Why Wealth Managers Should Stop Referring to Colleagues and Clients as Family

“In a ‘work is work’ future, workers and employers view organizational responsibility and personal and social fulfillment as largely separate domains,” according to a new Deloitte report

Illustration by RIA Intel

Illustration by RIA Intel

Wealth management firms might feel compelled to call employees or clients family, but they would be wise not to.

Unless someone is a parent, child, sibling, or some other kinfolk, describing them as family in the workplace has negative consequences, according to Deloitte’s new 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report. “Whatever you thought the worker-employer relationship was before, there’s no doubt that it is under stress and evolving now.”

According to the report, workers care about their job because it’s how they make money and spend most of their days.

“What is less important is the degree to which people expect to find work fulfilling,” Deloitte said. “They see the rewards they gain from work — such as financial stability and time off — as enablers that allow them to pursue fulfillment elsewhere.”

Employers must recognize they can’t be omni-fulfilling. Paradoxically they can help employees achieve happiness by creating “work is work” environments, according to the report. People look to governments, interest groups, and nonprofits to further their societal and community agendas, and to family, friends, and communities for emotional connection, Deloitte said.

Referring to employees as family may burden them with expectations that neither party can meet. Employees can feel compelled to dedicate more time and effort into work than is required or wanted, which complicates decision making at companies. Spotify CEO Tobias Lütke pointed this out in a May letter to employees: “Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family. The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you. The dangers of ‘family thinking’ are that it becomes incredibly hard to let poor performers go. Shopify is a team, not a family.”

For wealth managers, the same could apply to clients. If the relationship between a financial advisor and client — who the advisor told would be treated like family — isn’t working out, it could be harder to sever.

Creating a better work environment is especially important now given the job market, Deloitte argues.

“When the market is awash with qualified workers, employers can find and retain workers simply because they are desperate for employment. High salaries, attractive benefits, and a positive work environment are less necessary than in the ‘work as fashion’ future, where employers compete for scarce workers by continually adjusting their programs around workers’ expressed needs,” the report said.

Millions of employers are hiring and struggling to attract American jobseekers, causing wages to rise. But pay is only one piece of the puzzle. Employees want to be compensated fairly, as well as have defined growth and career opportunities.

The Covid-19 pandemic proved many jobs could be done at least partly from home, which many employees have come to prefer. Still, that perk is only one factor in creating a workplace that attracts talent (something the wealth management industry is struggling to do).

“There’s more to nurturing a productive relationship with workers than the immediate question of how much flexibility to offer. And figuring out how to bring people back to the workplace is not the same as creating a sustainable workforce strategy. Building a worker-employer relationship that empowers an organization to thrive depends first and foremost on a clear, compelling vision for differentiating and sustaining that relationship,” Deloitte said.

Workers don’t want to have to adopt a new professional family to get those things either.

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