Industry experts have for years been warning of an eminent employee-shortage as baby boomers retire en masse. Loss of highly experienced workers, coupled with the fact most new graduates rarely consider an insurance career, means many companies are losing more workers than they can replace. Insurance Business Magazine refers to the problem a “talent crisis.”
At any rate, insurers must pull no punches when it comes to employee retention and recruitment. To that aim, one of the most useful tools in the arsenal is flexible work arrangements.
Flexible work arrangements give employees more control over when and where they work. Also, recent studies show such models are highly sought. According to a 2018 survey by Mercer Global, a professional services and consulting company, 51% of employees want more flexibility in their work life.
The most common flexible work arrangements are flextime and telecommuting, but there are endless possibilities. A flexible working arrangement may be defined as including:
The promise of flex work to aid in recruitment and retention should be of high interest to the insurance industry. In a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, human resource professionals cited flexible working arrangements such as telecommuting and variable schedules as their most effective recruiting tool. Other notable benefits of flex work include:
Improved attendance. Employees who have flexibility may work from home when suffering a minor illness, as opposed to calling in sick entirely. Also, employees with school-age children with a flexible schedule are less likely to miss work due to a family scheduling conflict.
Decreased operational costs. Telecommuting staff means reduced need for office space and expenditures. Telecommuting can be particularly beneficial for companies that operate heavy call center-type operations. Permitting some call center workers to telecommute can reduce overhead.
Imparts trust. One of the most exciting benefits of a flexible work arrangement is that it supports a culture of trust. Allowing your employees to schedule their work hours and location of their work sends the message that you trust them and believe they are responsible and capable. This kind of trust and partnership inspires loyalty and boosts morale.
Flexible work arrangements can help the insurance industry attract employees, keep the ones they have, and even streamline operational costs, but the practice is not without challenges.
At its heart, an effective workplace flex plan requires a profound paradigm shift. Effective flex work challenges the traditional office culture wherein “output equals the number of hours spent at the office.” Flex work is about focusing on maximal productivity, not necessarily clocking 80-hour work weeks. An open and honest dialogue about flex work must occur at all levels of an organization.
Adding to the complication is the fact that some companies are highly invested in the workplace. Executives and leadership may have spent ample time and resources on creating a campus-like office culture with onsite perks such as stocked break-rooms, meditation rooms, on-site health care, and banking. A nearly empty office on a flex day may make those who need to work in-office feel isolated or abandoned. Again, honest dialogue and commitment to the model are paramount.
A flex program will likely develop over time. Implement changes gradually and appoint an oversight committee to review flex positions, performances, and policies. Implementing flex opportunities slowly is better than jumping in and having to peel back programs that don’t work. Prudence is best.
Team building and promoting an office culture may seem difficult in an environment with flexible work arrangements, but with modern communication tools, it need not be a problem. Offsite employees can have instant access to team members through instant messaging systems, and video conference systems facilitate face-to-face meetings.
Flex work requires management teams to construct new accountability and monitoring methods. Performance-based metrics, plus frequent communication create accountability for flex workers.
The most important factor when creating accountability and monitoring protocols is a commitment to fairness between flex workers and traditional on-site employees. Neither can be made to feel they are exposed to greater scrutiny or differential treatment.
The sky is the limit when it comes to flexible work arrangements. Insurance companies are limited only by their imagination and innovation. For example, a "snowbird" program allows workers located in the northern parts of the country to migrate south during the harsh winter months. This type of program works best with large national companies with regional locations.
Similarly, job sharing is a useful flexible work model. Job sharing allows two part-time employees to share one full-time position. The team becomes equally responsible for performing the job.
Shared positions are often appealing to semi-retired workers, who still want to participate in the workforce. Job sharing is also ideal for some college students and parents, who may not have the time to commit to a full-time position.
Flexible working arrangements may be the answer to closing the talent gap. With a little creativity and some hard work, insurers should be able to recruit and retain the right employees. Although new policies and paradigms require time, innovation, and strong leadership, the result — an effective, ample workforce — will be worth the effort.
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