Much ink has been spilled in detailing the reasons why unplugging from your business and taking some time off is good for you. But as the boundaries separating work and personal time become thinner, many financial advisors find that disengaging completely from the office when on vacation is challenging.
Some advisors, even with a deep bench of support, may be reluctant to relinquish certain responsibilities while on vacation. Or, an advisor just might want occasional assurance that everything is running smoothly.
Some advisors are disinclined to take a vacation because they believe that taking time off will result in more accumulated work and problems to solve when they return. That might explain why the average Canadian missed out on three days of vacation last year, according to a survey by Toronto-based Expedia Canada Corp. If that trend holds steady over 10 years, the unused time would add up to a month of vacation days.
"Work bleeds into family life and personal life so that people begin to take less time off," says Donna Ferguson, clinical psychologist in the work, stress and health program at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto. "Even when they do, they take their [smartphone] with them."
But when you remain in touch with your office, she adds, you're not fully on vacation, and that can have negative effects on your sense of well-being.
Clocking long hours without taking breaks, Ferguson says, means you risk "major depressive disorder and anxiety." The stress can mount and take a toll on all aspects of your life, affecting everything from your social life to your appetite.
Recognizing the importance of slowing down, learning to let some things slide and establishing an exercise routine, Ferguson says, can help you restore a bit of balance to your life.
Although vacations should be time spent away from your office, both in body and in mind, the reality is that many advisors insist on keeping tabs on their business while on holiday.
Whether you choose to cut the cord completely or remain accessible during your time off, the tips below can help you have a refreshing vacation without putting your practice in jeopardy:
- BE REDUNDANT
Training a "Mini Me" who can handle any client request may seem counterintuitive, says Michèle Soregaroli, co-founder of and differentiation coach with Transformation Catalyst, a consulting firm in Vancouver. But being so invaluable that team members don't know how to handle even simple problems is far riskier.
"You should be building consistency in your practice," Soregaroli says, "so the team can continue when you're not there."
As well, clients need to get accustomed to relying on your team, whether in making changes to their portfolio or in scheduling an appointment.
When every minor task falls on the lead advisor, she adds, the "underlying message is that the advisor is the linchpin."
Rebecca Horwood, director of wealth management and portfolio manager at Richardson GMP Ltd. in Toronto, says that within her family-run practice's team, there's a policy that two people - including a senior advisor - have to be at the office at all times.
That strategy offers a measure of comfort because at least one person can handle whatever issues arise. "We're not a one-man team," Horwood says.
Similarly, Tim Morton, senior vice president and investment advisor with the Morton Group, which operates under the TD Wealth Private Investment Advice umbrella in Toronto, makes sure there always are at least two people available in his office whom clients can rely on to respond to concerns.
"Technology makes monitoring each other's emails possible," says Morton, who works with his sons, who are an advisor and an associate advisor, respectively. "Even if I'm out [for] three or four hours, if there are urgent requests, [team members] can answer them."
- SET EXPECTATIONS
If you want to lean on your team as much as possible, clarify their responsibilities and the process for what-if scenarios, such as what circumstances constitute an emergency, beforehand.
Evan Thompson, founder and business coach at Evan Thompson and Associates in Toronto, suggests setting up a designated time while on vacation, perhaps once a day, to check in with your person who is on point at the office.
If your practice is run in a way that your absence isn't a shock to the process, notifying your clients that you're taking time off might not be necessary.
"I don't think clients expect advisors to be reachable always," Thompson says. "What they demand is that there's someone who can help them, regardless."
Horwood sets an "out of office" email message specifying how long she expects to be away and whom to reach instead. But she doesn't feel that telling clients she'll be away before taking a vacation is necessary.
That's because Horwood checks in with her office at least twice a day - once in the morning and once in the evening - while on vacation. She forwards work-related emails to the person left in charge, and clients can expect a response to their queries that day or the next morning.
At the same time, Thompson and Soregaroli say, clarify what you want to accomplish during your time off and address any potential roadblocks. If you plan to go off the grid for a few days, for example, imagine what that entails, and plan accordingly. You might have to choose a time that typically is not busy for your office.
- PLAN AHEAD
Every Monday morning, Horwood's team holds a meeting to review what's coming in the week ahead. "Everyone is responsible for bringing to the table what they're working on, so we all know what we're doing," Horwood says. As well, tasks are delegated during that meeting if someone expects to be away.
Morton and his sons book their vacations six months in advance. At that planning stage, they specify whether the trip will be a "working vacation," during which they will be in regular contact with the office - which usually depends on access to Wi-Fi.
Do a little advance research into how much Wi-Fi or cellular access is available at your planned vacation destination, especially if you expect to travel to remote locations. This knowledge can reduce uncertainty about whether you will be able to remain plugged in to developments at work.
In some locales, for example, Internet access may be available only by using a prepaid card or through a dial-up connection, so you may have to find a spot with a reliable connection if you want to contact the office.
"Explore all the options for maximizing technology use," Thompson says, "but without having it take control of your vacation."
When Morton was planning a motorcycle trip in Costa Rica, for example, he knew cellphone and Wi-Fi service would be unreliable. So, he decided that trip would not qualify as a working holiday. With his sons available as backup at the office, he says, he's usually comfortable ceding control.
- DELEGATE DECISION- MAKING
If you want your team members to follow your approach to business closely, Soregaroli says, you must articulate to them how key decisions should be made in various situations.
Developing some sort of contingency plan can help to ease any anxiety you might have about your team's ability to handle an unexpected crisis - such as an extreme event in the market or a death in a major client's family.
For clients who need a little reassurance, Soregaroli and Thompson say, you might explain to them how things will run in your absence. Remind them that their portfolios are well positioned and tell them that you will be accessible.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
One of the objectives of a vacation is to return to work relaxed and refreshed. If you don't have time for a full, two-week trip, consider the ways in which people from other cultures seek mental and physical relaxation:
- FOREST BATHING
Perhaps no other therapy can claim to be as natural as forest bathing, a.k.a. shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of walking in the woods to commune with the trees and absorb their calming effect. Although this practice is not a cure for all the stresses of daily life, studies have shown that forest bathing, developed by Japan's forestry ministry as part of a public health program, can reduce blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone."
- SOAKING IN GEOTHERMAL POOLS
Iceland, a fixture near the top of the "world's happiest country" list, may owe its sunny disposition to the restorative benefits of the mineral-rich hot springs that are scattered across the island nation's rugged landscape. Even in frigid temperatures, Icelanders can be found taking a dip in geothermal pools alongside their neighbours.
Closer to home, there are several hot springs in Canada in which you can enjoy a soak, including Banff Upper Hot Springs in Banff, Alta., and Spa le Nordik in Chelsea, Que.
- CHILLING IN A SWEAT LODGE
Several indigenous cultures regard traditional sweat-lodge ceremonies, usually led by an elder, as a path to healing. The ritual, which typically features the scent of burning cedar, singing and drumming inside a dome-shaped structure, can be as much about purifying the mind and body as it is a way of repairing community ties.
Sweat lodges have been used to treat mental-health patients and for schoolchildren to connect with an indigenous culture.
- TAI CHI IN THE PARK
Tai chi, one of Hong Kong's denizens' favourite pastimes, is enjoyed by people of all ages. Seniors, in particular, have been known to assemble in parks at dawn to practise this form of martial arts. Tai chi's characteristic deliberate, sweeping movements are said to sharpen the mind, inviting a sense of mental clarity and improving physical co-ordination.
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