84% of respondents report stress in the audit workplace.
By Nazatul Izma
Concerned by the perceived levels of stress among audit professionals in Malaysia, in 2017 MIA conducted a survey on work-related stress in audit firms.
A total of 2,418 respondents from small, medium and global audit firms participated in the survey that was conducted by MIA. 77% of the survey responses were received from those under the age of 40 where over half had less than six years of audit experience, providing insights into the minds of millennial assurance professionals. Based on the findings 66% of respondents are working with the Audit Oversight Board (AOB) registered firms.
Below are some of the key findings and the possible interpretations of the data.
- Poor Work-Life Balance. 77% of respondents feel there is still no work-life balance within the audit profession, and a whopping 84% bring their work home with them. This could indicate that audit work during peak season is still overwhelming and there are insufficient audit professionals to share the workload.
- Health Challenges. 60% of participants felt that their health had been impacted since they started at their audit job. More alarmingly, 86% of respondents concluded they would consider leaving the profession given the impact of stress on their health, which would definitely have an impact on talent attraction and retention as well as audit quality.
- Lack of sleep. 76% claim they suffer from sleep disorders. Hence, they are not well rested and even more overwhelmed by stress at the workplace.
- Challenging Accounting Standards. 81% either agreed or strongly agreed that new MFRS and MPERS is making work more difficult. Although international accounting standards have been adopted in Malaysia since 2012, their complexity and the continual changes to major standards appear to still be burdening audit professionals.
- Inadequate employer support. 68% of the survey participants felt that the support from their firms was poor. Specifically, 62% felt they did not get access to the required resources to help them complete audit tasks. Interestingly, 70% chose to go to immediate family or close friends to share their work challenges, as opposed to fewer than 3% who chose to confide in their superiors. This could point to poor employer and management engagement with employees and could be an area for improvement.
- More pressure, low pay. 83% from the total respondents felt that fees are not at a commensurate level for the work put in, and just 10% claimed to not feel the pressure from unyielding deadlines.
- Hands-off Preparers. Based on the survey findings, it appears that clients of these audit firms are not preparing for audits as well as expected. 92% of respondents declared they feel clients overly rely on audit firms in preparing financial statements. Predominantly, audit employees in smaller, non-AOB registered entities also registered concerns with their level of independence in discharging their role.
To make matters worse, Malaysia adopting international best practices such as quarterly reporting and requiring earlier disclosure of annual results is increasing the pressure on both the preparers and the auditors to prepare timely and relevant information. There is also an impact whereby most companies have 31 December as a year-end and may not have adequately resourced their finance function to be able to prepare all aspects of the financial statements without external help.
The MIA Work Stress Task Force
After deliberating on the findings of this survey, the MIA Council set up a Work Stress Task Force to propose what the Council and MIA should do to respond. The Work Stress Task Force is chaired by MIA Council Member Dato’ Mohammad Faiz Azmi.
As the profession moves forward, it is imperative that MIA prioritises work stress as a key issue, stressed Dato’ Faiz. ‘If we want to attract and retain more talent – especially young professionals – in the audit space, all of us in the profession have to work together to make conditions in the audit workplace healthier and more satisfying.’
However, Dato’ Faiz cautioned against drawing simplistic conclusions linking stress to the flight of talent. ‘We cannot say that these issues surfaced by the survey are the only reasons for work-based stress. Anecdotally, we can see that the current generation of young talent has different expectations of their employers, which could also explain why so many are reconsidering their choice of work. There are also views that there are more interesting options open to accounting graduates now which makes the move out of the profession attractive to some.’
‘Whatever the reasons, more data is needed to understand and monitor the trends on stress,’ said Dato’ Faiz. MIA will continue to conduct follow-up surveys in future to gather more data for analysis to improve talent management. The Council thanked the 2,418 survey respondents for providing this valuable feedback.
The proposals by the Work Stress Task Force were deliberated on and approved in April 2018 and will be implemented over the next year. Details of these proposals will be publicised later, but in summary, MIA will:
- do more to monitor what best practices and policies the preparers and audit firms implement with their staff
- engage with stakeholders to help reduce some of the pressure of deadlines and expectations, and
- revisit the role of preparers and auditors in the preparation of financial statements.
‘MIA will seek the support of stakeholders and the senior members of the profession, more must be done to alleviate the pressure of stress at work and ultimately continue to make the profession attractive to future talent,’ concluded Dato’ Faiz.
Members of Work Stress Study Task Force
- YBhg Dato’ Mohammad Faiz Mohammad Azmi (Chairman)
- Ms.Lim Fen Nee
- Mr.Kishan Narendra Jasani
- Assoc. Professor Dr.Zuraeda Ibrahim
- Mr.Meyyappa Manickam A/L M. Sethuraman
- Mr.Ong Chee Wai
- Mr.Khaw Hock Hoe