The Winter of CFOs’ Discontent?

Finance executives appear to be just as likely to be unhappy in their current jobs as other workers are.
Vincent RyanFebruary 15, 2018
The Winter of CFOs’ Discontent?

A Gallup study last spring found that 51% of U.S. workers aren’t “engaged” at work, meaning they feel no connection to their jobs and thus do the bare minimum. Another 16% are “actively disengaged,” meaning they resent their jobs and often gripe to co-workers.

Perhaps because CFO covers the chief financial officer position, we sometimes talk glowingly about the job, forgetting that, like many of the workers from the Gallup survey, some CFOs may be less than enthusiastic about coming to work in the morning.

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Recently, we got some proof of this. In January, we published our job search decision tree. The purpose of the interactive decision tree is to help guide CFOs in answering the question, “Is it the right time in my career for a job switch?” Over a month, about 765 readers used the tool, which was constructed in partnership with Korn Ferry.

The first question the tree asks is, “Are you happy with your job?”

When users reach the end of the decision tree, they are told whether they should test the job search waters or should “stay put in their current job … for now.”

The users’ yes/no responses to the various questions posed by the decision tree are confidential, but when the data are rolled up they reveal that there are plenty of discontented finance executives out there.

OpinionOne note of caution: these are decidedly unscientific findings. There is no evidence that this group is representative of CFOs as a whole, and, presumably, a finance executive dissatisfied with their current position is more likely to use the decision tree.

That said, the results are interesting. A slim majority of finance executives are unhappy in their jobs; about one-third don’t think their company’s strategy, culture, and ethics align with their own; and nearly half say they aren’t getting a fair return on the time and effort they put into their jobs.

Here are some of the results:

  • 53% say they are not happy with their job.
  • About 62% say there aren’t enough other job opportunities within their company to keep them engaged (if they want to move out of the CFO spot).
  • 52% say they are getting a fair return on their professional investment, e.g., they are well compensated, but 46% say they are not.
  • When asked if their company’s strategy, culture, and ethics align with their own, 65% say, “yes.”
  • About 60% of the users say they are not interested in becoming a CEO.

One thing to note about this population is that there are a substantial number of finance executives in the group whose companies are in the midst of big change. About 26% of decision tree users say their company is being acquired or experiencing a change of ownership, and 37% say their company has either changed CEOs within the past three years or would be experiencing a change in CEO within the next 12 months.

Are we on the cusp of a big spike in CFO turnover rates? Not necessarily. Most of the finance executives who used the tool seem very conscious of jop-hopping too much: only 20% say they have been with more than three companies in the past five years. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be open to calls from headhunters: in 78% of cases, the decision tree’s final recommendation was that the executive think about commencing a search for a new position.

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