Combating Depression in Your Firm
January 20, 2015
by Beverly Flaxington
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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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One of our most senior advisors has been suffering from depression and it is an increasing problem in our firm. Though there has been no official corporate communication, we all know it is going on and see the impacts.
What can we do to manage around the depression? Honestly it affects all of us in many ways. We take his client calls when he leaves for his “appointments.” Sometimes we are caught unawares because he isn’t on his game the way he normally is and things have been dropped and missed. I understand that this is a real problem, like any disability, but we are not dealing with it well since we cannot talk directly about it. In fact, I prefer you withhold my first name because other members of my firm know this is happening and I don’t care to make it a public issue. I also don’t want clients to realize what we’re dealing with.
What can we do? What choices do we have? I’m starting to feel depressed and unmotivated too and I fear that many of the other advisors are experiencing the same.
Dear Financial Advisor,
Thank you for submitting such a candid question. I can tell that this is a raw and sensitive subject for you and probably for your whole firm. Your note illustrates something I talk about often: the ripple effect of other’s behavior on a team. While the advisor dealing with the depression might feel “alone” — as if he were the only one with the problem — the extension of this issue is clearly felt across the firm.
So, what can you do? You cannot do much directed at the depression itself. It sounds like he is already seeking treatment (hopefully), and it would not be appropriate for the firm to stage an intervention around something like this.
That said, you can certainly do quite a bit for yourself and for other members of the team. The first step is to be more forthright in your communication. Right now, everyone knows but is tip-toeing around the issue in an effort to support the advisor, the clients and the firm. In doing this, you are making it very difficult to have a proactive plan to deal with the repercussions.
Perhaps you or someone close to this advisor could go into his office and talk about the impact of his leaving early. You do not have to address the depression but might discuss the outcomes of it. You could say that you notice he has left early on several occasions and while you are not there to pry about his personal life, you need to acknowledge the affect on the clients. A specific example would be helpful – maybe a client who called and asked about a follow-up and no one knew how to respond. Then ask him how he’d like to handle this in the future. Could he give you a heads-up when he is leaving and a list of what remains open-ended? Could he work closely with another advisor and share more information about his clients? Assuming you want to keep providing the support, this approach could make it easier.
If you and other advisors are not interested in continuing to provide support, the conversation would be different. You would need either to go to the leader of the firm or to confront this advisor directly and say you are unable to keep supporting him. Of course the risks here are obvious but continuing to provide this behind-the-scenes support sounds taxing and trying for the rest of you.
You also need to protect yourself mentally and physically. It sounds like his depression is seeping in and starting to impact your day-to-day. Take steps now to shore up your own mental state. Focus on what’s working. Make a list of things you are grateful for and post in the office. Spend time with advisors or clients who are upbeat. Depression can start gradually and be ignored until it’s in a full-blown state and the person has difficulty functioning at all.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and see if you can find other ways to manage the client situations with the advisor who needs it.
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