The Burnout Juggling Act

How to balance speedily closing loans, being on call 24/7 — and living day-to-day lives

Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak
Burnout juggling act

Stewart notices a dichotomy between those in the industry wanting and needing to work to provide for their families and be available to their customers, but also wanting to explore their interests and relax. “We see challenges in financial services careers because the work can bleed into so many hours of the day. It’s hard to have hard stops,” she said. “If you’re not going to allow yourself to have a break, what impact does that have on you? More time on the computer takes away from time with nature, time with family, and time focusing on health

If we’re only interacting with people online, there won’t be a buffer for mental health long term.”

Putting Headspaces Into Perspective

Jonny Fowler knows this to be true in his almost three decades in the industry. Fowler has worked as a corporate development manager for NRL Mortgage and as a senior vice president for Hancock Mortgage Partners in the past and has, like Stewart, dabbled in coaching. Fowler has observed loan officers that he’s worked with get into a negative headspace. He explained that there’s a learning curve, especially for newer LOs, who are experiencing economic woes impacting their work and, inevitably, their mental health. “There’s lingering impacts of pandemic and economic crises, massive inflation … it’s a combination of a number of things,” he explained. “[For] most of the people that I talk to, it’s not just one thing. There are not as many transactions happening and they can’t adjust to the business cycle.”

Jonny Fowler, Vice President of Business Development, American Financial Network

Fowler says that coaches and leaders like himself have a responsibility to bring LOs up during this time. “I’m seeing that people need leadership and encouragement and they need to hear from people who have been through this before as to how to navigate through these times,” he said. “We are not going to crash. We may hit a speed bump, but it’s a temporary thing.”

To understand the current barriers loan officers face, Fowler says, you have to consider the experiences of LOs from the past four to five years. “Not everyone remembers 2008 because not everyone was in the industry then,” he said. “We as coaches and leaders in this industry need to remember that some LO just turned 24 yesterday and doesn’t have the same experiences we do. I got into this business in 1994 and had no idea that it wasn’t a good time to get into the business. Some people who joined in 2018 or 2019 didn’t realize the numbers were starting to drop.”

Fowler says that the sudden drops from the extreme highs of 2020 and 2021 left many LOs in the dust. And even LOs who are as seasoned as Fowler are pessimistic about rates not dropping and inventory returning. “They say that they wouldn’t get into the business at this time. But I would look towards people who have a more positive attitude and say things like ‘People always buy houses’,” Fowler explained. “I think it’s necessary to be in times like this or else you don’t know when times are good and you don’t know how to plan for when we go through the next business cycle.”

Headspace into perspective

The Physical Impact

Stewart claims that stress will only overtake the body and result in physical symptoms if a person thinks it will. Basically, she says that she’s seen clients almost manifest stress having an impact on their moods and physical well-being. But research shows that stress plays a role in various diseases, such as those to do with the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and immune systems. A study from the National Library of Medicine found that “the harmful effects of stress may receive more attention or recognition by an individual due to their role in various pathological conditions and diseases. … for example, hormones, neuroendocrine mediators, peptides, and neurotransmitters are involved in the body’s response to stress.”

For Jay Houck, this was the case. Houck’s been in the financial services industry since 2004, first as a Realtor and then as an LO. And he also serves as a pastor. He says that over the last two years, financial stress — for both him and his livelihood and for his clients — has taken a toll. “I started having grand mal seizures because I felt like I had no balance in my life,” he explained.

Jay Houck, Senior Loan Officer, Arbor Financial Group

Houck says that a big move from San Bernardino, Calif., to Chapel Hill, Tenn., was another stressor that became exacerbated by rising interest rates and the market dropping. “I hadn’t mentally, emotionally, or spiritually prepared for that to happen,” he said. “I felt trapped. I always laugh because there’s so much freedom [as an LO] but there’s really not. Like you have the ability to work from home but you don’t have the freedom to not answer that Friday 8 p.m. phone call.”

Houck reached his breaking point when he realized that even though he felt chained to the phone, he wasn’t being productive at work. He decided to hire a life coach about six months ago. “He’s been a saint for me bringing balance back to my life and setting boundaries,” he said. “Now, I have a calendar with certain spots allotted for going out to meet with Realtors, going to open houses, times to work on loans and new customers, and time to be with my family.”

Glass half full

The Glass Half-Full

The expectations of always being available have caused some LOs to have control issues and difficulty fully disconnecting. For Crown Home Mortgage Branch Manager Paula Huhn, gone are the days of having a free weekend or a sick day. “You are on call seven days a week if you want to stand out and show that you cater to your clients and have great services. You don’t get paid either if you don’t get that deal,” she said. “Nowadays there’s the expectation of ‘Oh, of course you can work from home!’ I had COVID twice and logged on to all of my meetings … because I felt like I had to.”

Huhn says that the mortgage industry as a whole has glorified the overworking hustle culture. “Every day I see people bragging about working overtime into the evening on Facebook. And if you’re in sales it’s likely that you have a Type A personality, so more than likely you’re comparing yourself to the person who is doing more and feeling guilty and worried about your relationships,” she explained. “There’s definitely imposter syndrome. There’s the pressure of knowing that you are dealing with someone’s home and knowing that the realtor you’re working with has the potential to send you more deals. There’s a listing agent who also has expectations for you.”

Paula Huhn, Mortgage Branch Manager, Crown Home

Huhn recalled that there have been moments when she’s curled into a ball and cried in her bed about a difficult loan. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m even doing this,” she admitted. “We’re not brain surgeons or curing cancer but it’s still important to somebody. It’s a roof over their heads or their entire life savings and they’re trying to get themselves in a better situation. It’s a lot of pressure, and as a LO you get dished a lot of blame.”

Because of the pressure to compete and essentially “have it all” to be a successful LO, Huhn doesn’t believe in a true work-life balance. She tries to blend her work and home lives together in an attempt to assuage her mental health. “You can’t balance work and life, but you can harmonize it with time management. I even hired a business coach to learn those skills,” she said. “I’ve also learned that it’s important to create a hard end to your day to transform from work mode to home mode.”

So how does she do it? Huhn says that video gaming, reading, and incorporating small moments of self-care throughout the workday are what help. But it’s not what really keeps her going. “I stay in this industry because it’s what I know and for all that is bad, the good outweighs it,” she said. “Seeing a buyer at the closing table … it’s a rush. Meeting wonderful agents adds a social aspect that fills my cup. I get a rush from figuring out if I can get a loan to work. And I love teaching new LOs the ropes. These aspects are uplifting and fulfill me.”

Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak,
Staff Writer
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine November 2023 issue.
Published on
Nov 02, 2023
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