Like most Americans, advisors struggle to balance their work with the rest of their life. The financial services industry is extremely competitive, a battle of attrition. Each hour spent doing something unrelated to business can be viewed as time in which ground is being lost to competitors. There’s some truth to the old adage about sales being a numbers game, and the only way to achieve those numbers is to put in the time. Lots of it.
This cutthroat atmosphere, which penetrates most of the business world, has given rise to a culture in which productivity and success often become indelibly wrapped up with one’s sense of self-worth and credibility. This ever-increasing pressure means stress has become a constant presence, and focus, in our lives. It’s the subject of countless articles, self-help books and Facebook posts. For many, it has even become a badge of honor, a matter of pride.
“Stress has become a status symbol, like an Ivy League sticker glaring from the back of a Volvo: I am important enough to have things to worry about,” writes Alexander Nazaryan in his review of the book, “One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble With Stress as an Idea.”
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Tim Kreider writes, “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work … Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
Taking a toll
Clearly, more hours spent at the office or answering emails at home can lead to success, but often, these actions come with a cost.
“For most [advisors], the freedom to work their own businesses and help people have more solid financial futures are the two reasons for their passion,” writes Travis G. Perry, in an article titled “Restoring Work-Life Balance.” “Unfortunately, there is a tendency with that freedom and the tightening economy to put other priorities aside and focus even more on the business to keep it thriving or at least surviving. This behavior quickly leads to a life out of balance as the adviser overlooks time in other areas of life, including health or relationships, to work the business even harder.”
Perry cites the 2008 Health of Advisers Press Report, which states, “It appears that the strong desire to build up their practices and increase their income motivates advisers to sacrifice themselves, their families and sometimes their personal health.”
The latest study to analyze the toll that job-related stress has on our health, from Tel Aviv University, finds that those with the highest levels of job burnout and stress have a 79 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease. This is in addition to the stress-related obesity, insomnia and anxiety familiar to so many Americans.
Fueled by an unbalanced idea of what “work ethic” really means and despite having the best of intentions (providing financial stability, putting the kids through college, leading a productive life, etc.), a growing number of Americans are literally working themselves to death.
Lean in or chill out?
The discussion about what constitutes a healthy work-life balance has become even more prominent in recent weeks thanks to two high-profile executives. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial and best-selling new book, “Lean In,” provides “specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home.” In a recent interview, she said, “You cannot have a full career and a full life at home with your children if you are also doing all of the housework and child care.”
Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, recently made waves after announcing the curious decision to ban her employees from telecommuting.
In both cases, the controversies can be boiled down to one question: How can we maintain successful careers without sacrificing the things that matter most?