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Stress Management for Compliance Professionals 

As the company guardians, compliance professionals always have to be on their toes and this can be particularly stressful. Our guest author Dr. Bettina Palazzo reveals four tips on how to cope with stress.

by Dr. Bettina Palazzo 4 min

    Stressed out again?

    Yes, stress is a tricky thing.

    On the one hand, life would be boring without some tension, and on the other, we suffer from permanent stress far too often today.

    In the past, we had to flee from the saber-toothed tiger as quickly as possible. For that it was great when all the blood went to the legs and our brain was in survival mode. Today, unfortunately, we still react as if our lives were in danger when we feel threatened.

    Today, unfortunately, we still react as if our lives were in danger when we feel threatened. Even if it’s just a tight deadline or a rude comment from the boss. While we used to be able to relax in our cave after a successful escape from the tiger, today we have far too few stress breaks.

    This constant stress is pure poison and makes us ill.

    According to surveys, compliance professionals in particular suffer from stress frequently. No wonder! After all, they are the company’s watchdogs who have to be constantly on guard: identifying risks, preventing misconduct, implementing new legal requirements, managing processes and controls.  As a classic cross-sectional task, they also encounter resistance time and again. This can eat up a lot of energy and lead to frustration – draining!

    In addition, we live in challenging times: War, climate crisis, the post-pandemic blues.

    In theory, we all know what we could do about stress: sleep better, eat better, breathe better, exercise in nature…I see so much good advice on stress management these days that it almost stresses me out.

    In this jungle of anti-stress advice, I came across Davidji. His book “Destressifying” really convinced me.

    Especially in the audiobook version (did I mention I’m an audiobook fan?), because Davidji is also known as the “Velvet Voice of Silence.” Just listening to his voice helps me to wind down instantly.

    What I learned from Davidji are many little tricks to remove yourself from stress and worry to shift to a state of calm and peace. Sure, you should meditate daily (who can do it?!), but it already helps to consciously breathe and go into stillness more often during the day.

    But this is only the individual side of stress management!

    To sustainably manage stress in an Ethics & Compliance department, we need more.

    Values-based compliance work 

    We need good team cohesion. We need motivating values and a common understanding of ethics & compliance. As always in life, you can withstand a lot of stress if you have a good “why”. Therefore, it is worthwhile conducting a team meeting in which you define the values that guide your compliance work and the way you want to treat each other. This also provides a good basis for talking about ethics and compliance in a winning way within the company.

    Managing internal resistance 

    You should also prepare yourself as a team against the stress of internal resistance. This can easily be done by creating a collaborative document in which you collect the usual objections and prejudices against compliance and come up with good counter-arguments. This way, no one has to fight the headwind alone and spontaneously, but can rely on a well-stocked library of clever and convincing answers at hand.

    This makes it much easier to see the comments that come from the organization on compliance as a valuable gift that you can turn into something creative: “The compliance e-learning is too long and too abstract!” – “Thanks for the feedback, then please tell us more specifically about your compliance issues and how we can better help you with them! We will then use this input to create a better e-learning…”

    Turn HR and Communications into allies 

    Another magic cure for stress is good relationship management with HR and Communications colleagues. When compliance and HR cooperate well, they get a lot more horsepower onto the road together. The communications department can be a key ally in winning compliance communications, which in turn increases internal understanding of compliance and fosters a willingness to cooperate.

    Make it about them: Compassion instead of frustration! 

    And finally, you can save yourself a lot of stress by making your compliance work target group oriented. To do this, however, you must change your mind-set. Instead of thinking from the inside out, i.e., “How do I get all my regulations across to the employees?”, you must think from the outside in: “What are the business challenges of my various target groups? What compliance issues might come up? How can we help them overcome them?”

    If we understand our target audience’s issues, we won’t be frustrated when they don’t behave the way we’d like them to. If our target groups feel understood, they will also perceive us as trustworthy advisors and not as annoying meddlers and preventers.

    Yes, all of this is work at first, but it’s also an investment in less stressful and more effective compliance work.

    The ultimate guide: optimising compliance risk assessment

    Utilising an integrated compliance solution offers a fundamental advantage in obtaining in-depth insights.

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    Dr Bettina Palazzo
    Dr Bettina Palazzo

    Dr Bettina Palazzo is convinced that unethical companies make people unhappy. That’s why she has spent 25 years working tirelessly to make business ethics a topic that is attractive to everyone. She helps companies and non-profit organisations advance the ethical skills of their managers.