Ethics Whisperer

Friday, March 1, 2013

Career Traps Survey

Over the past 12 to 18 months, we spent a lot of time talking to compliance officers who had either been terminated or were in danger of termination. We also spent time talking to headhunters looking to fill positions that had been abruptly vacated. We wondered if this career turbulence was due to a black cloud over our circle of acquaintances or if the market had truly turned harsh.

To answer to this question, we administered a survey to our entire email list with the promise that we would report the main results to you. More than half of our list members who opened the survey responded giving us reasonable confidence in the results.

This is the report of the results of the survey.

After each result, there is brief commentary on the result.

1. How long have you been employed by your current organization in a compliance position?

less than 3 years                                                  24%
3 to 7 years                                                          33%
more than 7 years                                                43%

Of respondents, 76% were employed by their current organization in a compliance position for more than three years. Even 5 years ago, you could not have expected such a result, which indicates that the field of compliance is maturing.

2. As best you can estimate, the highest level compliance position in your organization is:

Executive/Senior Vice President                          32%
Vice President                                                      34%
Director                                                                22%
Department Head                                                  5%
Manager.                                                               6%

If you make the assumption that the top compliance position at an organizations should be at least at the Vice President level, then 66% of respondents  indicate that the level of the  top compliance position in their organization is appropriate.

3. Have you ever been fired from or forced out of a compliance position?

Yes                                                                        15%
No.                                                                        85%

While there is no baseline reference point this topic, 15% is a significant number of compliance professionals who have left their organizations under adverse circumstances. Remember that this is not just left the organization; it is fired or forced out.

4. I think my job is:

Very Secure                                                            33%
Somewhat Secure                                                   54%
Somewhat Insecure                                                 7%
Very Insecure.                                                          6%

13% of respondents think their job is insecure, with 67% believing that there is at least some level of insecurity in their positions. While some respondents in the "somewhat secure" category noted that there is a certain amount of job insecurity in general, most comments pointed to specific reasons for the perceived insecurity.

5. Have you ever investigated a compliance complaint against member of senior management?

Yes                                                                         53%
No                                                                          46%

A majority of compliance professional respondents have investigated complaints against senior management.

6. If you answered yes to the preceding questions, what happened when you did so.

The problem was resolved to your satisfaction.            67%
I had to leave the organization.                                     16%
I stayed but was uncomfortable.                                    13%
I voluntarily changed employers.                                    4%

Of those who investigated complaints against senior management, 33% experienced adverse consequences for doing so.

7. Have you ever considered becoming a whistle blower?

Yes                                                                                     21%           
No.                                                                                     79%

A surprisingly high 21% of responding compliance professionals have considered becoming whistle blowers. While the open comments indicate that not all compliance professionals considering blowing the whistle are thinking of a False Claims Act lawsuit, many are.


My reading of these results is that there is a surprising amount of perceived job insecurity among compliance professionals. The inherent frustrations of the position are indicated by the number of respondents who have considered blowing the whistle on their organizations. It is time for compliance professionals to take seriously the idea that their employment should either be at the discretion of the board and/or protected under a multi-year contract.

Copyright 2013, Mark Pastin