Angie Herbers

Many independent advisory firms, their owners and their employees are dealing with some unexpected results of the ongoing pandemic.

Faced with the ongoing tasks of offering advice and making critical decisions in a rapidly changing and unpredictable environment, a significant number of firm owners and their staff have taken a very hard look at what they want to do and where they want to be in the professional and personal lives. 

For instance, more than a few firm owners are thinking seriously about speeding up their retirement and are starting to implement succession plans. 

Likewise, employees who are looking at their options, which puts extra pressure on firm owners to retain their staff while keeping their businesses in order. 

The good news is that in most cases, the source of unhappiness for both advisory firm employees and owners boils down to the same thing: burnout. That is, the psychological — and sometimes physical — effects of needing to make sound decisions and give sound advice in an unfamiliar environment filled with unfamiliar challenges. 

In our experience, most firm owners and their employees have done very well rising to this challenge, which began to emerge several months ago. But as time has dragged on, we see the constant stress taking its toll on owners and employees alike. 

Got Burnout?

The signs of burnout aren’t hard to spot.

For instance, people who are generally positive start to become overly critical of others and themselves, tend to be more negative in general and exhibit very low energy as they work through the day. 

Sooner or later, most people begin to realize how much they’ve changed, start to think there’s something wrong with them and then try to “push through” their burnout to make it go away.

Of course, this increased pressure almost always makes things worse rather than better. It’s far better to accept burnout for what it is and then look for a solution that makes most sense.

While it’s true that everyone has to figure out what works best for themselves, here are some suggestions that we’ve found to be quite helpful. 

1. Accept that you need a break. 

Typically, a significant source of burnout is overwork   trying to do too much, too fast.  Since we’re all different, it’s important to discover just how long and hard you can push yourself and how to recognize when you need a break. 

This includes accepting the fact that you most likely don’t have your old energy level due to the stress and related challenges of working in the pandemic. 

Regularly taking some time off — even just a day or two — can help recharge your batteries and enable you to work like your old self.

2. Let go of control. 

When you’re working in an unfamiliar environment, it’s important to learn and gain understanding. Generally speaking, you can’t speed up that process.

But you can slow it down and take whatever time you need to get a good handle on what needs to be done. The drive to “do something” rarely gets better results than taking time to do the “right thing.” 

3. Give and receive encouragement. 

Encouragement refills your bucket, and those of others.

Remind yourself and your staff that you can and will get through this situation  you, your employees and your business will be better for it. 

Remember that financial services businesses have weathered a lot of storms over the years. Have faith in your business, your staff and yourself.

4. Cut yourself a break. 

We’ve all been knocked down more than a few times during the COVID-19 crisis as we’ve tried to figure out what people want or need, what will work to solve a problem, etc. 

It’s not easy for advisors or most anyone these days. Plus, no one’s perfect, especially when dealing with new situations. 

Uncertainty can really burn you out. We get worn down by trying to deal with one unknown after another.  Accept this reality and take steps to deal with it.

Criticism from clients can be quite painful. Recognize it for what it is, give the best advice you can, and remember  they are scared, and consequently may act a bit irrationally. 

You don’t need to change your business model or your advice if some clients are being critical. 

Try to keep this negative feedback in perspective: Step back and take an objective look at what they are criticizing. 

Also, be sure to get input from colleagues. Only after you all agree that this or that client has a point should you consider making changes. 

5. Give yourself and your team some slack.

You’re bound to make mistakes in the current circumstances — and so will your employees. 

Be honest with your staff about being burned out and set a good example of how to deal with it. For instance, show how your team members can help each other overcome challenges and get through this pandemic together.