The audit profession has a reputation for the long hours and demanding workload. Often the stress level that auditing demands can be overlooked. This post will take a deeper dive into the stresses that auditors face and will answer the question – is audit stressful?
The audit context
An (external) audit is the examination of a company’s financial records and processes – this procedure is usually required by law.
Due to the legal obligation that businesses have to complete their audit, there is a common view that an audit is simply a hindrance to them and can be seen as an added task on top of their day-to-day work. Audit fees are often driven down to the point whereby carrying out an audit is barely profitable for the audit firm involved.
That said, an external audit can add value to a business. An audit usually highlights areas with weak financial controls and highlights any potential accounting errors. An audit is therefore a very important process.
Why an audit engagement can be stressful
- Audit fees have a direct impact on the staffing levels allocated to a particular engagement. This is where much of the stress felt by auditors stems from. Given that audit fees are often very low, staff seniority and allocated hours are ‘cut to the bone’, meaning that hitting pre-determined deadlines becomes critical. Tight deadlines mean that auditors must rectify any possible issues quickly in order to meet these deadlines. This therefore leads to increased working hours and stress levels.
- Difficult clients are another source of stress for auditors. Given that many businesses view their audit as nothing more than a legal obligation, staff can often be dismissive towards auditors or provide them with poor quality information in order to get them out of their hair. Similarly, client staff can be slow to provide the information requested by the auditor during the audit planning stage. This attitude towards auditors from client staff can make hitting deadlines difficult and is certainly a source of stress.
- Most auditors, especially those staffed on the ‘smaller’ audits, are given multiple engagements back-to-back. These engagements typically last 1-4 weeks in time. Work can overrun due to problems that have been identified or client staff not providing sufficient information. Consequently, auditors are often forced to work on multiple engagements on the same day, with different deadlines for each. This is often a source of stress for staff.
Audit-stress prevention methods
Communication to more senior members of staff – such as managers and partners – can be a great way to prevent the above issues occurring. Auditors that raise issues early before that have time to persist, such as recognising an engagement is inappropriately staffed, or raising a hand when deadlines are not realistic, is often key to relieving any potential stress.
Giving client staff the list of information required as early as possible is also a potential preventative measure. This, coupled with communicating with client staff exactly why each piece of information is required, can enable the client to see the audit from the auditors perspective, and therefore be more accommodating to the requests for information.
To conclude – Is audit stressful?
Generally speaking, the deadlines and responsibilities placed on auditors result in the job being a stressful one – especially when combined with long working hours.
That said, there are multiple ways that auditors can manage and mitigate the stress levels that they face. Communication with more senior members of staff and building the client relationship are excellent ways to deter any stress.