Compliance: The happiest profession on Earth?

Compliance is no cakewalk. It requires resilience and optimism mixed with a healthy degree of skepticism—as well as long and erratic hours when crises occur. To many, the last 18 months have felt like an interminable and isolating crisis.

It was therefore with some degree of surprise that this year’s “Inside the Mind of the CCO” survey showed, compared to the rest of the world, compliance officers are a happy bunch. While nearly every industry—particularly, leisure and hospitality—is seeing workers quit at or near record levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 95 percent of 308 total respondents to CW’s poll expressed overall satisfaction with their job.

This finding aligns with data from 2020 (95 percent) and 2019 (90 percent). Though you might question the statistical validity of a survey—for example, pointing out happier people respond more of the time.

To dig a little deeper into potential explanations for this career contentment disparity, I spoke with several colleagues to get their thoughts. Their responses echoed a theme: That compliance practitioners likely are happier because we relish the challenge and have a sense of purpose to our work.

“We thrive when solving problems and don’t back down in the face of adversity,” explained Kortney Nordrum, regulatory counsel and chief compliance officer at Deluxe Corp.

Mia Reini, senior manager of corporate compliance and enterprise risk management at The Home Depot, agreed.

“Personally, I have enjoyed the challenge of promoting compliance in a remote work environment,” she said. “It shook things up for me. … I enjoyed having to think through everything we had previously planned, scrapping it, and coming up with something fresh and new to get our employees’ attention and buy-in.”

Purpose and community

“We feel good about what we do,” said Kristin Roberts, assistant director, compliance and privacy at Auburn University. “We can sleep well at night.”

“We are fortunate to not only have challenging and interesting jobs, but I think the ethics and compliance community is truly wonderful and something I very much feel a part of.”

Adam Balfour, Vice President and General Counsel for Corporate Compliance and Latin America, Bridgestone Americas

Joe Murphy, senior advisor at Compliance Strategists, concurred. “Compliance/ethics is a field where you can do well and do good at the same time,” he said. “You work every day to protect people, including fellow employees who might otherwise get into trouble and ruin their careers.”

Adam Balfour, vice president and general counsel for corporate compliance and Latin America at Bridgestone Americas, explained, “We are fortunate to not only have challenging and interesting jobs, but I think the ethics and compliance community is truly wonderful and something I very much feel a part of.”

Balfour’s feeling of connection with compliance colleagues aligns with research demonstrating people primarily derive contentment at work through having a sense of community and belonging in what they do (paired with a company and boss they like).

The gender gap

The disproportionate negative impact of the pandemic on working women is an ongoing global concern.

“The pandemic has highlighted that we still have a lot of work to do,” regarding equity and inclusiveness in the workplace, said Balfour.

A glimmer of hope on the gender front from survey respondents: Compliance professionals who identified as women reported a slightly higher job satisfaction rate of 96.3 percent versus men at 93 percent.

“I think it speaks to the level of professionalism and respect in our profession and the increase in the importance of compliance during the pandemic,” Nordrum shared. She emphasized “the regulatory chaos that led to plenty of 20-hour days and sleepless nights” as both challenging and fulfilling.

This work also provided a valuable opportunity to be noticed by the C-suite and demonstrate her skills and compliance as an asset to the organization. “My guess is that women [in compliance] felt they were heard, seen, noticed, and appreciated more during the last 20 months than previously,” Nordrum said.

Murphy agreed. “In my view, the position is really about controlling the abuse and power in organizations, and you cannot do that without power yourself,” he said.

Roberts observed many compliance jobs allow for working from home. “Fortunately, many of us women in the compliance profession were able to keep our jobs during the pandemic and still be effective and productive employees while also balancing additional homelife demands placed on us by the pandemic,” she said. Having that flexibility has been critical for a significant majority of families during this time.

“My hope is that our community and profession are role-modeling what a more equitable and fair profession can and should look like,” Balfour said. He pointed to the fact there is no one background required to work in compliance, which can be a competitive advantage in attracting a diverse talent base.

“Compliance professionals are so well-rounded; if we didn’t like our jobs, we would just use our wealth of skills to find work doing something else,” quipped Nordrum.

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