Seven Stories from Advisors Under Extreme Stress
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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This week I have received questions such as:
- How do I respond effectively to clients when I am having to work all night long to catch up because my twins are in “virtual kindergarten” and I have to help them most of the day with school?
- My firm has insisted we return to work – there are two advisors who are mothers and two who are fathers with stay-at-home spouses. I am a working single mom. My daughter, who is 10, had a crisis when I wasn’t there. I can’t get over the guilt, but I can’t say “no” to my boss because I have worked hard to build my client relationships. I need this job.
- Everyone on our team calls seem stressed and anxious to get off the call. How do we keep communication open and continue to bond when we can’t keep people’s attention?
- I just don’t want to go “on camera” anymore. Our firm requires it and I’m sick of watching my colleagues read their texts. Why should I care if no one else cares?
- I have never, ever worked harder and felt less successful than I do these days. I’m up earlier and work later to meet the needs of my clients, family and firm. I cannot remember the last time I felt rested. Is this just what life is about now, racing to get nowhere?
- I have always been a very successful advisor and have been able to reap the rewards and enjoy a nice life with my family. But lately I think I am failing my clients, kids and extended family. My four kids are back in virtual school, my elderly mother needs more help than ever and I am trying to respond to clients in between my frantic rush between all five of the people who need me. My husband is back to his office and is not able to help me. My income is the greater of the two but he cannot afford to quit either. How do I make everyone happy and ensure my clients know they are still as important as ever? Most of my clients are older and don’t have young kids to deal with.
- My wife is a teacher and I’m a senior advisor at my firm. We have three teens at home. They are mostly self-sufficient. But several times throughout the day, as I am working with clients or on team calls, my kids need help from me. I’ve never felt so much stress in my entire life.
That last inquiry sums up the underlying theme of all seven – and many more of the questions I receive lately. Stress has crept in to every corner of our profession and every job someone is trying to do.
For this week’s column, I’ll provide some of the best stress tips I’ve been sharing in webinars and trainings. While neither you nor I can change the circumstances we are living in, we can change our reactions to them. Learning how, throughout the day, to get an emotional or mental break is imperative. Learning how to calm yourself when your emotions start to respond is about increasing your emotional intelligence (EQ), which is also great in working with clients.
My top five tips:
- Put self-care on your calendar. Yes, I know – “Bev, I am working at midnight just to respond to emails! Where in the world will self-care go?” You might not have time for two hours at the gym each day, or a weekly massage or a one-on-one with a personal trainer (although all of these are great if you can manage them!). But you can work in five minutes at your desk to stand up and stretch. Or five minutes to walk around the block where you live or just step outside and breath in the fresh air (if you are not in a currently smoke-filled area, that is). You can work small five-minute breaks from your daily action but you need to schedule them. Set a timer or put them on your Outlook calendar but remind yourself several times throughout the day to stop, and break.
- Practice deep breathing. The mind cannot focus on two things at once. If you focus on your breath and spend just two minutes with your eyes closed and breathing in and out – from your nose to your stomach, then from the stomach back out through your mouth – you will send a message to your body to calm down. Do this as many times throughout the day as you can. Then when you sense the stress starting to creep in, and overwhelm, implement breathing.
- Learn to be an interested observer at different points throughout the day. If you recognize you are getting triggered by something, rather than allowing your mind and body to respond emotionally and with stress, take an objective, data-oriented view. “Isn’t that interesting, I wonder why that is happening?” or “Why does that person need to respond that way?” or “What could be going on right now to make me so upset?” Sometimes trying to apply a clinical, curious view helps you to be less emotional and more thoughtful in approaching the issue.
- Find ways throughout the day to focus on things that make you happy and that center you. Subscribe to an email that will send you a daily tip for positive ideas. My personal favorites are the Wisdom School and Pass it On and there are many others. Put pictures of your best vacation on your computer, or ask your team members to exchange the funniest meme they have found that day. If there is a funny clip from a movie you like, keep it queued on your computer and play it when you need to take your mind away and have a laugh. Whatever it is for you, do it every day so your attention gets turned to something that brings you a modicum of peace.
- Remove anything that steals your attention and brings you down. This can mean social media. You have to stay updated on what’s happening the world, of course, but you don’t have to spend time reading upsetting posts, getting frustrated with friends or writing a compelling retort to someone who doesn’t get it. I know, most professional don’t have time for this…. But many of them are doing it. You might not even remember your login because you have no time, but if you are focusing on this at all – time to cut back or cut it out entirely.
- Remember, as often as you can, we are truly all in this together. Your clients are, your team members are, and your boss and firm leaders are. While the market is behaving reasonably well and portfolios are looking good overall, these times are presenting personal challenges like never before. Apply the concept of “positive intent” as much as you can. Even though a person’s actions may seem negative or difficult to you, often times that person is doing the best they can with what they have available to them. Some people are better copers than others, some are better communicators and some are better at managing stress. Step back as much as you can and find ways to ask for, and offer, support all around you.
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.