I am writing this article from my house in Park City, Utah, overlooking Deer Valley Mountain. Today is a regular work day, but I am more than 1,000 miles away from our headquarters and working from home, just as I allow most of my employees to do every week.
Some may think I am not getting much work done, but it’s the opposite. I am in a comfortable environment where I can do whatever is needed to increase my productivity without distracting others. Truth is, I am actually getting more done than I would have in the office.
Organizations commonly associate employees’ physical presence at the office with optimal performance. They believe employees communicate better through face-to-face discussions and that creativity flourishes from in-person interactions. After all, before the technology existed to work remotely, tenured leaders literally saw the teamwork and resulting inspiration that led to new products and initiatives. How would a telecommuting culture be able to replicate that?
Times have changed, however. Conference applications and integrated telecommunications devices now allow professionals to communicate freely regardless of location, and faster Internet connections and cloud-sharing platforms enable employees to collaborate and work remotely. Many leading industries already have eliminated geographical boundaries from their business operations and human resources management. In fact, according to a 2016 Gallup survey, 43 percent of employed Americans are spending at least some time working remotely.
Yet, too many insurers continue to perpetuate the past, seeing physical presence as a cornerstone of their corporate culture. This requirement often complicates recruiting strategies and narrows the talent pool even further by eliminating candidates who do not wish to relocate. While some insurers recognize the power of this trend and have started to adopt flexible work arrangements and remove time and space constraints, it is not yet accepted industrywide.
Continuously challenged by its aging workforce and lack of emerging talent, insurance organizations should leverage remote work as an opportunity to access the most talented individuals. It opens doors to candidates, such as working parents or caregivers, allowing them to join the workforce while maintaining their family commitments. A more expansive pool of candidates is needed now more than ever amidst the industry’s competitive recruiting environment.
It is important to remember that one size does not fit all; not every employee wants the same thing. Companies may alienate employees by assuming that everyone wants to work remotely. The rise and popularity of work-from-home opportunities is just one small illustration that sheds light on the increasingly important role corporate culture plays in today’s ever-changing talent reality.
Organizations often focus on the most visible cultural elements from their competitors and try to emulate them. However, culture is embodied in every detail of an organization. Observable success invariably stems from the accumulated internal practices and strategies that an organization executes.
Insurers should focus on creating a culture that supports their missions and values. An organization’s culture guides its individual employees’ behaviors and thoughts and implicitly conveys how they perceive, think and feel in the workplace. It also shows newcomers how to adjust, work and thrive in their new companies. It ultimately articulates who the organization is, how employees interact with one another and how to self-motivate.
To be clear, the concept of culture is not new. Organizations have long been aware of its existence but did not recognize the power of having the right culture or the cost of having a poor one.
The industry continues to be challenged with impending mass retirements and a shallowing talent pool. Virtually nonexistent unemployment and a lack of interest in insurance as a career path are aggravating the crisis and widening the midlevel talent gap. Employers can no longer expect to quickly fill open positions with qualified candidates submitting job applications; it has long been a candidate’s market.
Additionally, retention has become much more difficult as employee loyalty fades. As professionals become more and more open to entertaining new opportunities that further their careers, insurers must take a strategic approach to retention. Simply providing competitive salaries or offering more benefits is no longer enough. Purposeful culture provides a timely opportunity for insurers to differentiate themselves and successfully recruit and retain the right talent.
Before making any adjustments that may shift culture, insurers must recognize their place in the market and revisit their organizational missions. While the ultimate goal may be grand in scope, defining specific focus areas can guide insurers toward the type of culture needed to succeed. With the right focus, employees will better understand their responsibilities and leaders can more effectively manage and motivate to lift companywide objectives.
Merely stating what culture is does not make it so. Organizations must weave it into their corporate DNA, intentionally building support for the identified culture through values, services and policies and reinforcing it in practical applications.
Well-articulated, publicly acknowledged ideologies can guide an organization’s approach toward employees, customers and stakeholders within the boundaries of the company’s mission. For example, virtual open-door policies can stimulate ideas to be shared freely and without retribution, ultimately improving organizational strength and innovation. Mobile polling software allows remote and local employees to ask questions anonymously during company meetings, and weekly video messages from CEOs ensure work-at-home employees are just as engaged in enterprise communications. These guiding principles can motivate the workforce toward the collective goal and ignite significant changes in employees’ perceptions.
Insurers should also focus their efforts toward more observable cultural changes. Organizations must look beyond tradition, researching the features that can best satisfy current employees, improve employer brand and ultimately drive success. Transparent collaborative communication with staff is likely to ease the process. Insurers should be aware of their employees’ perspectives and identify areas for viable improvement.
Improving company culture does not need to be synonymous with increased monetary investments. There are many creative initiatives and programs that can ignite positive cultural changes without adding to company costs. The Jacobson Group, for example, occasionally holds yoga or plank breaks as an impromptu stress reliever and hosts charity lunch hours to make lunches or pack school supplies for those in need. We also allow employees to play background music in the office and organize board game and food drive competitions as fun teambuilding activities.
Establishing cultural guidelines and corresponding benefits is far from the end. Insurers should continue to adjust their current offerings to reflect the changing workforce demands. Weekly ratings and regular employee surveys are often great tools to gauge if organizational efforts are yielding formidable success. Higher retention rates and continued recruiting success are also clear indicators of whether or not an organization is moving its culture in the right direction.
As the war for talent deepens, culture is more important than ever. Culture defines who your company is and what you do. Insurers looking to thrive in today’s talent marketplace should avoid a laser-focused approach to one-off benefits and evaluate culture on a broader spectrum. Corporate culture is a byproduct of strategic investment that will position organizations to succeed in the future of work.