Does investment professionals’ higher productivity mask burnout risk?

While industry has proven resilient, CFA Institute survey indicates pandemic impact is testing workers' motivation and commitment

Does investment professionals’ higher productivity mask burnout risk?

Investment professionals have been able to withstand and adjust to disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic, but the new realities of work could leave them more vulnerable to burnout – and more prone to leaving the industry.

In the 2021 edition of its Future of Work in Investment Management series of reports, the CFA Institute drew from a survey of 4,600 investment professionals across 120 markets conducted from March to April 2021. It also polled leaders from 41 organizations representing more than 234,000 employees over the period from December 2020 to March 2021.

The report found that investment professionals had a generally positive outlook on compensation and job security. Among those whose pay was reduced amid the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly half suffered an impact of 10% or less to their compensation, while 53% expected that impact to last for no longer than one year. Beyond that, 61% of respondents overall said they were confident about careers in investment management overall, and 75% felt their job will be secure.

The forced experiment of broad work-from-home adoption has also led to some positives in productivity. Just over half of investment professionals (53%) said remote work has increased their efficiency, while only 17% of organizations regarded productivity losses from remote work as a top concern.

But according to the report, part of that heightened productivity has come in the form of more working hours, putting financial professionals at risk of stress and burnout; for those organizations where hard workers are rewarded, defending the work-life divide is especially difficult. Against this backdrop, organizational leaders expressed unanimous concern over employees’ well-being, with 100% citing mental health as a top concern.

The report also highlighted a shift in investment professionals’ sources of motivation at work. While respondents to a previous survey conducted in 2019 said they were driven by intrinsic factors, the CFA Institute said investment professionals polled in 2021 rated extrinsic motivating factors such as financial compensation, flexibility, and having good colleagues as more important.

“Recent economic uncertainty and isolation could make professionals more appreciative of having compensation and a team, respectively, and flexibility is a newfound benefit,” the report said. “Meanwhile, longer hours that compound to a sense of burnout can turn learning into more of a burden than a pleasure.”

A lack of in-person interaction could also prove harmful. Twenty-six per cent of organizations surveyed said it has had a detrimental effect on culture; beyond that, the report said it could make work less interesting for industry professionals. Similarly, client relationships could feel less meaningful as interactions are conducted via screens.

The combination of weakened motivation, culture erosion, and diluted sense of meaning could be putting workers’ commitment to the investment industry at risk. Among the investment professionals surveyed, 50% said they would consider taking a new position outside the industry.

To help secure loyalty, the report suggested that organizations put more emphasis on having a positive purpose, as purpose has garnered more attention amid the pandemic. Aside from a greater focus on bold and inspiring outcomes that support belonging and motivation, it said leaders who can communicate in clear and compelling ways have become more important than ever.

“[T]he most important leadership skill for the industry, according to current leaders, is the ability to articulate mission and vision,” the report said. “Having good leaders has always been important to retain people, but now it is also a primary motivator.”


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