Addressing the elephant in the room – overworked and under resourced

 In Gill's Blog

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Earlier this year I posted a message on LinkedIn about the fact that many private client practitioners tell me they are frantically busy; they cannot find staff to join their firm to ease the workload and that there is little time for anything else but work. It has been viewed by over 7,700 people. That is a lot of potentially stressed people.

Since the outbreak of covid and a higher-than-average number of deaths per year as a result, private client work seems to have increased almost exponentially. It is not the type of work which suits everyone, but it is a steady source of income for firms even in years when covid is not causing extra deaths. Maybe it is time for firms to recognize their contribution to overall profits and start to invest in it.

Perhaps the fact that people could not control what might happen to them did help to focus consumers’ minds about putting their affairs in order just in case and that is a silver lining to a horrible thing. Something tells me that the volume of work is unlikely to abate any time soon given we are living through the bulge that is the baby boomer generation. They will be ageing and dying over the next 20 years or so and will be looking for help and advice from private client practitioners.

Investment in the private client sector can vary from improving processes and procedures; recruitment of a more diverse cross-section of applicants; harnessing technology, particularly as more and more clients have digital assets; upskilling junior staff to offer them career development; supporting leadership programmes to ensure there is both technical skills and leadership skills in place to ensure you make the most of investment in your people.

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Now that some people will continue to work from home through choice, and therefore not everyone will be in the office every day, building work teams may need some energy and effort but if this ensures people are happier, healthier and more productive this is a win: win situation.

There are many things a firm could consider once the elephant is spoken about, and ideas for improvement are found across the firm. There may be scope for having exercise classes at lunchtime or membership of the local sports centre; a shower in the office for people who wish to cycle to work; child care vouchers to help families; recommendation board to find reliable help with domestic matters like cleaning, dog walking etc; discussion groups to share frustrations; relaxing groups like book clubs to help people unwind; confidential access to special help to such things as therapy for anxiety and stress; mindfulness classes. The list is endless and will be best if it suits those working in your firm and not a list prepared from outside.

A recent bout of frozen shoulders reminded me that it doesn’t matter how small or how large your firm is, looking after the physical health of your staff as well as mental health, is really important. There are practical things we can do, like encouraging people to get away from their desks at lunchtime and not stay sitting throughout the day but to stand up and preferably get outside for some fresh air.

I know when there is so much work it is hard to breathe suggesting that people leave their desks each lunchtime sounds crazy, but the fact is a proper break will refresh the mind and bring people back to the desk more able to cope.

Maybe, you must place a moratorium on accepting new work whilst the team catches up and bring their emails under control. You don’t want people leaving now because they are at their wit’s end. You need people to stay, so make it attractive and help them to do so.

If you turn around the work-in-progress and convert it into cash, you will have funds to employ extra people so why not engage temporary staff to help or outsource some work to specialists or the Bar to get those ‘too difficult’ files unlocked and the fees charged?

Every firm is different. The drivers for change and the risks of staying the same will of course vary but why not walk a different path from the crowd? Because if you keep on behaving in the same way, do not be surprised if the outcomes remain the same too.

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