It's no secret that the CFO role has evolved, but so have the stressors affecting them. Finance executives are doing more than ever with less resources at their disposal. We've talked about it at length right here on Personiv's blog. In fact, the entire accounting profession is undergoing a sea change that's placed the finance function at a kind of crossroads.
But when it comes to the role of modern CFOs and other top-level finance executives, where does "evolution" end and simple job creep begin? At some point in our professional lives, we will all take on a task or project that falls outside of the typical scope of our roles. We will all feel like our plate is a little too full.
It's common enough to be a cliché. When these tasks, projects and periods of pinch-hitting continue to pile up, however, it can be a real problem. No one is immune to the consequences of role creep. Not even CFOs.
Causes of Executive Stress: Why the CFO Role is Especially Prone to Job Creep
When we talk about the changing role of the CFO, we're most often referring to the gradual shift away from transactional, "bean-counting" style-accounting toward a fuller partnership in the C-suite. Today's CFOs have earned a seat at the strategic table as the leaders of a broader transformation — the finance function as an organizational value driver.
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That's all well and good in theory, but in practice, that's meant that in addition to steward, operator, strategist and change leader, more CFOs are stepping into the role of "Chief Everything Officer". Because at some point or another all things within a business will touch the finance function, CFOs have become adept at practically all things within the business. From IT to operations, the day-to-day workload of finance executives is increasingly defined by a growing list of expanding duties.
Beware of Job Creep: Signs You're Becoming the 'Chief Everything Officer' - CFO Stressors
Pair that with a list of CFO stressors that's keeping pace? You get CFO role creep. It can be insidious, but once you know what to look for, it's easier to pin down — and address:
An overfull plate: More and more tasks outside of the usual scope of your role seem to end up on your plate "for now" — and then stay there
Long days and late nights: Your typical schedule can't sustain your workload any longer and you find yourself staying later and later to manage the shortfall
Perpetually moving goal posts: Deadlines you can't seem to nail down, resources that remain just over the horizon and critical roles on your team remain chronically vacant
Stressed out early and often: As you approach burnout, it becomes harder and harder to adjust to your ever more overwhelming workload or adapt to increasing demands on your time.
How CFO Stressors Accelerate Burnout, Reduce Productivity & Cause Leaders to Quit
The growing workload — and the stress that inevitably accompanies it – isn't just a red flag for something deeply dysfunctional on the accounting team, within the finance function or affecting the company. It has real world implications for the CFO role and can have a long term, negative impact on the important, strategic work CFOs should be focused on instead.
Consider that 81 percent of CFOs polled by DataRails said they felt the CFO role was responsible for the lion's share of intensive daily work within the C-Suite, and that nearly a third were explicitly dissatisfied with the overall output or quality of the work they were able to accomplish. Given what we know about employee disengagement broadly and the talent crisis within accounting specifically, it certainly feels as though a reckoning is not far off.
Something has got to give, and the evidence that the "something" will be a further exodus of qualified talent — this time within the upper echelons of leadership — is starting to stack. One has only to look as far as the daily headlines to see how the evolving demands on an ever-changing role has made CFO role creep more visible and therefore more urgent to address.
Economic turbulence and associated increased market risk, regulatory changes and their subsequent enforcement from the SEC and talent challenges on both the macro and micro level have all made a fine pressure cooker for CFOs, finance VPs and even controllers in modern finance leadership.
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Consider the recent — let's call it 'fracas' — of the run on and subsequent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. Questions about who in the C-suite should bear the lion's share of responsibility for the bank's failure were raised, seemingly answered and then raised again.
Surely, shouldn't the buck stop at the CFO at, of all things, a bank? On the surface, the answer seemed clear enough but proved dissatisfying. The issues at SVB spanned further than simple liquidity and risk. There were cybersecurity and technology challenges that were left unaddressed as the bank's Chief Risk Officer position remained vacant.
Many were left to wonder — why is the CFO expected to absorb the responsibilities, duties and shortcomings of an entirely separate role — by default and in the C-suite, no less?
The answer? CFO stressors and pervasive role creep.
Whether that answer will prove any kind of comfort to the investors left holding the bag in the wake of the bank's collapse or the former CFO of the bank, Daniel Bock, who was named alongside the entity itself in a forthcoming class-action lawsuit, remain to see be seen.
Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress in the Finance World
Trouble is truly brewing in the accounting profession when one of the instantly recognizable and chief disadvantages of being an accountant is instantly recognizable is the high stress levels the role often carries with it. It's becoming apparent that the biggest accounting challenge of late isn't risk management, technology upskilling or even closing the books anymore. Left unaddressed, stress and burnout can spell big trouble.
A recent study by the Association of Accounting Technicians found that a staggering 98 percent of accountants reported that their work was affected by the stress of the job, which may be part of why the number of professionals sitting for the CPA exam decreases each year. In 2021, for example, there was a 12 percent drop in examinees, further exacerbating the cycle — understaffed teams lead to overfull plates, role creep, stress and eventually burnout across every level in the finance function.
Leaders and finance experts looking to address the mental health issues plaguing the profession by reducing stress and stress levels on their teams are taking the right steps toward addressing their own stressors and beating role creep:
Understand the Causes of Executive Stress
Getting to the core of "the creep" requires taking a hard look at what's causing a lopsided distribution of (especially manual) work in the C-suite. A comprehensive study conducted by the National Institute for Mental Health surveyed 839 executives during an initial stress treatment consult and an overwhelming percentage (64 percent) cited "demand-resource imbalance" as a core cause of the stress they were seeking to treat.
The second and third most prevalent contributing factors were family related (44 percent) or health problems (20 percent), both significantly outpaced by that number one factor: a lack of time, talent and other resources at work.
Leverage Mental Health Support Resources at Work - CFO Stressors
Whether your organization offers onsite resources for addressing mental health concerns — everything from counseling and short-term leave to "quiet rooms" and team wellness activities — be sure to take advantage of what's already at your disposal.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations have shifted toward offering mental wellness benefits and perks at work to align company culture to the needs of employees. Even without dedicated mental health resources, most organizations offer an employee assistance program, or EAP, that can point you in the right direction and provide resources for addressing stress and mental health concerns outside of work.
Address the Root Causes of Role Creep Across the Board
To combat role creep, finance executives will have to face the primary CFO stressors caused and exacerbated by the demand-resource imbalance that plagues so many C-suites. To free up time, there has to be a concerted strategy for addressing talent gaps in accounting. Another pandemic-related change has been a shift to remote work and hybrid teams. While that's made it tough to compete stateside for qualified talent, it's opened up a literal world of possibilities when it comes to where CFOs can search for new accounting professionals to handle the heavy task loads that will ultimately and inevitably touch the CFO role.
Personiv can offer a solution that brings that world right to your fingertips — and we've been doing it for decades. Our finance and accounting teams start can start as small as one, but we can help match the right resources to any overtaxed team.
Whether you're looking for support with manual and transactional work in billing or payroll or need a strategic FP&A partner to deliver results without taking on a workload that devolves into burnout.