Work Wellbeing for Auditors



Wellbeing matters.  And, despite the article title, it’s not just all about ‘work’ wellbeing.  The best way to think about your wellbeing is to take a holistic approach, integrating ‘work’ with the rest of life, to consider the myriad of interlocking aspects of welfare, health and happiness.  But first, what do we mean by ‘wellbeing’ and why does it matter for auditors?

Scan the internet and you will find hundreds of thousands of definitions, justifications, tips and techniques, but let’s start with just one psychologist. Professor Felicia A Huppert is Founding Director of the Wellbeing Institute at the University of Cambridge whose research has contributed to decades of global government policy-making. 

“Psychological well-being is about lives going well. It is the combination of feeling good and functioning effectively. Sustainable well-being does not require individuals to feel good all the time; the experience of painful emotions (e.g. disappointment, failure, grief) is a normal part of life, and being able to manage these negative or painful emotions is essential for long-term well-being. Psychological well-being is, however, compromised when negative emotions are extreme or very long lasting and interfere with a person's ability to function in his or her daily life”. (Huppert, 2009)

As an avid reader of articles and advice, you may well be thinking, sounds familiar, haven’t we been here before? And you are, of course, correct.  Not only have we published an entire series on The Resilient Auditor, but we have also served up many other aspects of wellbeing, from, Beating the Work Blues and Work-Life Balance to Working under Pressure and Surviving Stress. For this we make no apology. Auditing can be a tough gig; pressure and overwhelm can be par for the course and, chances are, you will need to deal with them, if not regularly (if you are lucky!), at least at some points in your career.  Think of managing your wellbeing as a life skill, supported by lifelong learning as part of your ongoing Continuing Professional Development as an auditor.

Your ‘Stress Bucket’ needs Bore Holes

An analogy that I have found invaluable, both working in audit myself and with coaching clients, is the idea of thinking of your wellbeing as being personified as a receptacle, a repository which functions to hold you mentally healthy, but whose contents are dynamic, the levels constantly shifting as inputs and outputs start and stop, always in constant motion.  A healthy wellbeing requires an equilibrium in your receptacle, some space at the top to take expected and unexpected inputs, with some bore holes at the bottom to release the pressure and keep the contents from overflowing.  This is sometimes called the ‘Stress Bucket’ exercise, and can be a helpful tool for proactively managing  anxiety levels as well as your broader wellbeing.

You can do this exercise right now.  Draw the simple outline of a bucket, then add your inputs as arrows or flows going in at the top – all the things that are adding to mental load – specific deadlines, named issues or problems, uncomfortable feelings, unproductive relationships – work and beyond – get it all in there.  Mark your wellbeing ‘level’ at the moment – how are you feeling, about life in general, about the day/week ahead, and how are set up to cope and to function? Your wellbeing measure will be a function of inputs versus outputs, where outputs are the things that contribute positively to your wellbeing, make you feel good and/or help you cope.  Your outputs are represented by the ‘bore holes’ in the bottom of the bucket.  You will already have some that you can record immediately: pride in a task completed, the feedback from your six-month performance appraisal, a forthcoming holiday, spending time with family members. These are all great examples of contributors to good mental health and wellbeing, but you can move into proactively managing, by adding even more. 

If your wellbeing feels a little low or stagnant right now, get working on those bore holes to plan how you can become pre-emptive in recognising and dealing with the inevitable fluctuating levels. Do you need to have a venting session (at home or at work) to get stuff off your chest, perhaps you could decompress through regular exercise (a simple walk at lunchtime?), what about speaking up and asking for support to solve a problem?  These are all ‘bore hole’ techniques and actions which can help to lessen the load.  Note the holistic nature of the exercise – all ‘stressors’ and detractors from wellbeing are lumped in together. And similarly there is no differentiation on outputs: these rewards and relievers are not mapped specifically to an input, think about your wellbeing as a homogeneous mix, a swirling interrelated tangle of flows, in and out, always shifting.

And on the subject of specificity, avoid the temptation to generalise.  Generalisation sweeps up assumptions: if one of your stressors is ‘work’, get specific about which aspects of ‘work’ – a particular part of a project, a specific conversation with a client, a precise technical problem on an audit job?  If you don’t get specific, then you don’t get the benefit of getting relief from the rewarding aspects of the job – the outputs that make you, and continue to make you, feel good.  A developing relationship with a new client, a word of praise from your line manager, a thoughtful gesture by a loved one: every little helps!


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