Outside voices and views for advisers

Creating a careful work/play balance

Feb 24, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

By Mike West

+ Zoom

An interviewer recently asked me to describe the culture of a company on its way to greatness. I blurted out the first character trait without thinking twice: “It's intense.” And then, after some thought, I added: “Relaxed.”

I don't blame my interrogator for raising an eyebrow at that second one, but there's something critical there, especially for our industry. Financial services has not historically been known for being playful. We're not quirky, not zany, not bursting with youthful energy. On the contrary, we're teetotalers, bean counters, contract writers. We wear suits, carry briefcases, write memos. Some connive gleefully over sums of money, but in my opinion that kind of bad behavior, while “fun” to some, doesn't count as play.

It might be that we don't have time for play; we have regulations to deal with. But this stark contrast between business and structured enjoyment reveals something really important about the culture in which we operate. It says something about the financial services industry as a whole — that we ultimately view work and play as being two very mutually exclusive activities.

But that wasn't always the case. In ancient times, playfulness was seen as a civic virtue. Loosely defined as “pleasantness in conversation”, eutrapelia was the elegant word passed around in philosophical schools for a much-sought-after golden mean between boring and buffoonery. Aristotle believed that time taken to develop eutrapelia was not wasted; rather, it could be used as a form of interpersonal leisure that served to further public activity. In other words, it was a recreation that led to increased productiveness.

As it turns out, these philosophical speculations on the role of play in public life have been confirmed by more modern investigators, too. For example, scientists have determined that play serves as a form of mental preparation that helps the brain grow and increases cognitive abilities in children and adults alike. In the workplace, an active culture of play can result in higher employee productivity, lower stress levels, increased concentration, and general perseverance. Others note that creating a culture of play is an excellent way to attract talent to a firm, particularly from younger generations.

In my experience, one of the best outcomes of playfulness at work is that it helps foster an environment of creative disruption and innovation. When my employees feel they have the freedom to smile and relax, they think more creatively and are more comfortable working together to solve problems. I find it fascinating to stop in during brainstorming sessions and see everyone smiling, tossing about ideas, enjoying the process for what it is — a joint effort to improve our place of work.

It's not easy to build this kind of culture that carves out space for playfulness, nor are a lot more companies likely to do it. However, I find that it can often start at the top of the org chart and trickle down. You and your fellow managers have the opportunity to set the tone in the office, encouraging employees to approach their work with a sense of playfulness. This takes positive reinforcement, as well as the ability to distinguish between activities that are fun and productive and those that are fun and counterproductive. However, if done correctly, you will soon find that your employees can make this distinction themselves and the culture of serious play becomes self-reinforcing.

The bottom line is that I wake up and love coming to work — because it doesn't feel like work. For me, it is precisely that mixture of productive mirth, of thoughtful play, and of joyous activity that makes my job so enjoyable.

Mike West is senior partner and CEO of BPV Capital Management. West's family office began in 2001, transitioned into an RIA firm in 2009, and then into mutual fund management in 2011. West has years of entrepreneurial and executive management experience with a background in financial management, strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, and business development.


What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Sponsored financial news

RIA Data Center

Use InvestmentNews' RIA Data Center to filter and find key information on over 1,400 fee-only registered investment advisory firms.

Rank RIAs by

Upcoming Event

Sep 26


Investing 2017: Industry at a Crossroads

The advice industry is at a unique inflection point, as the way clients are investing has changed dramatically: Technology has evolved, access to innovative products has changed, and the active vs. passive debate continues to rage on. Advisers... Learn more

Featured video


The Fuse impact: The judges weigh in

When vying for top honors at Fuse, it all comes down to a panel of judges. Hear directly from them on what they're looking for in finalists, and what gets them excited about this event every year.

Video Spotlight

Are Your Clients Prepared For Market Downturns?

Sponsored by Prudential

Recommended Video

Path to growth

Latest news & opinion

Jerry Schlichter's fee lawsuits have left an indelible mark on the 401(k) industry

After a decade of litigation, fees are lower and retirement plans are more transparent. But have the lawsuits gone too far?

10 best financial adviser jokes

How many financial advisers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Hackers may have profited from SEC breach

The hack of the agency's Edgar filing system occurred in 2016, but the regulator didn't conclude until last month that the cybercriminals may have used their bounty to make illicit trades.

Top 10 financial firms ranked by investor satisfaction

Find out which firm took the top slot for overall investor satisfaction for the second year in a row.

What not to say to clients when the markets drop

Here's what advisers should steer clear of saying the next time stocks turn downward.


Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print