90,000 hours – That’s how much time the average employee will spend with co-workers, more than with spouses, children and friends. But do employees feel supported and encouraged to do their best work?
When it comes to claims managers and operations professionals, the question isn’t rhetorical. Within the next few years, an estimated 400,000 employees are expected to retire from the general insurance industry workforce in the United States alone according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many will come from claims departments, and industry watchers worry about the lack of equivalently experienced replacements.
With staffing shortfalls looming, the battle for top talent has only just begun, and workplace culture seems likely to determine the winners. A new survey by SALT Associates and RGA Group Research seeks to explore how culture influences disability and life insurance claims operations in the United States and Canada. Researchers analyzed findings using a system similar to Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to analyze positive or negative sentiment. A total of 88 individuals representing both managers and claims analysts from 26 carriers participated.
The survey revealed a story of extremes: positive claims workplaces earned plenty of praise and high scores, but difficult working environments garnered strong dissatisfaction.
One core and common-sense finding: Researchers found that fostering an outstanding workplace culture requires strong leadership. In well-led workplaces, the survey revealed strong satisfaction and engaged workforces; however, where visible leadership was absent, employee discontent grew.
Words with Friends
For the purposes of the survey, researchers defined workplace culture as a set of shared values, interests and objectives that connected a community of claims analysts and managers and influenced interactions both within and outside an organization.
Asked to describe their own workplace cultures, U.S. respondents, most of whom were management-level, most commonly reached for descriptors such as customer-focused, flexibility, empowerment, collaborative, and fast-paced. In contrast, Canadian respondents pointed to personality types, selecting words such as caring, compassionate, positive and collaborative. Canadian managers scored collaboration highly, whereas U.S. managers focused more on performance feedback.
Satisfaction scores echoed many positive sentiments. Managers in the U.S. and Canada indicated strong approval of their employers’ emphasis on communication, respectful performance feedback, and work-life balance. Overall, Claims Analysts agreed. Communication and collaboration earned strong positive scores across the board.
While these adjectives are encouraging, frustrations did emerge when it came to other measures of satisfaction with workplace culture. Managers and claims associates in both markets appeared to agree that the performance feedback processes and recognition efforts could be improved. Other negative influences included workload pressures, process inefficiencies and inconsistencies, and lack of training opportunities.
Perception gaps were also apparent. Recognition for achievement scored higher among U.S. claims managers than claims analysts. At the same time, managers consistently shared higher levels of negative feedback overall than analysts. Some respondents noted that efforts to ease work-life balance had been “challenging,” with workers juggling increased workloads, and shifting roles and responsibilities due to organizational change. The ability to maintain reasonable caseloads was seen as a strong indicator of a good working environment.
A different challenge appeared in Canada, where claims analysts identified a need for stronger career coaching and direction, while managers tended to be more satisfied.
Common Cause, Common Concern
Differences aside, managers and claims analysts identified both cause for concern and optimism about the future and pointed to priorities for claims organizations to retain or improve workplace culture:
- Maintaining bench strength: Associates overall appear concerned with impending retirements of experienced staff and the need to retain existing staff. The talent pool is small, and competition is high.
- Pace of technology change: Survey respondents suggest that the struggle to keep pace with claims system enhancements could weigh on morale. Yet, over time respondents also saw that automating routine or standard tasks could significantly ease workloads, enhance cost-efficiency and overall value.
- Flexible working arrangements: Carriers who do not currently enable flexible working arrangements may already be in the minority and could face greater pressure to change policies to retain employees.
- Training and development: To ensure workers remain engaged, companies may have to enhance educational resources, expand teaching models to a younger and more digital workforce, and invest more in educational and training opportunities.
This SALT/RGA survey suggests that cultivating a workplace culture that fosters individual growth and team success confers a competitive advantage. Claims staff who want to share their company pride and confidence in the value of their work create the best marketing messages.