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How Workplace Leaders Can Navigate Top Challenges

The "How Tos" of Human resources

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The pace, amount and impact of change in the workplace over the past three years has been dizzying. Industry leaders have been confronted with a pandemic, the Great Resignation, remote working trends, societal and political unrest, a hard market, low unemployment rates and additional government regulations—not to mention the challenges of organic growth, account servicing and a frenzied mergers & acquisitions environment that was well underway prior to the pandemic.

These factors, separately and combined, require a level of leadership and focus that can be challenging for even the most seasoned leaders. Navigating these changes successfully will require poise, insight and a keen understanding and interpretation of the seismic shifts occurring within and outside the insurance industry.

Among the broader factors above lie some of the top issues facing leaders today, including management of talent, the changing workplace and disruption caused by social and political issues. Leaders throughout the industry are taking varied approaches to address these issues, lead a changed workplace and find success.

Talent Acquisition

Not typically considered an exciting or diverse industry, insurance has historically struggled to attract the best and the brightest. Often competing for the same talent as technology companies, financial institutions and other industries perceived as more attractive to new or returning individuals in the workforce, insurance organizations have had to pivot their strategies to win the talent recruitment war.

More than three-quarters (77%) of executives said hiring and retaining talent is one of their most critical growth drivers in 2022, according to PwC's January “Pulse Survey of 2022". In addition, 60% of respondents indicated hiring and retaining talent was high on their list of investments.

Organizational leaders must be able to tap into what attracts and engages employees for the long haul. “Employees want to feel a powerful sense of agency—being able to influence outcomes that matter to them—allied with a strong sense of identity and belonging," according to a McKinsey & Company article. In addition, McKinsey outlines the importance of providing employees a positive social, work and organization experience, which will in turn impact business performance.

Work from Anywhere, Employee Wellbeing and Culture

With remote work, hybrid work and in-office options, efficient and positive work is getting done—it just looks a little different than we're used to. Leaders have become flexible in how they think about the workplace, providing more and more employees with a flexible work environment.

Sixty-six percent of leaders say their company is considering redesigning office space for hybrid work, according to “The Work Trend Index" survey, conducted by Edelman Data for Microsoft. But while the majority of employees report wanting flexible work options, they also crave connection, and so do their leaders.

In a work from anywhere environment, leaders must explore how to maintain culture and stay connected to their workforce.

Good leaders must make the invisible visible, says Jonathan Pearce, U.S. leader for Deloitte. Invisible elements of culture, such as collaboration networks, home office setups, flex time and virtual workouts, demonstrate to employees that leaders can “walk the talk." Verbalizing support for employees is very different than demonstrating support in a variety of ways that can be seen and felt.

Leaders who take actions to demonstrate the culture of the organization, rather than talking about it, build trust and reciprocity.

Also, an ongoing challenge that leaders must continue to address is the state of employee wellbeing. While the stigma around mental health is slowly eroding, the increased prevalence of mental health issues is taking its toll on both employees and leaders.

Seventy-six percent of respondents “reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year (2020), up from 59% in 2019," according to a study conducted by Kelly Greenwood, founder of Mind Share Partners, and Julia Anas, chief people officer at Qualtrics, published in Harvard Business Review. In a 2021 study conducted by Greenwood and Anas, “C-level and executive respondents were now actually more likely than others to report a least one mental health symptom," they found.

Leaders have a responsibility and a vested interest in finding ways to support employee wellbeing and provide resources to help address mental health issues that can and do impact performance.

Societal and Political Unrest

From the social causes, partisan politics and, most recently, the overturn of Roe v. Wade, it's nearly impossible for politics and social issues to be left at the proverbial doorstep. What were once taboo conversations at work—sex, religion and politics—are now becoming more common on LinkedIn, at the watercooler and in the C-suite, which means human resource departments and other leaders must address them head-on.

In 2020, “44% of HR professionals reported intensified political volatility at work," according to a survey by SHRM. “Eighty percent of HR professionals say their organizations have not set guidelines on communicating about politics at work—and that's a problem," said SHRM president and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

These issues impact leaders in all industries as they look to navigate supporting their workforce while also addressing legal and hot-button political issues. Being vocal about societal and political issues can lead to potential reputational risk or benefit depending on the views of employees and clients. With so much at stake, leadership today requires a long-view approach, resolve and a willingness to demonstrate core organizational values.

About the author

Susan Toussaint is vice president, growth solutions with ReSource Pro. For more than a decade, Susan has been training, coaching and developing programs to help insurance professionals overcome barriers to organic growth.