Advisors are Exhausted, Stressed Out, and Irritated. How Can They Avoid Burning Out?

“The struggle to juggle is real.”

(Illustration by RIA Intel; Bigstock photo)

(Illustration by RIA Intel; Bigstock photo)

In the 1979 song “Got the Time,” Joe Jackson sings about a relentless onslaught of commitments and tasks. He later dedicated it to “anyone who leads a hectic life.”

Though he surely didn’t have financial advisors in mind when he penned the song, the sentiments have never been truer for RIAs. In fact, advisors lay claim to one of the most stressful career paths of any major profession.

A survey by FlexShares found that advisors have “an average stress level that is 23% higher than national norms.” On top of the usual stressors that every job brings, advisors must also navigate intense competition, burdensome compliance rules, and an ever-changing outlook for the economy and markets.

Extreme stress is one of the two leading reasons (along with poor marketing efforts) why many advisors ultimately choose to leave the business, according to Marguerita Cheng, an advisor with Maryland-based Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Though she has since found better balance in her life and career, she says “the struggle to juggle is real.”

How do you know if you’re deep in the throes of stress overload? New Paltz, NY-based business coach Julie Robbins says that some clear signs typically emerge.

“Chaos, exhaustion, and irritability all set in,” she says. “You start to feel like you’re running around in circles, chasing your tail.” And part of the problem is one that Joe Jackson never conceived of back in 1979.

Thanks to email and texts, “we live in a now, now, now culture,” says Robbins.

The only solution is to draw a very sharp line between when you are working and when you are offline. “You need to have the mental discipline to carve out your own time,” she adds. Being rested and re-charged can also help you to deliver much higher quality advice and analysis to your clients.

Robbins recommends her clients read “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” by Cal Newport.

Michael Kay endured rough sledding in his practice until he wrested control over his stress. Early in his career, he multi-tasked a business launch, client acquisition, and financial plan preparations, which led to six-and-a-half day workweeks.

“I felt really burned out, I was overweight, really out of shape and not sleeping,” he says.

And that led to an important question: “How can I advise my clients about proper balance and life choices when I wasn’t always making them myself?” he asks.

Soon enough, he managed to take control by focusing on “life planning.” That led him to reflect on the core things in life that he values, along with greater clarity on what kind of business and career he wanted. He was then able to adjust his practice accordingly, carving out more time for his personal life and relationships.

Kay suggests that you need “to slow down to speed up.” He put so much thought into the issue that he ended up writing a book called “The Business of Life.” The book aims to help you “learn how to examine your values, goals, dreams and priorities and create your ideal practice.”

While Robbins, Cheng, and Kay all stress the need for an important focus on a personal life that balances out your work life, the surveyors at FlexShares found a somewhat different conclusion.

Among the advisors they surveyed, they noted that “on-the-job strategies, such as being good to clients and time management, resulted in less perceived stress than avoidance techniques such as exercise and spending time with family and friends.”

The somewhat opaque notion of “being good to clients” may seem to be an odd response but rings true for advisors that have felt the deep stress of an unhappy client. Fraught client relationships can take a tangible toll on an advisor’s psyche.

Thankfully, as advisors gain experience, they become more adept at explaining their focus and value proposition to clients. And that helps ensure that the client base is making your day, and not ruining it.

Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that stress can actually be a virtue. “Positive stress is normal, essential and part of healthy development…and comes when you’re trying something new or competing for something you want or need,” said Dr. Ari Levy in the FlexShares report. Levy, who is founder and chief executive officer of SHIFT, works with financial professionals in the Chicago area.

In contrast, “Toxic stress is prolonged adversity or stress that comes frequently and stays for long periods of time,” leading to a “toxic situation that you feel you can’t change.”

Lastly, the FlexShares survey points to one key factor in achieving a lower-stress practice: time. “Advisors in the first 10 years of their careers reported stress that was 20% higher than those in practice for 20 years or more.” Still, don’t wait 20 years, when you can tackle the stress beast now by adopting a more mindful approach to work and life.

David Sterman, CFP, is President of New Paltz-based Huguenot Financial Planning.

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