By Morey Stettner
Driven to help solve their clients’ problems, advisors tend to derive great satisfaction from their work. But sometimes, mundane aspects of the job get in the way.
Dealing with administrative hassles, compliance issues, and squabbles among staffers can lead to burnout. Conducting daily client reviews can turn what was once a stimulating experience into boring, repetitive drudgery.
Ensnared in a workaday routine, advisors may not notice their eroding enthusiasm until it’s too late. As their listlessness deepens into a more serious funk, they can lose their spark and might dread coming into the office.
The most attentive advisors ward off burnout before it intensifies. They take proactive steps — such as taking time off or at least not overloading their schedule — so that they stay fresh and committed to providing excellent service.
“Years of ups and downs in the market can wear on you,” said Tony Perrone, an advisor in Orlando, Fla. “And then there’s what I call ‘compliance burnout’ with all the changes in compliance that can seem overwhelming.”
For Perrone, 47, the solution is adopting a four-day workweek as much as possible. For the last four years, he has taken off most Fridays.
“It’s a good remedy that lets the staff catch up with you not there,” he said. “You give them that time to breathe, and that makes them happier. When they’re in a better mood, I’m in a better mood the other four days.”
A One-Day Break
Perrone acknowledges that he has the option to take one day off a week because he’s paid his dues. He launched his career 24 years ago, and he says that for the first 20 years “you’ve got to run full speed.”
He cites two side benefits from skipping most Fridays. For starters, Perrone feels less compelled to take extended vacations. He says that the longest he’s been away from the office is five business days.
“And I probably took 10 client calls that week,” he added.
Second, his three employees enjoy operating autonomously when he’s not around. His absence gives them a chance to take more responsibility and build stronger relationships with clients.
Other advisors view sabbaticals as a welcome option to combat a mid-career lull. Taking a month or more to step away from the business can reignite an advisor’s passion.
A handful of larger firms offer sabbaticals, and some implement programs to encourage advisors to recharge periodically. A few firms go further, requiring advisors to take extended leave.
At BKD Wealth Advisors, every advisor takes a one-month paid sabbatical every five years. It’s a non-negotiable condition of employment.
“The firm asks a lot from you for the other four years and 11 months,” said Jack Thurman, managing partner at the Springfield, Mo.-based company. “Everyone loves the sabbatical.”
Over the 17 years that BKD’s program has been in place, Thurman has qualified for three sabbaticals. He’s enjoyed leisure travel, including fly fishing, and spent the last week at home to smooth the transition back to the office.
Let Staffers Step Up
Part of the rationale for mandatory sabbaticals is that it forces advisors to provide extensive professional development to employees. They must train their team to handle myriad tasks while they’re away for a month.
“We believe that you have to be replaceable and set up duplicative processes,” Thurman said. “You have to teach people to be better than you. A sabbatical won’t be successful for those who don’t like to delegate.”
To minimize disruption, BKD advisors commit to their month off a year in advance. This enables colleagues to plan for their absence.
During their month away, they cannot access their work email or voice mail. Co-workers provide client service and manage other duties so that the advisor can relax without worrying about paperwork piling up.
“You turn it off for one full month and you turn it off hard,” Thurman said. “When you get back, you should have no email, so there’s no need to play catch-up.”
The forced vacation allows some mid-career advisors to reassess their careers. Thurman says that while some partners in their 50s return with renewed verve, others decide to take early retirement. The sabbatical thus affords them a chance to reflect on their personal and professional priorities.
Thurman, 55, returned from his last sabbatical two years ago with a clearer picture of how he intends to harness his energy. To pave the way for his retirement, he seeks to create a lasting system of excellence.
“I want to leave a legacy at this firm,” he said. “I’m focusing on a good risk structure and building operational efficiencies so that when I leave, I’ve laid the groundwork for a successful transition.”
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