Financial advisors are often responsible for working with a wide range of individuals, both among their client base and coworkers, who each have their own personality, beliefs, and style of communication. While it can be rewarding to build a large breadth of relationships, it can also be challenging to appeal to and feel accepted by so many different people all at once. One way that some advisors cope with this challenge is to 'cover' – that is, to downplay or conceal aspects of their own personality or values in order to fit in.
Research has shown that covering is a common phenomenon in the general population, and the most recent Kitces Research study on wellbeing has shown that it is also common among financial advisors: Approximately 40% of advisors responded that they hide aspects of their personal lives from both their coworkers and clients. Importantly, advisors who strongly agreed that they cover in the workplace also reported lower quality-of-life scores, presumably because spending so much time in an environment where they feel they cannot express their true selves would understandably cause a decline in wellbeing.
While covering is a universal phenomenon, Kitces Research suggests it is more prevalent among advisors at larger firms (defined as those with seven or more members) than those at smaller firms. While it makes intuitive sense that advisors at a larger firm might feel more pressure to downplay personal traits among their coworkers, what is notable is that advisors at larger firms are also more likely to do so with their clients. Which suggests that covering might not just be an issue of an advisor's personal insecurity, but may also be rooted in the culture of larger firms. And this may encourage advisors to suppress their unique personalities and fit in with the crowd.
In addition to firm size, several other factors are also associated with covering. Advisors whose personality traits do not align with stereotypical gender roles – e.g., confidence and assertiveness in males; gentleness and deference in females – may feel pressured to conform to what they think is expected of them. Likewise, advisors with more junior roles and less experience also feel less confident in expressing themselves than their more senior colleagues.
Ultimately, most everyone feels pressure to cover at some point, but when that pressure is present in one's work environment every day, it can have a detrimental impact on wellbeing. It's important for advisors to find ways to authentically express themselves – whether by building deeper relationships with work colleagues or clients, or seeking out mentors or study groups – and also for firms to provide a culture where employees feel comfortable doing so. Allowing advisors to openly share what makes them unique can help create a more diverse, inclusive, and happier financial planning industry!