The Importance of Stepping Away From Work as a CFO

July 17, 2023 Theresa Rex

CFO stepping away from work looking at his watch

Stress — and its many, many consequences — tends to be an accepted but unpleasant fact of professional life. It's also on the rise globally, along with its more insidious older stepsibling, burnout. And if you're a CFO, you're likely feeling it all acutely and don't expect relief for a while. The most alarming part is that it's possible for professionals to feel burnout even after stepping away from work, and this couldn't be more true than when it comes to the CFO role.

Recent research found that over 75 percent of American CFOs expect work stress to worsen over the next two years.

For finance leaders, work-life balance sometimes feels like something other people have the good fortune to concern themselves with. Self-care is practically a cliché at this point. It all presents a frustrating dilemma: when it feels less possible than ever to focus on life outside of the office, stepping away from work as a CFO can be the difference between being effective or burning out.

3 Things That Cause Poor Work-Life Balance for a Busy CFO

Technology stress causes poor work life balance for a busy cfo looking at her computer

So, what's with the rising temperature and relentless stress for global workers generally and finance leaders specifically?

It's not an answer you're likely to get around the accounting department water cooler, considering that only a third of finance department polled in a recent survey said that they regularly discussed stress and mental wellness at work. One in ten don't talk about it at all.

For anyone working in modern finance, that probably doesn't come as much of a surprise. It's not as if there's an abundance of down time to discuss quality of life initiatives. And you'd be hard pressed to find anyone — not just accountants and controllers — who thinks an extra meeting would really improve the workday.

Let's answer them here.

Too Much Time on Manual Processes & Fewer Resources on Staff

Datarails, a financial planning and analysis platform for Excel, found that 81 percent of CFOs report having the most manual-intensive workload of the entire C-suite. Among the most tedious and stressful are wrangling disparate and out-of-date reporting, correcting errors in processes and getting the data they needed — 41 percent of which is gathered manually.

Our own research, which asked 200 CFOs about the challenges they faced, found that 34 percent of CFOs were struggling most with talent acquisition and that overall, 78 percent of respondents wished they had more time in the workday to shift their focus to strategic accounting work.

Increased Pressure in an Ever-expanding Role

Compounding the stress of all this manual work is the growing mandate to add value from the finance function by way of data-driven decision making and strategic expertise. Collecting, cleaning and analyzing the share of the over 163 trillion gigabytes of data generated globally by businesses by 2025 will largely fall to Chief Financial Officers. They'll be expected to interpret this data so it can be used in the boardroom, making it a high-stakes endeavor and ratcheting up the pressure even further.

Read more: Chief Everything Officer: What to Know About CFO Stressors & Role Creep

Technology: Keeping Up While Keeping it All Secure

Then there's the tsunami of tech to try and surf — technological advances, a spate of new tools and solutions and a compressed hype cycle that alternates between breathlessly extolling the automation capabilities of emerging tools like ChatGPT and sounding the alarm on their potential to displace workers.

This tangle of technology challenges broadens the spectrum of CFO stress traps: deciding what to invest in and how to implement it with minimal impact on operations collide with addressing morale and reducing employee churn. Additionally, the buck stops with the CFO when it comes to finance's role in data security and combatting cyberattacks, putting new and changing demands on internal controls and optimized processes.

With Stress & Burnout Levels This High, CFOs Have to Step Away From Work — One Way or Another

If all of this seems like further evidence that there's no possible way to step away from work as a CFO, it's actually the opposite. That's because as stress rises among executive leaders, so does the likelihood that those leaders will quit.

According to project management software developer Asana, a full 77 percent of executive leaders are either stressed or exhausted in their current roles and it's severe enough that 69 percent are seriously considering quitting those roles. Getting to the root cause of your stress and addressing it head on is urgent for you, the team you're leading and the organization you work for.

Work-related burnout doesn't just make for a counterproductive workday or anxious commute. It can increase your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, fatigue, insomnia and stress. Combine that with higher instances of sadness, anger and irritability and you've got the perfect conditions for a good old-fashioned negative feedback loop. It's no wonder so many executives feel their only way out of it is to quit.

When it comes to stepping away from work, CFOs may soon find themselves faced with a choice: take action before they're at risk for burnout and disengagement, or power through it all and leave anyway when that's no longer sustainable.

As a CFO, Stepping Away From Work Can Feel Impossible. You Should Do It Anyway.

CFO stressed out about not getting a break from work

If you do stay, putting off stepping away from work as CFO — which can help you rest, reset and address the cause of your stress — will have negative impacts on your team and organization in ways you won't always be able to anticipate. For one thing, stress is a notorious fuse-clipper, making us irritable and act in ways that are out of character. Harvard Business Review clocked the startling impact of withdrawn and short-tempered leadership: the teams they manage are 56 percent more likely to stop participating at work and 62 percent more likely to quit, too.

Plus, when you're reluctant to step away from your work and invest in your own well-being, your team is almost sure to notice. Whether you mean to or not, it's very likely that you're going to send the message to your employees that you expect them to do the same.

Deprioritizing mental health, physical wellness and professional development has a real impact on employee engagement and retention, so a stressed CFO may unwittingly cause a burnout avalanche as these issues cascade down the org chart.

A global survey conducted by the Workforce Institute at UKG found that managers (69 percent) outpace doctors (51 percent) and therapists (41 percent) when it comes to their impact on employees' mental health. They don't just bring this home at the end of the day. A full 78 percent of employees say that stress negatively impacts their work performance.

Finally, as the chief accounting professional within your organization, it's important to understand how a lack of self-care or investment is completely counterproductive anyway. A study in 2021 developed a cost-estimation model for work-related stress estimated that it costs businesses anywhere from $221 million to over $187 billion dollars annually, a figure that only considers the impact of absenteeism on productivity.

Once you roll in proximate consequences and costs like medical bills, turnover, legal cost and decimated productivity, that number may be closer to $300 billion, according to recent research.

Looking at stepping away from work as part of your role as CFO can be instructive — and make being proactive about it easier, too. Tending to stress before it becomes all-consuming has too many positive organizational impacts to ignore.

It can also be accomplished without a lengthy sabbatical, leave of absence or impromptu vacation. CFOs can develop boundaries between the work they do for their companies and the investments they make in themselves — and then put time on the calendar specifically for the latter.

Read it here: Ask the CFO: How Can I Step Away From Work When I'm So Busy?

It's also important to go straight to the heart of the matter and address the causes of disengagement and stress at the place they originate. Whether that's assessing how much of your time is spent slogging through manual work, revisiting how you source talent in today's market or implementing changes that allow you to focus on strategic initiatives, alleviating pressure is a lot easier when it can't build up in the first place.

Personiv has partnered with busy CFOs for decades. Our virtual accounting solutions can help tackle staffing issues, clear your plate of tedious manual tasks and enable you to reinvest valuable resources into the strategic, innovative work you were tapped to do.

See why CFOs love our smart, scalable solutions and then get in touch with one of our virtual accounting experts to get started.

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