No matter how much someone enjoys his or her career, years or decades of the daily grind can eventually lead to some level of exhaustion. And when job-related fatigue reaches a terminal point of burnout, work ethic, job performance, and enthusiasm can fall off a cliff. It's a manager's worst nightmare when a top performer drops to the bottom of the barrel.
Burnout appears to be on the rise in numerous industries. A late-2012 survey of 1,880 U.S. workers by ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based provider of employee assistance programs, found that 22 percent of respondents ranked their top priority at work as simply "being present." Of those survey respondents, 63 percent said they have high levels of stress at work, and 39 percent said workload was the top cause of the stress.
Managers say burnout in internal audit could be a particular risk when employees are faced with heavy workloads and day-to-day duties that barely change. While there's little they can do to change the nature of the work, managers say there's a lot they can do to prevent the downward spiral into unproductive exhaustion. Positive reinforcement, diversifying assignments, mixing up the workday, and knowing how to motivate individual auditors can go a long way in keeping practitioners fresh and inspired.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Employees in any industry can eventually reach a stale point in their career, and internal audit managers say their profession is certainly no exception. Most definitions of burnout include three main symptoms: emotional exhaustion, reduced personal accomplishment, and depersonalization. Workers who are burned out often feel like they don't matter and as a result become emotionally disconnected from the organization. Productivity and work performance declines, frequently to the point where the employee may be given an ultimatum or dismissed for failure to perform job duties.
Candace Krulan, senior internal audit manager at clothing retailer Airopostale, says there are several characteristics of an internal audit job that could lead to a higher rate of burnout. Because auditors are often expected to have strong knowledge in business, finance, IT, and operations, many need to be comfortable being a jack of all trades. Krulan says they also have to be exceptionally fast learners because they're often required to gain an understanding of new processes in a short time. In some roles, internal audit teams can be pressed to do more jobs with fewer people under shorter deadlines, leading to a high-stress environment.
"Working on one task at a time could be a challenge, but when you multiply the number of tasks, add fast approaching deadlines, and consider the need to maintain rapport with employees at all levels of the organization, the result can bring on a great deal of stress," Krulan says.
Like many internal audit managers, Krulan says one of the first ways to prevent burnout is to hire people who are not only qualified but personally suited to deal with the nature of...