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6 ways to mitigate a bad day at the office

Written by Jonathan Dempsey, MBA on Monday August 16, 2021


Throughout this mini-series, we have explored how compliance faces unprecedented challenges and exciting new opportunities in our rapidly changing, digitising world. So far, we’ve referred to historical context, macroeconomic perspectives, the transition from ‘Baby Boomers’ to #GenZ, the suitability of our profession for c-suite positions and influencing organisational culture.

Discussing these broad topics, the individual can sometimes be overlooked, so we conclude our series with an examination of the more practical day-to-day activities of the compliance professional.

To begin, we should acknowledge a truism: compliance roles can be isolating. Whilst compliance activities contribute to the success of an organisation, in some firms they are performed by a small team or single individual. Depending on the business’s culture and people involved, there can be tensions or even conflict between the aspirations of some functions, which may view governance as a cost and burden. This calls for resilience amongst compliance professionals, who need influencing and negotiation skills to translate requirements and to collaborate to explore optimum solutions.         

Compliance: dealing with the challenges

In compliance, no two days are the same and this variety is part of the role’s appeal. Occasionally, though, there are higher profile events which force the compliance professional centre stage – these are potentially stressful experiences, leading to what one might call a ‘bad day at the office’.

Below, we will explore how to cope with the following three examples of a potential bad day:

  1. enforcement action
  2. chairing a disciplinary hearing, and
  3. refusing to endorse the proposed onboarding of a high-risk client.

Bad days differ for everyone, but there are steps we can take to make them less likely or easier to cope with when they arise. 

We all experience fluctuations in mood and states of mental wellbeing. This is normal. Individual circumstances, sleep, diet, exercise, levels of hydration, coping mechanisms and the availability of support networks all play significant roles.

But organisational culture has a role to play, too. The following tips are intended to help the professional and perhaps even the business as a whole. Whilst they might seem obvious, they serve as a useful reminder.


More from Jonathan Dempsey


1. A state of mind

We are more likely to perform at our best when in good physical and mental health. It is important to ensure that we sleep well and maintain a good diet, exercise and levels of hydration. These will help with clarity and agility of thought for decision making and resilience.

2. Preparation

Whilst enforcement visits from regulators may be unannounced, often they are signalled in advance. Similarly, hearings and meetings are usually scheduled. So, this allows for preparation of information and the chance to explore material with relevant stakeholders. In some situations with regulators, the compliance professional will be the (subject matter) expert and more familiar with processes and requirements. A key skill is the ability to speak the ‘language’ of the regulator and business leaders. Knowing management systems and business processes, and being proactive in compiling information for regulators, won’t go unnoticed.     

3. Integrity

Acting with integrity is critical for the compliance professional. The three bad experiences above are about exploring circumstances, establishing facts and informing decision making, not about personality or opinion, so it is vital to remain calm under pressure and avoid emotional responses. Everyone should be treated with respect at all times. It is likely that many conversations will be recorded in one format or another and may be used as evidence at a later date. Corporate values should live through these activities, and interactions with regulators and potential clients, for instance, are still a reflection of the brand and reputation. 

4. Believe in yourself

Each of these scenarios can potentially bring about serious consequences for the business as a whole. Enforcement action could result in fines, prosecution and reputation damage, whilst a failure to take on a high-risk client could harm the balance sheet.

These are relatively rare events so it might be the first time a professional is in this position. Yet they can be instrumental in presenting the business to the regulator, articulating a clear understanding of requirements and a plan for action. This is an opportunity to exude confidence and assurance, to inspire credibility in the eyes of the regulator. Similarly, if the professional cannot endorse the proposed onboarding of a high-risk client, it is imperative to clearly show the business the options and consequences to inform decision making. There may be times when the professional has reason to doubt themselves and it is important to draw on experience and professional development to cultivate self-belief.    

5. Communicate: clear and concise

Enforcement, disciplinaries and client approvals can include reference to language and information which is unfamiliar to the stakeholders involved. There is also potential for jeopardy which can make even the most confident executives feel vulnerable. The compliance professional, therefore, needs to put themselves in the shoes of each of the stakeholder groups. For each of the internal stakeholders, they need to tailor language and simplify roles and requirements. 

6. Reflect and learn

We can grow and learn through our experiences. This needs to be a conscious activity, to leverage value and to help shape the future success of ourselves and others. Irrespective of the event  outcomes, it is beneficial to reflect on the circumstances, the approaches used and their relative effectiveness. Seeking feedback from other stakeholders will also be valuable. Collectively, these may also lead to the compliance team and others refining processes to make them more agile and adaptable.

At an individual level, it may highlight areas for development. These could include training in dealing with difficult situations or resolving conflict, spending time in other parts of the business to understand their challenges, or opportunities for support from a mentor.

Each of the tips above serve to help compliance professionals maintain stability under pressure, protecting their firms and allowing them to operate effectively as a well-rounded team member. Details of how ICA can support your development in these areas are available on our website.


You may be also interested in the ICA Certificate in Compliance.


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