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How to survive stress


The pressures of a top-level finance job can seem overwhelming, but there are strategies to help you cope

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Finance has always been a stressful job, but probably never as stressful as it is today. Over the past four years, chief financial officers have been in the front line in the battle against the worst financial downturn in living memory.

They have been charged with a tough juggling act of boosting cash flow, cutting costs to survive against the brutal economic backdrop, while also seeking out growth opportunities. So it’s no surprise that many CFOs are feeling the pressure, with some of them under more strain than they can handle.

Anna Marie Detert, a director within KPMG’s people and change advisory practice, believes that stress is on the rise among CFOs. The list of reasons why is long and justified. Detert says, it is caused by “market uncertainty with the euro and euro zone combined with a lack of clarity on the UK’s long-term economic picture, customers going bankrupt, internal pressure to reduce the cost base across support functions and having to come up with new creative ideas besides the usual travel bans and recruitment freezes to keep costs down”.

“The job has become more than it originally was,” says Jo Simpson, an executive coach.

“There is more pressure to achieve, more involvement in the vision-setting of the organisation and an increased workload. CFOs are getting more involved in board meetings and operations, but they’re still doing the figures as well,” adds Simpson who is also author of personal development book The Restless Executive out later this year

CFOs are also likely to feel that their own personal performance is under the microscope and that if they are seen to fail their position could be at risk. They might want to leave their present employer, but the stagnation in the job market means they can’t see an escape route and so they feel “trapped” and not in control of their careers. On top of this they might have additional stress outside work.

Finance chiefs generally work long hours and often don’t have the right support within the finance function, which piles added pressure on them, say experts. Research published last November by recruiter Robert Half found that many finance teams are under resourced and lack the right balance of skills for strategic and operational requirements. And more than a third of CFOs complained that their team did not have enough time to do all the work required of them.

It’s how you handle it

Stress is an unavoidable part of life and a certain amount of stress can be a good thing as it helps us to achieve our goals and grow as individuals. But we all have a tipping point where the amount of stress that we are under becomes too much and we feel unable to cope. When this happens, our body reacts to stress as if it were a physical danger and switches into self-protection mode, also known as “fight or flight”. Our muscles tense, our heart beats faster, we start to sweat and adrenalin kicks in.

Given the powerful reaction that stress invokes in our bodies, it’s no wonder that we display a wide range of physical and mental responses to stress. These include loss of confidence or concentration, impatience, irritability, anxiety, negativity, impaired decision making, insomnia, erratic eating patterns, an inability to relax, introversion, back pain, chest pains, muscle tension and high blood pressure.

But CFOs who are near tipping point can employ some valuable survival strategies. “They can help to manage their own stress by prioritising cost and risk management initiatives and pushing back to the CEO,” Detert says. In other words, they should learn to say “no” occasionally.

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How to survive stress
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