For auditors in Lagos and across Nigeria, now is probably the most stressful time to have a job. It is the peak accounting period, as quoted companies in Nigeria finishing touches on their full-year 2019 financial statements. These results must be ready for public disclosure by March 31st, 2020, in line with the listing rules of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
The mental stress on auditors
In view of this, auditors must work round the clock to get these documents ready. This is not an easy thing, particularly for all the executive trainees and semi-senior associate auditors working in these audit firms. They must work extra hours and literally put their personal lives on hold, for the meantime.
One junior auditor who spoke to Nairametrics under condition of anonymity lamented about feeling burnt out and mentally stressed. He has been working at one of the big four audit firms for a little less than a year, so he is experiencing the peak season for the first time. He was, however, quick to note that this is his dream job and he wouldn’t give it up for anything—at least not for now.
“I never realised it can be this stressful because I started working with them in May 2019. So, this is my first time experiencing this level of business. The rush can be mad. I didn’t even go on Christmas break. You must audit all these companies in order to meet deadline. And you cannot afford to make any mistakes because…you just can’t afford to.
“So, it’s stressful. But besides the stress, this is one of the best places to work in this country, I can assure you.”
More challenges: No personal time
Part of the stress is that these young auditors must be ready to travel to any part of the country whenever they are called upon. As a matter of fact, traveling is an integral aspect of the job description in these audit firms. 27-year Chidoka (not his real name), who works in one of the top audit firms in the country, told Nairametrics that he initially enjoyed the extensive traveling schedules. But as time went by and the job was not allowing him to spend enough time with his wife and newly delivered daughter, he began to have some misgivings. Even when he is in Lagos, he sometimes closes very late from the office such that by the time he drives home, his daughter and wife are already asleep.
It may interest you to know that some auditors in Lagos sleep in the office, especially during peak periods. This is because they close late from work and some of them live far away. Moreover, closing late is not necessarily an excuse to come to work late. Therefore, putting all these into consideration, some of them often decide to just stay back at the office.
Not all the auditors are complaining
One top management executive in one of the audit firms said that while she understands that the job can be overwhelming sometimes, she does not expect anyone to be complaining now. After all, everyone is informed from the very beginning that the job can be stressful. New recruits are also made aware that auditing requires constant traveling and overtime work. She added that the reason new recruits are told all this is so that they will not be surprised when the requirements of the job become real.
The top executive further mentioned the numerous advantages of being an auditor. Now, while these might never make up for the near lack of work-life balance auditors experience, we must admit that they should serve as good enough motivation for auditors to love their job.
“We ensure to take good care of our staff. When they travel, they don’t fly anything less than business class. We also ensure that they are lodged in the best hotels in whatever city they go to work. In terms of remuneration, we pay quite well; sometimes more than what other industries are paying. Those who are complaining should remember all these.”
Auditors’ workload and their mental health
A 2016 research report published in the China Journal of Accounting Research, examined the correlation between auditors’ work-related stress and the quality of their work. Using evidence from the Chinese stock market, the researchers found that though there are no cases of prevalent decline in audit quality due to work stress, there are still instances where this can be said to be the case. One of such instance is when auditors complete the initial audits for new clients whom they’ve never worked for before.
In view of this, the authors of the journal report called on audit firms to always put into consideration the stress faced by their workers as well as “rationalise” the allocation of resources in order to ensure that audit reports are high quality.
A similar report published in the Journal of Educational and Management Studies found that there is usually a chance for a decline in audit quality due to stress. This is especially the case when stressed out junior auditors are the ones handling the process. There are also even greater chances for errors when stressed auditors are auditing the work of a new client due to a lack of “conceptual understanding of the customer.”
Note that audit firms are liable to legal actions from their clients, especially so if such clients find unforgivable errors in their audited financials. For this reason, audit firms should ensure that their workers are not too stressed such that they make mistakes.
In the meantime, quoted Nigerian companies are gearing up to disclose their full-year 2019 financial statements. A number of these companies have announced their closed period, which is the period between when a company prepares its balance sheet and discloses it to the public. United Bank for Africa Plc and Unilever Nigeria Plc are some of the top companies that have announced their closed periods.