How would you spend your time if you didn't check your work email or answer calls for 25 days? Or better yet, what would your clients do if you went offline? 

In an increasingly digital age where people have become accustomed to getting information, making contact and plugging in whenever and wherever they want, some advisors have trouble turning work off.

Comedian, businessman and writer Baratunde Thurston recently wrote about his experience unplugging from his hectic digital life, where he routinely sent over 30 tweets and had over 160 Gmail conversations each day. As hard as it was to unplug initially, it was a much needed "detox" that he rather enjoyed.

For financial advisors, managing work-life balance is up to them, but some of them aren't very good at it. "Work-life balance is essential for wirehouse advisors," Michael Silver a co-founder of advisor coaching firm Focus Partners wrote in an email. "Unfortunately, there are many advisors who don't know how to disconnect, or feel like they can't, which ultimately helps neither them nor their clients."

Co-founder Eric Sheikowitz says it is very important for advisors to unplug. "It lets you clear your head and allows you to look at things from a fresh perspective." He adds that "advisors are human and should be able to take vacation." If they don't feel comfortable completely disconnecting while away, that's okay, he says. "They should set aside a designated time to check and respond to emails."

Spokespersons for Edward Jones, Raymond James and Robert W. Baird and Company all said their firms do not have a formal policy in place regarding an advisors online or on-the-phone availability. "Whether employee or independent, Raymond James advisors are empowered to run their practice as they choose," Shereen McCall, a public relations coordinator for Raymond James, wrote in an email. 

But that doesn't mean advisors give themselves many breaks. Most advisors make sure that another advisor or the branch manager is available to talk to clients and handle daily operations when they know they will be away, yet because of technology McCall says, many advisors choose to stay connected. "With the firm's support of mobile technology the majority of our advisors seem to stay plugged in 24/7." 

At Baird, while there is no formal policy about disconnecting, the firm emphasizes and even teaches work-life balance. "We absolutely promote it and we do that formally," says Beth Kavelaris, Baird's director of culture and integration. In fact, it's one of the six principles of the firm's mission statement. "But we talk about it in terms of work-life harmony, not work-life balance," says Kavelaris. "It's not about balancing work and home life 50-50, it's about whether there is congruence between client needs and my own family needs."

Kavelaris acknowledges that the ability to plug in anytime, anywhere is both positive and negative, and that the way an advisor chooses to handle it often boils down to the advisor's personality and practice. In recent years, practices have become more team-based which takes some pressure off of advisors when they need to be unavailable, "but that doesn't preclude how the advisor is wired," Kavelaris says. 

Some advisors are less able to disconnect than others, she adds. Part of that has to do with the advisor and part of that has to do with the client. "At the end of the day, it is still dictated by the clients," she says. "If you choose clients who want you on call 24/7, you're going to be on call 24/7."

That's precisely why Silver and Sheikowitz strongly recommend setting expectations. "Clients will expect you to be around for them 24/7 if that is the expectation that you set," Silver says. "If you set the right expectations, you will not have to be chained to your phone or email."

When you are getting ready to sign off, it's important to take these steps, Sheikowitz says:

  • Let clients know in advance that you will be away.  
  • Let the clients know the designated person they should contact if they have any issues (e.g. the partner, client associate, etc.)
  • Prepare your team prior to unplugging by reviewing all open issues and any items that must be addressed.  
  • Give your team a list of clients who might call, what the call might be about, and a proper response.