Mental health in the financial planning workplace

Look after your mental health, not just for your own sake but also for the clients, says Jacqueline Lockie CFP™ Chartered FCSI, CISI head of financial planning

As financial planners, we are acutely aware of all the protection products and employee benefits that are available to help us with mental health issues. But often, once you make a claim, any policies you take out in the future will most likely carry an exclusion regarding ‘stress’. 

It is then a vicious circle where you feel you should not speak up or have any more time off work because these protection policies will not cover you; then your stress levels rise again.

It is excellent that, across the world, the financial planning community is talking about mental health. But as we know, talk is cheap. Real actions are what makes a difference. And a firm’s culture has a huge impact on this.

A third (31%) of CISI members do not feel confident talking to their manager about their mental health, according to the CISI's December 2018 survey. Anonymous comments from the 3,700 respondents showed that large numbers felt speaking up would hinder their job progression and they worried they would be seen as weak.

The direct sources of the stress were to do with workload and the culture in the office.

Pulling together in the same direction

You might think that in smaller firms, perhaps where people are doing numerous jobs and where financial planners are seeing clients and running the business, this might result in a culture of high stress, but that’s not always my experience.

I have found that stress comes when you cannot have influence or control over the outputs for which you are responsible.

In many small businesses, staff are more often heard and the business is more nimble and able to make changes without much bureaucracy getting in the way. In times of high work volumes, the staff in small businesses more often pull together to get the job done. The culture comes from the top. Staff seeing everyone believe in the same goal and work through tough times together is a powerful experience.

There are three areas that help build this culture:
• Having shared values (Have you inspired your team? Do they know your vision?)
• Having values-based goals (What can I do this year, this month or today to achieve …)
• Prioritised time (make it Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, Time-bound.)

Burnout at the top

The one big area and concern I have for financial planning businesses is for the business owners themselves.

In the US, they have a workaholic assessment called DSM5, which shows that financial planning business owners exhibit higher stress levels that those in similar professions. In fact, it shows significantly more stress, not just a little bit more.

The owners wearing multiple business ‘hats’ and the pressure of knowing that you are not only supporting your own family, but supporting others by employing staff, adds to the pressure. Add in regulatory obligations and the tendency for more and more people to complain, and this result is not really surprising.

Michael Gerber, author of the E-myth – why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it, suggests a way to help: “Organise around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant.”

I think this is very important for all firms but particularly smaller financial planning businesses where planners are also the business owners. I come across many firms that know all this but who don’t always have the time to step back and implement it.

Help yourself, help the client

Of course, financial planning businesses are also helping clients remove some of the stress from their lives by creating financial plans to meet those clients' individual goals in life.

Clients who exhibit signs of stress might also warrant being treated as temporarily vulnerable clients, depending on the circumstances. Financial planning business need to consider and create a policy on how they will deal with vulnerable clients – and I don’t just mean those who are over 80! It could be anyone, young or older, with physical and mental issues – whether temporary or permanent.

Often these clients are high-net-worth individuals with high stress jobs, perhaps business owners themselves. We don’t want stressed financial planners giving stressed clients complex financial planning advice. That just leads to mistakes being made, information being missed, poor advice being given, complaints being made and ultimately reduced public confidence in the global profession of financial planning.

So, if you are reading this and are feeling stressed or a little overwhelmed, start by taking the first step and talking to someone you trust.

Resolve to put good business processes in place to help moving forward – perhaps look up Manager Tools podcasts to help guide you through putting some structure into your staff hiring and monitoring processes.

Hire a business consultant who specialises in advising your type of firm, to help review businesses processes and implement changes.  So much is available to help.

But start by taking the first step: talk.

This article was originally published in International Adviser, 22 March 2019. Republished with permission

Published: 27 Mar 2019
  • Financial Planning
  • International Adviser
  • mental health

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