A career in financial advice can be satisfying and rewarding in so many ways. In fact, FlexShares’ recent Advisor Wellness Study found that 81% of financial advisors say they like their job better than the average person—up from 79% in 2018.
However, every job has its challenges and stressors. In that same study, female financial advisors reported experiencing significantly higher levels of stress than the men surveyed, as well as stress levels that are higher than the national average.
- Symptoms of stress are more commonly reported by women advisors
- Women view the pandemic as more of a “real threat” than men
- Firms can help reduce stress for advisors
In a nationwide survey, the American Psychological Association found the average stress level among the U.S. adult population to be 48.9% on a zero-to-100 scale. Among advisors, stress levels overall average 46.9%, or just slightly under the national figure. But women advisors in our study reported a 55.3% level of stress. And at 35.8%, the percentage of women advisors saying they have stress-related symptoms far exceeded the 26.4% of male advisors who reported stress symptoms.
What’s causing stress for women advisors?
The higher reports of stress are related to the “juggling” that they—and so many other professional women—feel pressured to perform to manage their numerous work-life responsibilities. Specifically, women advisors rated “having to wear multiple hats” a 2.85 on a scale of five as a career-specific stressor. Men advisors rated that stress at 2.40. Similarly, women advisors found the balancing of work, family, recreation and relaxation to be stressful at a 2.75 level of 5.0, while their male counterparts found it stressful only at a 2.26 level.
The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have been a major contributor to the stress felt by women advisors in 2020. The pandemic has uniquely impacted women, magnifying existing stressors to their work-life balance. When we last surveyed advisors about stress and their work environment in 2018, we detected little difference between men and women. But from the outset of the pandemic, women advisors were almost twice as likely to see the virus as more of a “real threat” than male advisors. Women advisors rated the pressure to keep parents or dependents safe from the virus as “stressful” while male advisors rated it near the “somewhat stressful” level. These pressures no doubt contributed to the “juggling” stresses women advisors were feeling.
The data doesn’t mean that women experience stress at higher levels or that they’re buckling or breaking with the weight of all the stress.
–Dr. Chloe Carmichael
The impacts of stress
Women advisors told us they feel the consequences of stress in a variety of ways. Stress-related symptoms were reported more frequently by women than by men. For example, women were far more likely to experience tense muscles and a sore neck or back than men, as well as more fatigue, irritability and sleep problems.
But the differences in stress levels reported by women and men actually may not be as stark as they seem. Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, notes that women tend to be better reporters of stress, anxiety and depression than men.
The data, therefore, doesn’t necessarily mean that women experience stress “at higher levels or that they’re buckling or breaking with the weight of all the stress,” she told Barron’s when asked about the survey results. “It could be that women are just more attuned and more comfortable discussing and naming the issue.”
This may lead to taking action to help better manage stress vs. those who don’t acknowledge the stress they're under which could lead to serious consequences if left unchecked.
Women advisors are more likely to use on-the-job strategies to manage their stress compared to their male counterparts.
On a positive note, dealing with issues causing stress directly—rather than putting things off—can lead to a reduction in overall stress. Wellness is a delicate balance that requires attention and deliberate effort to manage things in our power.
What firms can do to help alleviate stress
Advisory firms would be wise to encourage open discussions about causes of stress and offer coping mechanisms to all genders. Such mechanisms can include flexible work arrangements and support and tools to aid in task and time management. Fortunately, as vaccination rates increase and the threat of Covid-19 ebbs, pressures on women advisors also may abate. In the meantime, greater awareness of the particular stresses reported by women advisors can be a good first step in addressing and reducing that strain.
Since women advisors may feel isolated—women represent only about 15% of the nation’s advisors, according to McKinsey & Company—simply knowing that other women advisors share one’s stresses can be a comfort. Firms can do their part by recognizing the many hats that their female advisors wear. They also can provide opportunities for greater flexibility, as well as tools and resources to help women manage and alleviate stress.
Given the commitment of the financial advice business to encourage greater participation by women, efforts to reduce the stresses faced by female advisors are bound to produce significant rewards.