Burnout can pose a compliance risk

Staff are more burned out now than at the height of the pandemic.
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· 5 min read

Employee burnout can lead to absenteeism and reduced productivity. But when it happens to accounting and finance personnel, it might also undermine compliance.

Burnout is one reason many accounting and finance staff are getting out of the profession. A survey by LemonEdge found that 31% of UK financial services and banking personnel planned to leave the field due to pressure.

And lacking sufficient staff can prove a threat to compliance. Earlier this year, Advance Auto Parts, Joby Aviation, and Evotec named a lack of accounting personnel a material weakness in their financial statements. The problem appears to be escalating: 40.6% more companies reported material weaknesses due to lack of personnel, chiefly in accounting and IT, than in 2019, according to Bedrock AI research cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Complicating the matter is the fact that compliance procedures themselves can cause stress. A FloQast survey, conducted right after the March 2022 monthly close, showed that 99% of accountants showed signs of burnout, and 81% said the close had interfered with their lives in the last year.

What’s causing burnout: “It’s not a popular topic, but the truth is that many finance professionals struggle with anxiety,” Adriana Carpenter, CFO at Emburse, told CFO Brew via email. “It’s a career that can demand long hours, intense competition, and high pressure to meet short-term deadlines.”

Uncertainty around macroeconomic volatility may also contribute to finance and accounting professionals’ burnout, KeyAnna Schmiedl, chief human experience officer at Workhuman, told CFO Brew. Organizations often ask finance personnel to make high-stakes predictions, which can be stressful, especially if they’re made to feel responsible for the outcomes. “It’s just part of their working experience that there will be levels of ambiguity like [we’ve] never experienced before,” she said.

The post-pandemic workplace is also causing uncertainty. “People are going ‘What I had gotten used to previously [at work] I shouldn’t exactly be expecting in the future, but I also know it cannot look anything like it did before,’” Schmiedl said. Career trajectories were upended by the pandemic, she said, with retirement, early-career mentoring, and mid-career leadership all looking different than they did just three years ago.

How to spot burnout: Mental health was a hot topic during the pandemic, but now some “complacency” has set in around making sure employees feel recognized, Schmiedl said. Yet burnout may be even a more serious problem than it was during the height of the pandemic: BambooHR, for instance, found that job satisfaction is lower now than it was in early 2020.

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Pulse surveys can help CFOs and finance leaders employee sentiment over time and see if it’s beginning to sour, Schmiedl said. A rise in complaints or a dip in recognition could be a signal that some employees are feeling burnt out. “Even the anecdata can be helpful there,” she said. “What’s critical is to take a pulse that allows you to layer the qualitative data over the quantitative data.”

And leaders can also be alert to signs that individuals are struggling. “In my experience, some early signs of burnout are when finance professionals are struggling to establish personal and professional boundaries,” Carpenter said. “That can be having a harder time turning down projects, struggling to define a start and stop time to the day, or an inability to unplug mentally from work.”

Automation can ease burnout: Overwork, and a preponderance of repetitive work, can lead to dissatisfaction: 36% of the accountants in the LemonEdge survey, for instance, said manual processes were a key reason they planned to leave their employers.

Automation of the manual parts of finance work can increase employees’ job satisfaction, Carpenter said. Though companies will need to invest in the right tools to do this, she said, she stressed that they can start with cost-effective solutions rather than overhauling their entire tech stack.

Keep an eye on your teams’ well-being: Though it sounds “cliché,” Schmeidl said, one way to lower the risk of burnout is “to acknowledge and recognize your employees.”

That, she said, goes “a long way” toward making employees feel seen and “starting to work their way out of that burnout cycle,” she said.

Carpenter believes leaders should continue to make mental health an open topic of discussion in the workplace. “I make a comfortable space for employees to talk about their mental health and well-being and encourage my peers to do the same,” she said. “This is something we never would have done years ago, but we must change to fully embrace those who work with us.”

“If we don’t adapt how we lead,” she added, “I believe we’ll see issues with burnout continue on a wide scale throughout our organizations.”

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.