Thursday, December 19, 2013

Real-World Tactics for Reducing Stress

Make regular appointments with yourself and keep your employees happy

It’s no secret that we live in a hyper-caffeinated, always-connected world. Work/life balance is a pipedream for most professional people these days, even more out of kilter during the Holidays.

Fortunately, there’s hope. And you don’t have to go on retreat to India or Nepal to find a solution. One of our clients, CEG Worldwide, does a lot of coaching and research for elite financial advisors. In a recent study, CEG found that six out of ten high-income advisors were very satisfied with their current success despite the constant stress and anxiety that comes with managing millions--sometimes billions of dollars of other people’s money. As many of you know, year-end is often a time of wits-end.

Uncertainty about politics, the economy and the markets means many advisors have to reassure their clients continuously and they have to do a lot more hand-holding than they used to. CEG managing principal John Powell said a lot of advisors simply don’t take time for themselves and work too many hours, even though many times the long hour are sincerely in the interest of serving their clients better.

Face your stress head on

Here are three stress-reducing techniques that Powell recommends:

1. Trim your mix of clients. Examine your existing client base carefully to see if you are serving too many non-ideal clients. Sometimes it’s just better to let them go than to bend over backwards trying to save a relationship that isn’t meant to be.

2. Time block. Smart advisors block out time on their schedules for client meetings, during which they won’t accept phone calls or other interruptions. But they rarely do the same for other important tasks—from business planning to family time to exercise. Make regular appointments with yourself; block out that time on your calendar and treat that time it as sacredly as you do the time you reserve for your clients, Powell recommends.

3. Step away from the desk. CEG reports that some of its coaching clients significantly increased their earnings once they started taking more time off. Vacations forced them to be more efficient at the office. Also, when they were away, their creative juices start flowing again because they were away from the distractions of their normal environment.

Keep your people happy

Another good way to reduce stress around the office is to keep your employees happy. Jen Agustin senior director of marketing at a marketing technology company, Bizo, wrote recently that there are three keys to keeping your staff happy: (1) Top management sets the right tone; (2) Employees feel trusted; (3) You hire people with the right culture fit, not necessarily all the qualifications you seek.

1. Set the right tone at the top. No matter what size the company, Agustin said the “tone” ultimately gets set at the very top and trickles down to every employee. That tone can be positive in the form of fun, honesty and transparency, or in unfortunate cases, it can convey feelings of intimidation and mistrust. Which type of organization would you want to work in?

2. Show employees you trust them. At Bizo, you can work from home whenever you need to, but Agustin said 20 percent of its employees work from remote offices located across the globe, from Abu Dhabi to Omaha and Honolulu to Seattle. But it doesn’t stop there. According to Agustin, the only vacation policy Bizo has is, “take it when you need it.” When it comes to expenses, the rule of “treat the company’s money as if it was your own.” HR, are you listening!?

3. Make prospective employees feel like part of the team—during the interview process.  Instead of the usual interrogation or ambush style interviews, take candidates out to lunch or happy hour, or invite them to non-confidential meetings and ask them to participate as they would if they were already part of the team. “Past work experience is certainly important, but there’s no substitute for hiring someone whose positive, helpful attitude will ultimately trump any missed checkboxes on an interview questionnaire,” related Agustin.

We couldn’t agree more.


Stress is unavoidable, especially in the professions most of us have chosen. The good news: You have control over how you react to it, who you work with, who you surround yourself with and how you get yourself back to the right work-life balance.

Tags: Jonathan Powell, CEG Worldwide, reducing holiday stress, Jen Agustin, Bizo, keeping employees happy


Friday, December 13, 2013

Don’t Try Too Hard to Have Fun During the Holidays

If it’s not coming naturally at your office, forcing the festivities only makes morale worse
As we mentioned last week, office parties and Holiday mirth are in full swing this time of year. Go ahead and enjoy yourself and make sure your staff, colleagues, vendors and strategic partners do too. Just be sincere about creating a jolly atmosphere. Nobody likes to have fun forced on them--especially if you’re in a miserable environment the other 11 months of the year. 

I once worked for a high-pressure, Israeli software start-up that coerced every employee (and their families) to attend every company social event on the calendar—or else. The food, music and venues were always top-notch, but how much fun do you think was had when 70 percent of the faces from the prior-year’s Xmas party photo were not there the following year? Dogs and casual dress were allowed. But even with foosball, how much fun do you think the engineers and developers were having when every other cubicle had a poster of an Egyptian pyramid-building team with the caption: “The floggings will continue until morale improves”?

Maybe that’s why 66 percent of American workers change companies or job functions every year, according to the
Sales and Marketing Institute.

Now is not the time to avoid making decisions

Also remember to keep your eye on the ball because if you let the next three weeks slip by you without making any real decisions, the empty chill of January will be on you faster than the piles of dead Christmas trees by the curbside.

As Oliver Burkeman noted in the New York Times this week, “fungineering” is in full swing right now. “Despite the sobering economic shocks of recent years, the Fun at Work movement seems irrepressible. Major companies boast of employing Chief Fun Officers or Happiness Engineers; corporations call upon a burgeoning industry of happiness consultants, who’ll construct a Gross Happiness Index for your workplace, then advise you on ways to boost it.” 

