and have high levels of satisfaction.”
More than half (51 percent) of respondents worked in senior positions, 41 percent held middle-of-the-pack roles, and 8 percent represented entry-level jobs, according to CCI. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents worked in the United States, the survey said.
Finance and financial services (23 percent), healthcare (22 percent), and industrials (15 percent) were the most popular business segments represented.
Despite all the challenges of being a compliance officer, nearly all practitioners surveyed (96 percent) said they are good at their jobs, with 89 percent saying their work is important.
What’s causing the stress?
The report found several sources of workplace-related stress among compliance officers. The biggest were keeping up with the pace of changing regulations (69 percent) and the threat of personal liability should things go wrong (48 percent).
Of much less concern were the potential for increased responsibilities placed on practitioners by environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives (28 percent) or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives (20 percent).
Other stressors included lack of resources (53 percent) and lack of training (40 percent).
While 64 percent of respondents said they could trust their supervisors or managers, only 45 percent said the same for their leadership, the report noted.
“In general, the [compliance officers] we surveyed report feeling less trust for and getting less support from leadership than they do from their supervisors or managers,” the report said.
Some of the CCI survey’s results mirrored those found by Compliance Week’s latest edition of its annual “Inside the Mind of the CCO” survey, particularly regarding lack of resources. CW’s 2021 poll found one in four compliance officers said a lack of support/resources is the No. 1 part of their job that keeps them up at night.
But the CW survey found a much higher level of positivity among the 308 compliance officers who responded, as they overwhelmingly (95 percent) expressed satisfaction with their job.
The CCI study said compliance teams work best when “mutual respect, understanding, and support conferred between team members allows the system to operate to its full potential.”
While compliance teams, by their nature, introduce friction into the workplace when steering the corporation away from illegal or unethical territory, that can be offset by the recognition that such course corrections keep the business operating legally and ethically. That tension between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing will always exist and be a source of stress for compliance officers. But there is a limit to how much stress a compliance division can take before its effectiveness breaks down.
“[L]eaders would do well to recognize that the more stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression their compliance departments experience, the less effective they will be,” the report said.