It may sound counterintuitive for leaders to look for ways to get their employees to stop working, but hear me out. Employee burnout—classified by the World Health Organization as feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings negative toward one’s career or reduced professional productivity—is real. A recent Ketchum report on financial services professionals says 52% feel more burned out in their job now than at the beginning of the pandemic, citing top causes of burnout as financial obligations (38%), being isolated from others (34%) and their job (30%).
Burned out employees are not as productive as mentally healthy employees. According to Gallup, they are 63% more likely to use a sick day and 2.6 times likely to be looking for a different job. They cost firms and the economy overall billions annually, so it is imperative that in this moment when so many of our team members are feeling mentally exhausted by work, industry leaders actively encourage or insist that employees take their down time if they want to drive success in their firms.
Causes of Burnout in Wealth Management
Brene Brown said, “If you don’t want to burn out, stop living like you’re on fire.” Advisors are facing a unique situation where they are risking burnout from both client expectations and their firms’ expectations. Investors are worried and themselves living on fire and, as a result, contacting their advisors more often than before.
On the flip side, in the remote work environment, there are no clear boundaries between time at work and time off. Many people used their commute to decompress, but no longer have that time of solitude to unwind before beginning their personal lives. Even activities that are meant to be fun, such as company happy hours, can be a drag over a videoconference.
Slowing the Fire
In order to limit the effects of employee burnout, leaders must first acknowledge employee burnout is real. Second, they must support, elevate and empower their team to take advantage of their down time in order to reset their minds and use their work time most effectively.
Here are five solutions leaders can implement in wealth management firms to demonstrate that their corporate culture values employee well-being and mental health:
Redefine Successful Performance
Look at how your firm defines good performance. Rewarding those who have worked excessive hours or taken little to no vacation is stoking the flames. It should be a big red flag if any team members have consistently logged too many hours. To change this behavior, set realistic goals so that team members feel like they can disconnect from work at a reasonable hour each day and take time off for personal activities.
Honor Time Away From Work
Rather than offer maximum time away from work, set expectations for minimum time off each year, encourage it and celebrate it. One way is to celebrate team members’ vacation time by encouraging they share photos on your team collaboration channels. At F2 Strategy, we have Watercooler group chat on our social collaboration platform that lets team members share what they’re doing outside of work as they feel comfortable. It brings us closer as a team to see each other in our personal lives.
Promote the idea that team members actually take their weekends off to engage in other activities and decompress before starting a new week rather than using that time to catch up on more work. To drive this home, limit emails from leaders that make team members feel like they have to respond either by not sending on weekends or including a disclaimer that no reply is expected until Monday.
Allow the practice of team members, blocking off calendars for personal times of day. For example, maybe one person needs to pick up their kids at 3 p.m. so they block off their calendars to avoid meetings at that time each day.
Consider offering companywide perks that encourage team members to step away from work. For example, Friday afternoons off or regular mental health days when the office is closed as well.
Encourage Movement and Disconnecting From the Screen
Too much screen time can be negative both physically and mentally. Some ways to disconnect team members from their screens are to allow “walk and talk” meetings that give employees the chance to move while working or create fitness challenges that make movement and exercise fun while building closer connections among team members.
Help Team Members Build Wellness Practice Into Their Workspace
Wellness practices need to be a routine part of everyone’s day and that works best when it's easy. Wealth management firms can support wellness in the workplace by paying for meditation app subscriptions such as Calm. You can also offer micro practices such as Wellness Wednesdays that bring in speakers for 30-minute sessions and guide employees through different self-help-type topics. Hire a professional to develop a unique wellness program that is a fit for your entire firm.
Add Levity and Promote Interaction
Team members thrive when they find they have things in common with their colleagues. Survey the team to find out about their hobbies, charitable interests and likes/dislikes. Then, create optional book clubs or other hobby clubs and opportunities for charitable activities that bring those with common interests together in informal settings. Bring remote team members together for in-person interaction through regional micro-retreats. Involve leadership in these activities.
It’s important to establish these policies before you detect a problem. Employee burnout doesn’t happen fast but can be hard to stop once it’s underway. And, the effects of widespread employee burnout can be devastating to all areas of the firm. Putting measures to mitigate the risk into place can yield positive outcomes. Happy employees who have had time to focus their energy on other areas of their lives are more productive. They also are more apt to stay in their positions rather than seek a better working environment elsewhere, which reduces employee turnover and the costs associated with it.
We all want to grow our businesses, do more for our clients and reach new successes. But the truth is, if we really want to do any of that, we’ve got to stop “living like we are on fire”.
Liz Fritz is co-founder and chief commercial officer at F2 Strategy.