Providing Remote Support to Working Parents
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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How do I support the people working for me who are dealing with difficulty at home? I have several young to middle-aged women who have younger children and, in one case, older parents. During these times of quarantine they are struggling much more than the rest of us. I have two older children, one in her own apartment and one that just left for senior year of college. It’s quiet here all day and I can work whenever and however I want.
It’s notably different when we do Zoom team meetings and others have children crying in the background or someone has to jump off the call because there is a family emergency.
It is unbalanced but I don’t know what to do about it. I want to respect the differences, but it doesn’t seem right to give those with a more challenging personal situation a pass when others have to pick up their work.
I cannot believe we are the only team dealing with this. How are other firms handling this dynamic?
You are correct. I am hearing about this from many firms of all shapes and sizes. Yesterday a new client was talking about how they “bonus” the sales activity in their firm. They used to have a list of top—to—bottom in terms of new AUM they would publish to “incent” people to do more. In the last three months, all of the people at the bottom are those you have described – dealing with difficult family situations at home on top of trying to show strong professional performance. They cannot add the extra mental and physical bandwidth to selling, so they don’t score well. The firm has done away with this measurement for the time being because it seemed very unfair given the circumstances.
As far as your firm goes, have you raised this issue directly with your team or with select members to gain insight and ideas? Recently I had the opportunity to run a team meeting for a long-time client, but in advance I was able to speak with team members one-on-one to ask for ideas. This is a very cohesive team that works well together and has an excellent, collaborative leader at the helm and yet many of them were struggling with needing “permission” to take an hour for lunch during the day, or leave their desk to get a break, or be off-line for a couple of hours because they were feeling burnout from sitting at their desks all day. Because they raised this in a comfortable setting, one-on-one with me, they were then able to talk about it more directly in the team meeting. The leader of the firm embraced the need for breaks and time away very enthusiastically and now they are able to address this working together.
Have you considered alternating the hours people are working so your team members could choose some non-work times during the day, but make up the work after dinner at night when their younger children or older parents are quieter and less needing of attention? Some firms are doing this, where a colleague will answer their calls one or two days a week during prime work hours and then the person who was offline responds via email later at night where possible. Of course this all depends on the role and responsibilities. You can’t have clients waiting until 9 p.m. for an important response on their account!
Have you asked your colleagues if there is any support that would be helpful you could cost-share to provide? One client firm is providing child-care subsidies as part of their benefits plan. There are some tax advantages to doing this, as well as it being supportive. Employees might be hesitant to have someone come into the home. But in this case three team members were thrilled to have a home aide spend three to four hours with their children (and one used it for the aged parent). It isn’t right for every firm or for every employee, but something to consider.
Acknowledge this situation with your valued team members. Professional, dedicated people will feel stressed and guilty because they know they aren’t doing their best, but they cannot do a lot to fix it. Sometimes just hearing from the leader or senior team that you understand and respect the challenges can go a long way. It doesn’t change anything, but it lets them know you are not judging them harshly but rather empathic toward them.
We have clients who are pressing us for in-person meetings. If an advisor wants, I’m inclined to say it is fine with some parameters: Meet only outside, both parties must wear masks, the interaction is limited to 60 minutes. Is this a reasonable approach? I talk to colleagues in the advisory industry and some are adamant about no meetings in person until January at the least. Others have advisors already going into client homes for updates. I am in the middle – I don’t believe if our wealthy clients insist on this we should be Draconian about it, but I also want my advisors and my firm protected. I am talking to my insurance company about coverage should a client accuse us of passing COVID to them. But there are not great answers. I am worried about liability.
Does my middle ground approach make sense or is there an approach that works better?
“A middle ground” – the concept sounds so nice! The reality is, in the current environment, there are not great guidelines or rules for anyone to follow to know the approach taken is a solid one. You are acknowledging client requests and consulting with your team members to see how they think and feel about things, which is important. You are taking steps to protect your firm and team members, which is also important and then putting reasonable limits in place to protect both parties to the best of your abilities. Short of having the client sign one of those waivers I have encountered in public places I’ve gone and having the client’s temperature taken by your advisor, which are practices I have engaged in quite frequently, I’m not sure there is much else you can do. For a financial advisor, the waiver and the thermometer might be a bit tacky, so your options are the ones you are pursuing.
Let clients know you are still uncomfortable about in-person interactions, both for their safety and the safety of your advisor but that you respect their request and are doing your best to meet their needs. Whenever we do something for a client that is out of scope or out of our normal comfort zone, it is important to politely and professionally acknowledge you are doing it. You would not want a client coming back saying “Why didn’t you tell me you aren’t doing this for all clients or that you were uncomfortable about it?” Sometimes we assume others know what we are thinking and experiencing but most of the time, that’s not the case so you have to be clear. Nice and supportive, of course, but clear.
I’m very interested in what other advisory firms are doing to deal with in-person requests from clients. If I have missed any ideas here, please comment on APViewpoint and let me know!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.