Sorry to be a buzzkill right now, but, as Burkeman explains, “fungineering might have precisely the opposite effect, making people miserable and thus reaffirming one of the oldest observations about happiness: When you try too hard to obtain it, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.”

You might as well tell people: “If you don’t start having fun, you’re fired!”

Still not convinced? A study by management experts at Penn State and other universities, published last month, found that while “fun” activities imposed by bosses might slow employee turnover, they can diminish productivity. Another study concluded that “gamification”—a NextGen invention that turns work tasks into contests, with scores and prizes — reduced the productivity and job satisfaction of those workers who didn’t go along with it. In a 2011 study of workers at an Australian call center, where bosses championed the “3 Fs” (focus, fun and fulfillment), researchers found that many experienced the party atmosphere as a burden, not a boon.

Wrote Burkeman: “Instead of striving to make work fun, managers should concentrate on creating the conditions in which a variety of personality types, from the excitable to the naturally downbeat, can flourish. That means giving employees as much autonomy as possible, and ensuring that people are treated evenhandedly.”
A recent Danish study found that lack of fairness is a strong driver of depression at work. On the flip side, if bosses are fair and workers feel appreciated for their efforts, then even heavy workloads won’t bring people down.


Don’t forget to get an early start on those New Year’s resolutions we talked about last week. Have fun with your friends, family and co-workers—but remember those tough decisions you’re avoiding now will be waiting for you—like that bulging envelope from your credit card company—come January. The longer you avoid dealing with it, the worse it’s going to get—like forgetting to throw out that egg nog at the back of the fridge.

Tags: Oliver Burkeman, Sales & Marketing Institute, Forcing fun for the Holidays, fungineering


Friday, December 06, 2013

Start Your New Year’s Resolutions Now

Use this month to work the bugs out and test your will power.

Holiday parties are starting. Fruitcakes, cookies and chocolates are piling up in the office kitchen faster than the incomplete budget forecasts and year-end statements on your desk. Your nieces, nephews and grandchildren are texting you constant revisions to their Holiday gift lists.

Ah, the Holidays! Just get me through the next month, you say to yourself, and you’ll start hitting the gym again, lose 10 pounds, get your desk and hard-drive cleaned up and back on track for 2014.


You have to start NOW on those New Year’s resolutions and find a way to stick to them. Not to be a scrooge about December, but now’s the best time to test out your resolutions and work the bugs out so you can hit the ground running in January. You need to be brutally honest with yourself about your willpower, your stamina and how reasonable your goals are.

If you’re a couch potato, which resolution are you more likely to stick to—running a marathon in six months or walking/jogging for 20 minutes three times per week? Trust us, this works. You’ll feel better about yourself and probably look better, too the next time we see you.

Why resolutions don’t stick

While most of us sincerely intend to follow our New Year’s resolutions, most of the time we break them. According to researcher Richard Wiseman, half of all Americans set themselves a New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately, about seven out of eight of those resolutions (88%) fail. Those ain’t great odds. As Wiseman once quipped, that’s about 156 million failed resolutions and disappointed minds each and every year!

The reasons for this high failure rate are many, but some of the leading causes are that we set goals that are too high or too audacious. We also tend to be impatient, sprinting out of the gate in search of immediate “returns” rather than taking “baby steps” that will take some time before they move the needle. We also have to make ourselves more accountable to our stated goals. If you tell some of your friends and family about the new tiny habit you’ve created, you are more likely to stick to it. What’s more, writing your goals down not only makes you more likely to stick to them, but the process increases your happiness and sense of empowerment.

Beating the odds

Trying to get your clients to modify their financial behavior in the new year can be quite challenging, too. But it can be highly rewarding if true changes result, said Dr. Glenn Freed of Los Angeles based Vericimetry Advisors LLC, who we’ve been working with for several years. “And you’ll further cement your status as a client’s most trusted advisor,” said Freed.
“Framing a legal, charitable or financial planning discussion around New Year’s resolutions can be quite effective for communicating with clients,” added Freed. “You can have discussions in person or through a client newsletter. The key is to use these resolutions as a way to check in with clients throughout the year. Here are some of Freed’s favorites:

1. Personal Resolution: Get in shape.
Financial Planning Resolution: Keep in financial shape by sticking to your financial plan; keep your portfolio in shape by staying disciplined and rebalancing.

2. Personal Resolution:
Quit smoking / give up bad habits.
Financial Planning Resolution: Quit chasing the “smoking hot” returns; avoid trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Today’s hot trend is all too often tomorrow’s toxic asset. Ultimately, bad habits are frequently destructive to your wealth (and your health).

3. Personal Resolution:
Learn something new.
Financial Planning Resolution: Be open to new investment approaches; consider new investment methodologies and asset classes; do not be satisfied with the status quo. Radical change is not required, but evolution can often be beneficial.
Glenn’s got plenty more he’d be happy to share with you at

Advisors help their clients follow up on resolutions not only in January, but throughout the year. Framing the financial planning discussion in this way at the start of the year and then following up consistently can be an effective way to help clients stay on the path to financial resolution success. Make 2014 a great year no matter what the markets, the economy and geopolitical factors throw at us.

But you’ve got to start NOW—not after the Holidays.

Our blog has more as well as the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: New Year’s Resolutions, Dr. Glenn Freed, Vericimetry Advisors LLC, financial planning resolutions