While male counselors are largely unresponsive to the pandemic, women report higher stress levels.
Although advisers have been uprooted from their normal work environment and are going through a myriad of uncertainties, a recent survey paints a picture of the resilience of the industry and silver liners in the face of a global pandemic – with one notable exception.
Third Annual FlexShares Edition Counselor Well-Being Study was conducted at the end of 2020 and interviewed more than 450 advisers. The majority (62%) said they had increased their assets under management and 57% welcomed new clients last year. In addition, most participants do not perceive the pandemic as a threat to their business and remain extremely satisfied with their career choice.
But a closer look at the results reveals that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women who make up about 23% of advisers in the sector, according to the CFP’s board of directors. In the survey, female counselors reported significantly higher stress levels than their male counterparts (55.3% vs. 46.9%) in 2020, as well as stress levels above the national average of 48.9% .
Perhaps surprisingly, given the challenges posed by the year of the pandemic, three key indicators used to measure stress and well-being – job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and work-life balance – are remained at the same level as the 2018 results overall. Indeed, the survey recorded a 2.5% jump in job satisfaction for financial advisers in 2020 compared to two years ago.
There have been notable changes in the stressors themselves: Political uncertainty was the main business concern in 2020 compared to the state of the markets in 2018. The other main producers of anxiety for advisers are last year included compliance and regulatory issues; customer relations and demanding customers; and developing their practice or attracting new clients.
However, the average stress level for female counselors fell from 53.7% in 2018, while the average stress level for men declined slightly from 47.1% that year.
In 2020, counselors’ stress was generated by a unique mix of factors, such as having to wear “many hats” and balancing work and family life, according to the report.
A greater percentage of women (27%) reported caring for seniors compared to men (20.5%). Women found caring for dependents during the pandemic to be more stressful than men and viewed the pandemic as a “real threat”.
And although the counselors experienced the same stress-related symptoms as the men, the degree to which the women surveyed reported suffering from these symptoms was higher across the board.
Bridging the Anxiety Gap
I believe these results point to an imminent problem and that its resolution is of critical importance to the future of our industry. Consulting firms need to ask themselves how they can better support female counselors and make the workplace more rewarding. We see several workable ways of doing this.
The first is to encourage open dialogue about stress. In general, women tend to be better reporters of stress, which may lead them to seek help in order to cope better. Consulting firms should actively encourage this open discussion of stressors for all employees to better identify issues and find potential solutions that will help retain quality employees.
Another is to consider work stress solutions. Tackling employee stress can take many forms, but overall, “on the job” strategies such as managing tasks and time and “being good” with customers to deal with stress can be helpful. stress reducers more effective than outside of professional activities. Counselors – more than their male counterparts – have chosen such strategies for clients to cope with stress. Consider implementing policies such as flexible working arrangements and formal support structures for task and time management to directly address productivity and work-life balance.
Overall, when asked what they liked most about being a financial advisor, the overwhelming majority of respondents reported the ability to help and provide services to those in need (58% ), followed by independence and flexibility (19%) and the relationships they formed (13%). Those same factors that have kept counselors highly satisfied in the midst of the pandemic – feeling motivated and having flexibility – could play a role in future recruitment and retention.