I think it’s safe to say that getting through your annual compliance cycle is a stressful event. A lot of things need to be accomplished in a short period of time. You’re in a high-pressure situation with competing demands on everyone’s time.

There’s long hours, mood changes, and short tempers. People are already tired and worn out long before the annual assessment arrives. On top of it all, you’re constantly under pressure to keep up your day-to-day work responsibilities as well as your compliance-related work. Not only are you trying to do more with less, you’re also operating out of a deficit.

Over time, stress negatively impacts the quality of your work, your mental and physical health, and your relationships. Often, people under stress develop unhealthy coping behaviors that further impact their quality of life — which, of course, creates more stress. You can see where this is going.

Compliance management is always going to be stressful, but you can keep the pressure to a manageable level. Follow these best practices to reduce your stress during the annual compliance cycle.

Related: Don’t Sweat It! How to Master Your First Compliance Certification Project

Plan Ahead

The overarching thing that will help most is good, solid planning done well in advance. Your organization has quarterly and annual goals to hit at various levels of the organization. When you get into the thick of a compliance engagement, you’re dealing with a lot of competing priorities to those goals.

Do your work ahead of time and coordinate with the company’s leadership to anticipate where those goals and your compliance efforts will clash. Make a plan to alleviate as much pressure and demand as possible, before it occurs. Work with management to free up the schedules of personnel who will be most burdened with compliance efforts.

Get Enough Sleep

It’s a losing battle to short-change your rest when you’re under the gun to produce results. Good sleep habits help reduce stress. The problem is, stress makes it harder to sleep. Follow these tips to sleep well when under pressure.

  • Find a routine and keep with it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Create an environment that makes it easy to sleep. Adjust lighting, sound, and temperature.
  • Don’t use electronic devices in your bedroom.
  • Don’t eat large meals before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine, especially at night.
  • Set aside some “wind down” time before bed. Turn off electronics 15-30 minutes before bed.

Take Mental Breaks

Give yourself a brain break — not just at work, but in your personal life as well. It doesn’t do you any good to go balls to the walls from morning to night and then crash, only to wake up in a few hours and do it all over again. Your brain needs downtime during the day as well as at night.

Do Something You Enjoy

Incorporate some amount of time for yourself during the compliance push. During the week, set cutoff times to stop working. Grab dinner with your family. Take an hour or so to spend time with the kids or your significant other. Play with the dog. If nothing else, take a walk.

Whatever it is, give yourself some mental distance from your compliance demands. It’s important to be able to step away, so that you can come back with clarity.

Even if you need to put time in over the weekend, limit your working hours. Do what you need to do, but don’t work a full sixth and seventh day. Instead, work for a portion of that day and maintain a balance.

That’s especially true if you have a family. But even if you don’t, you still need to take time for yourself. One of the major impacts of constantly being under high stress for an extended period of time — it’s the people around you that pay the price.

Exercise the Stress Off

It’s important to stay active, especially when you’re under pressure at work. During periods of stress, one of the first things to go is your physical activity. And because physical exercise reduces feelings of stress and boosts a sense of well-being, missing out on that activity simply compounds the stress.

Don’t Stress Eat (Or Stress Starve)

People react differently to stress. Some binge on soft drinks and potato chips, while others barely eat at all. Make sure you put good food into your body, three times a day. You need that energy to get you through, so you can execute on all those tasks you need to tackle.

Be Patient

Remember that everyone going through the compliance engagement is in the same boat. You and your team members all have the same challenges, competing responsibilities, and high stress levels.

Be mindful and walk through the process with a dose of patience and understanding. You don’t want compliance stress bubbling over and having long term impacts on relationships within the team or the broader organization.

Take Care of Your Team

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to focus inward on yourself. But as the compliance manager, your compliance team needs you to check in with them on a regular basis. Keep an open line of communication.

Watch for signs that individuals need an extra dose of encouragement or some time to take care of themselves. They may be an invaluable part of your compliance engagement, but they’ll be ineffective if they burn themselves out.

Blow off some steam with your team when they need it. Some ideas:

  • Quit work early once and a while and go bowling together.
  • Celebrate major milestones along the way by ordering a special lunch.
  • Bring in a surprise breakfast bar.
  • Hand out goofy awards for going above and beyond.

Throw a compliance party at the end of the annual engagement. It doesn’t have to be extravagant — it can be everything from hosting a pizza party to renting out a room at the local steakhouse. Reserve a pavilion at a park and invite friends and family to a picnic barbeque.

Learn from the Past

Do a post mortem immediately after you complete your compliance cycle. Learn from your experience this time around and plan next year’s engagement accordingly, making changes and enhancements to reduce the amount of stress on you and your team members.

Related: Equip Your Team for Compliance Success

Don’t Sweat the Stress During Compliance Season

Managing compliance will always be stressful, but you can make it more manageable by practicing healthy habits — for you and for your team. In my experience, the first few years are the most grueling for compliance managers, but you’ll soon find a system that works for your organization. Especially if you’re using a compliance management system that streamlines and organizes your engagement.

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