Suffering From Compliance Stress?

Is your health and well-being, or that of your employees, being affected by the prolonged effects of high compliance stress?

In this article, I outline how to identify the symptoms of high compliance stress and more importantly, how to treat the causes without affecting compliance performance.

What is compliance stress?

Ever since the GFC in 2007 organisations worldwide have experienced a significant increase in their compliance obligations while the penalties for non-compliance have also risen sharply.

Little wonder employees are working harder than ever to ensure their organisations remain compliant and as a consequence, their stress levels are also at an all-time high.

Who is affected by high compliance stress?

High compliance stress can have a deleterious effect on anyone directly or indirectly responsible for an organisation’s compliance performance, including; board-members

  • directors
  • senior executives
  • line managers
  • compliance personnel
  • employees
  • suppliers

Organisation consequences of high compliance stress

High compliance stress levels can also have an adverse impact on an organisation’s operations, including;

  • increased sick leave
  • excessive staff turnover
  • low work productivity
  • high compliance risk

To mitigate the potential consequences of high compliance stress employers must first recognise the symptoms; which isn’t always easy.  

Identifying the symptoms of high compliance stress

Compliance stress symptoms can be separated into three categories;  

  • Physical:- work fatigue, headaches, sleeping difficulties, muscular tension, gastrointestinal upsets, dermatological disorders, etc.   
  • Physiological:- depression, anxiety, irritability, feeling unable to cope, inability to concentrate and make decisions, etc.
  • Behavioural: – mood swings, aggression, diminished creativity, mood swings, impatience, frustration, disinterest, isolation, etc.

Because compliance stress symptoms are no different from other types of work-related stress, employers need to dig deeper to identify and treat the causes. 

Identifying the causes of compliance stress

To help identify the presence and causes of high compliance stress employers have a range of formal and informal tools and methods at their disposal, including; 

  • performance reviews
  • employee surveys
  • team meetings
  • suggestion boxes
  • water-cooler and tool-box chats

Treating the causes of compliance stress

By way of an example, I’ve listed three common causes of compliance stress and their recommended treatments.

1.      Inadequate compliance buy-in

Cause: Of the main causes of high compliance stress is a lack of buy-in by managers to an organisation’s compliance goals and objectives. All too often the main responsibility for managing an organisation’s compliance performance falls to its compliance personnel rather than the managers who directly influence this outcome.  Trying to coordinate compliance activities with managers who have other priorities can be very frustrating. 

Treatment: While compliance personnel needs to share some of the responsibility for an organisation’s compliance performance the main responsibility should fall on those managers who directly influence this outcome. Linking manager remuneration to their compliance performance is a very effective method of encouraging their compliance buy-in while freeing up compliance personnel to help them achieve their compliance goals and objectives.  

2.      Reactive compliance culture

Cause: One of the most stressful challenges managers and employees have to deal with is the fallout from an unforeseen major non-compliance event e.g. workplace injury, environmental incident, lost contract, regulatory investigation, legal action, etc. So many organisations experience major unforeseen non-compliance events because they are too reactive when it comes to managing their compliance performance. In other words, they wait for something to go wrong before they fix it.  

Treatment: The best way to treat this type of compliance stress is to avoid it. Start by making line managers (refer to 2. above) responsible for undertaking regular compliance assessments/audits on their systems and processes, and ensuring the causes of any high-risk non-compliances are corrected before they have a chance to result in a major non-compliance event.    

3.      Unsuitable compliance technology

Cause: Another major cause of high compliance stress is unsuitable compliance technology. Nothing is so frustrating or time-consuming than trying to use unsuitable software solutions to manage an organisation’s compliance performance i.e. scheduling compliance assessments, collecting and analysing data, reporting findings and implementing improvements. Unsuitable compliance software can lead to missing or lost data, inconsistent compliance reporting, and worse, sub-optimal decision-making. 

Treatment: The best way to treat this type of compliance stress is for employers to invest in fit-for-purpose compliance software. Modern compliance software is far more efficient and effective than outdated spreadsheets and standalone compliance solutions. They also provide a single version of the truth, which is crucial for ensuring limited improvement resources are directed where they are most needed, and ensuring organisations can quickly demonstrate their compliance to internal and external stakeholders.

Coping with high compliance stress

It is also important for employers to help employees cope with their high compliance stress levels until the causes can be mitigated or removed; including,    

  • organising group activities
  • encouraging external social activities
  • providing stress counselling
  • changing the work environment
  • providing flexible hours

What next?

Recognising the symptoms of high compliance stress can be difficult but with the right approach, employers can take appropriate steps to eliminate the root causes without compromising compliance performance.

To learn more about how your organisation can help lower its compliance stress levels by investing in a modern cloud-based compliance management solution visit our website here.