For the past few years, the topic of burnout, defined as a sense of prolonged emotional fatigue or mental exhaustion, has gotten a lot of attention in the media. Unfortunately, it’s an epidemic. According to a recent study from Deloitte, 77% of professionals shared that they’ve experienced burnout.
The financial advisory profession isn’t any different from these general trends. In one study from the Financial Planning Association, 71% of advisors reported being stressed out. Meanwhile, 28% said that they had more stress than the prior year, and 44% said that they have more stress than the five years prior.
“Some of the stress factors that respondents to the Financial Planning Association study named were: keeping up with regulations, fee compression, shrinking margins, increasing competition, the health and outlook of the business, maintaining work-life balance, poor business planning, an uncertain financial situation, and the failure to achieve goals,” writes Marguerita Cheng for U.S. News.
So what can the financial advisor community do about it? As the saying goes, it “takes a village” to solve the problem. Let’s start by talking about it.
Burnout isn’t a sign of weakness
Burnout is a signal of your humanity. When you feel burnout, you are experiencing a combination of physical and mental symptoms. It’s nothing unusual, as evidenced by the fact that so many people are going through it.
While it’s common to try to push through, sustained burnout isn’t good for anyone — not you, not your family, not your team at work, and definitely not your clients. The feeling of burnout isn’t an easy problem to solve, either. If it were, it would be far less of a pervasive problem in the United States.
So what can you do, especially if you feel like you’re overwhelmed with more work than any reasonable person can handle?
Here are some suggestions.
Know the symptoms of burnout
Remember that burnout is, first and foremost, a clinical issue. As you continue reading this article, be sure to take the findings with a grain of salt. The team at CircleBlack consists of software developers, not health professionals. But what we do know, from published literature, is that simply staring at a screen can be tiring. Not to mention, the empathy that makes you a top-performing financial advisor can often result in compassion fatigue.
Symptoms of burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic, may include:
- Feeling critical or even cynical at work
- Lacking energy to be consistently productive
- Lacking satisfaction for accomplishments
- Getting irritable or impatient with colleagues
- Experiencing difficulty concentrating
If you need support for your mental wellness, it’s a good idea to consult with a medical professional who can point you in the right direction for support that’s tailored to you. The recommendations we share below are based on generalizable knowledge rather than personalized solutions.
Prioritize your peace of mind
As you probably remind your clients, goals aren’t attainable unless you make them a clear and attainable priority. The same is true for mental and physical wellbeing. Health requires dedication, attention, and focus. While it’s tough to carve out time in your day and schedule to focus on wellness, you absolutely need to do it. If that means taking 48 hours to respond to a client question vs. 24 hours — or working 4 days a week instead of 5, then you need to commit to the decision.
“Different things make different people happy, and advisors should try to identify their recipe for happiness and spend more time adding ingredients,” explains Chend. “If this includes time with loved ones, they need to make a conscious effort to spend more time with them. If it includes volunteering for a charity, they need to put specific blocks of time on their schedule.”
Your mental wellness is the foundation of everything you pursue in life. No matter what pressures you’re facing at work, it’s crucial that you keep your oxygen mask on.
Reduce your screen time
Work cultures have evolved dramatically over the lifetimes of an average financial advisor. While a 40-hour a week job was the norm thirty or forty years ago, there’s been a lot of change with respect to how much time people are spending on screens. Technology has evolved faster than health and safety guidelines — and psychologists don’t have clear guidelines for how much screen time is healthy. What mental health professionals do recommend is checking in with how you’re feeling, so you can determine for yourself whether you’re spending too much time in the digital world:
- Are you sleeping well?
- Are you eating well?
- Are you finding time to be social?
- Are you engaging in physical activity?
Use your judgment to prevent putting strain on your brain.
Maintain healthy boundaries with toxic behavior
Emotions are known to be contagious. But if you don’t have coping mechanisms for dealing with negative or toxic people at work, you may be harming your own mental health. Yes, it’s normal for people to have bad days. And yes, sometimes, we are the people exhibiting toxic behaviors.
Of course, your colleagues and clients are valuable to your business — no matter what moods they’re in. There are a number of reasons why someone may be exhibiting difficult behavior.
At the same time, you need to watch out for your own mental wellness. Sometimes, that means, limiting your interactions or parting ways, altogether. If negativity isn’t possible to course correct, putting down boundaries is the next best option.
Putting down boundaries does not need to be adversarial or confrontational. For instance, you could simply ask your clients to communicate with you electronically instead of via phone, through a client portal instead of email, or over email using a dashboard. Meanwhile, you could ask your coworkers to collaborate using a project management tool rather than free-form communication.
It’s about implementing processes to ensure healthier, more streamlined, and more manageable communication.
Take a part-time or full sabbatical
Sometimes, a vacation isn’t enough to help you get the deep rest and relaxation that you need. Especially if you’ve been working 40+ hours a week for a few decades, it may be time to take some sustained time off.
During this time, you can always ask a colleague or fellow independent advisor who you trust to help manage your workload and practice while you’re out of the office. You could also offer to reciprocate if that financial advisor needs to take time away from the office, too.
Taking a sabbatical will require financial preparation as well. Chloe A. Moore, CFP, has written up some tips about this topic for Business Insider:
- Make sure you have a financial plan to cover your living expenses
- Understand the implications of taking a sabbatical on longer-term retirement goals
- If you’re employed, start conversations with your employer as early as possible to ensure that your position will remain safe while you’re away
Especially if you’re a business owner, it’s understandable that taking a full sabbatical might be challenging or altogether impossible. If you can’t step away entirely, a happy medium may be to work part-time for a while.
Ensure that you’re getting outside
Time in nature is critical to our wellbeing as humans, according to scientific research.
These days especially, not everyone on planet earth has the luxury to go outside. But as a financial advisor in the United States, you have the ability to maintain a degree of flexibility in your schedule.
Consider the case of Martin A. Smith who has configured his technology stack to run his business from his mobile phone, as an example. Being able to run his business on his terms, away from his desks, means that he can control the pace of his work day and moderate his energy as a result.
Reduce the amount of context-switching in your job
It’s easy to think that multitasking (i.e. switching screens, focusing on multiple tasks concurrently, etc.) is making you more productive. That’s not the case, according to scientific research. You may be falling into the trap of tiring yourself out without realizing it.
“That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing,” says Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University in an interview with Quartz. “People eat more, they take more caffeine. Often what you really need at that moment isn’t caffeine, but just a break. If you aren’t taking regular breaks every couple of hours, your brain won’t benefit from that extra cup of coffee.”
A valuable step to take is to complete an audit of the tasks that you complete in your day. Figure out how to batch these out, automate them, or replace them. You may also consider hiring an operational assistant to help.
Remember that you know your brain better than anyone else. Your mind is precious, and it’s crucial that you take steps to protect it. You are human first and foremost, and your clients are relying on your firm to provide sound judgment. Take steps ahead of time to ensure that burnout doesn’t get the best of your financial advisory practice.
Get ahead of it by prioritizing your own care.
CircleBlack is an all-in-one technology platform for relationship-focused financial advisors. To learn how our software can help you build, manage, and grow your wealth management practice, get in touch to request a demo.
This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal, or tax advice.