Internal auditors have so much on their plates. Keeping pace with regulatory compliance issues; identifying emerging risks; understanding the impact of new technology on the business; and demonstrating value to the organization are only some ongoing challenges.
So, is it any surprise that these busy professionals often struggle to find time to relax with their family and friends … or to just mow the lawn?
While the pressures internal audit teams face are undeniable, internal audit leaders can actually do quite a lot to help their employees find better work-life balance. This was the topic of a recent webinar for The Institute of Internal Auditors titled “Guide to Managing the Work-Life Balance of an Audit Team.” Robert Half senior executive director, Paul McDonald, and Jodi Swauger, president of Swauger Consulting Services and a former chief audit executive were the presenters.
McDonald and Swauger defined work-life balance as “the ability to effectively manage the juggling act between paid work and the other activities that are important to people.”
They also emphasized that this is by no means a “soft topic” for internal audit management: Employees’ ability to maintain work-life balance has a direct impact on whether the function can recruit and retain top talent—particularly from the Millennial demographic.
Pressing pause on the hamster wheel
McDonald acknowledged that while there will be times throughout the year when internal audit teams will need to commit to a 70-75-hour workweek due to special projects and other demands, “savvy and skillful” managers will give their teams time to “refresh their batteries” once work is completed.
Citing recent research that found employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour workweek, Swauger told the audience, “If you are regularly pushing your workers to work more than that, you might want to consider whether you are really helping [the business].”
But management often fails to make developing or implementing work-life balance initiatives a priority, according to McDonald. “They go on assuming their workers are handling pressures inside and outside of the office just fine — until they burnout or leave. Then, it’s too late to make a difference,” he said.
Providing downtime, setting the standard
McDonald and Swauger suggested that internal audit leaders implement the following strategies to improve work-life balance for their teams—and themselves:
1. Provide a “cushion”
When an internal auditor returns to New York City after three weeks working on an audit in Singapore, does that person really need to come into the office the very next day after flying back? Probably not.
Swauger recommended that internal audit leaders give employees a day or two to recuperate after extensive travel or heavy-duty projects. And if they really must check in, let them do so remotely.
2. Offer sabbaticals
McDonald said internal audit leaders might want to take a cue from leading employers, especially in the tech sector, that offer their workers sabbaticals of several weeks or even months (usually for tenured staff) – and “mini sabbaticals” of about a week (for newer employees).
“The value of encouraging employees to take a sabbatical — and helping them to do it — is that they are likely to use the time to do something fulfilling and enriching,” said McDonald. “That means they will return to work a renewed person.”
3. Plan for backup
Work still needs to get done while core employees are out of the office for extended periods, of course. Engaging interim help when needed is one approach to make sure internal audit projects stay on track, according to McDonald.
He added that a flexible staffing approach can also be an ongoing strategy to helping the entire internal audit team maintain productivity and keep stress at bay when workloads rise.
4. Be realistic
To help their employees maintain work-life balance, internal audit leaders need to monitor workloads —and how they are being distributed — closely. “Even the most supportive workplace cannot prevent the negative effects of too much work,” said McDonald.
Managers also should help staff to prioritize tasks, so they can schedule their time effectively, he said.
5. Lead by example
McDonald and Swauger emphasized the importance of internal audit leaders maintaining work-life balance, too, because they set the standard for the rest of their team.
To the extent that they can, given their very demanding schedule, managers should try to work reasonable hours and use their vacation time. In addition, they should refrain from contacting employees after hours and on weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Work-life balance can be elusive for internal auditors, but it’s not impossible to find. And for internal audit leaders, the potential downsides of not helping their teams strike a balance can be significant: greater hiring and retention challenges; the inability to attract Millennial talent; a substantial decline in staff productivity and work quality; burnout of key staff; and failure to keep pace with demands.
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