Engaging and Developing Younger Generations

By | April 19, 2021

The insurance workforce is undergoing substantial shifts. Remote work has become the norm, automation and technological advancements have impacted most roles, and five distinct generations are working alongside one another. At one end of the spectrum, Traditionalists (born before 1945) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are retiring at rapid rates, having started their careers in a time before personal computers and the internet. At the other end, members of Generation Z (born after 1996) are accepting their first jobs, many not remembering a world without smartphones and social media.

As older generations retire, insurance organizations must focus on cultivating the next generation of leaders. Attracting young professionals to the insurance industry is key and many organizations such as the Insurance Careers Movement, Gamma Iota Sigma and Invest are making great strides in promoting the insurance industry’s extensive attributes.

However, once you’ve recruited these individuals into your organization, it’s vital to commit to their long-term growth and development. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, having a general understanding of what drives today’s young professionals will help insurance organizations build a strong and diverse internal talent pipeline and retain employees for years to come.

Flexibility

For younger employees, work is something you do; it’s not a place you go. In light of COVID-19 and the resulting virtual work environment, this sentiment rings even more true. Keep in mind that members of Generation Z are incredibly comfortable interacting online. Many started their first professional positions during the pandemic and even completed college coursework in virtual classrooms. Members of this generation prefer to work independently, meaning they see even less reason to commute into an office daily. While members of the slightly older Millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996) are accustomed to going into a physical office, they also seek flexibility in hours and location.

Some carriers were allowing employees to work from home at least once a week prior to the pandemic. In The Jacobson Group’s 2021 “Q1 Insurance Labor Outlook Study,” conducted in partnership with Aon plc, we found more than half of insurers are planning to offer full-time remote work when offices reopen. More than three-quarters of insurers will provide occasional remote work options. If your organization is planning to reinstate full-time, on-site workweeks, now’s the time to reevaluate and consider a solution that enables you to remain on par with the competition.

Management Styles

Given the environment in which each generation grew up, there are a few common tendencies among Gen Zers and Millennials. Members of Generation Z were predominantly raised by Generation X and bring that shared competitive edge to their work. They are comfortable with authority and although they seek autonomy, desire frequent and direct feedback. The majority of Millennials were raised by Baby Boomer parents and have a collaborative mentality. They prefer their managers play the roles of coaches and mentors.

Perhaps surprisingly, members of Generation Z typically prefer face-to-face conversations over written communication. Since in-person meetings are unlikely for the foreseeable future, ensure you’re leveraging video chat as frequently as possible. Millennials still value instant messaging and email; yet also appreciate the sense of connectivity garnered from a video call. As you tailor your management and communication styles to be most effective, take these generalizations into account, yet also ask your employees about their personal preferences.

Most entry- and junior-level roles have an element of routine. Consider the areas you may be able to gamify to keep employees engaged in more monotonous tasks. This could take the form of team competitions, point systems and rewards programs, or even virtual leaderboards. Help them understand how the work they are doing is impacting larger company goals. By making work fun and engaging, young professionals will be more productive and feel a sense of connectivity to their role and organization.

Career Development Opportunities

Now that Millennials have anywhere from about five to nearly 20 years of experience under their belts, they’re seeking to move forward in their careers. Older Millennials are approaching senior management ranks and ready to join Generation X in taking on the executive and leadership positions left vacant by Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. They’re driven by a sense of shared purpose, yet easily frustrated by a lack of upward mobility.

Members of Generation Z tend to think about their careers in a non-traditional and less linear way than previous generations. Rather than specializing in one area, they have interests that span several departments and skills that can be applied in a number of areas. Use this agility to your advantage. If your organization doesn’t already have a formal career development program, now is the time to create one.

As a part of this program, ensure you’re providing visibility into all opportunities within your organization, and communicating the skills, attributes and potential steps that will help someone get there. Encourage traditional mentorships, as well as peer-mentoring relationships, to help prime young professionals for eventual leadership opportunities or to assist them in developing specific skills. Both Gen Zers and Millennials seek stability and desire to grow with a company; however, if they don’t see a clear future, they won’t hesitate to keep looking.

Ongoing Support

As a whole, younger generations expect more from their employers than those before them. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a primary focus throughout the entire industry, and a critical element for Generation Z. As the most diverse of the generations, failing to represent minority groups in all levels of your organization is even more apparent to Gen Zers. Explore how your organization is prioritizing DEI, starting with the executive team. How can you ensure minority voices are represented? How can you build a diverse and equitable talent pipeline?

Financial and mental health are also areas where a lack of employer participation will be evident. Student loan assistance is becoming standard across all industries. Get out ahead of the competition by incorporating this offering within your current benefits program. Wellness programs should also be prioritized. In a 2019 study by Mind Share Partners titled “Mental Health at Work Report,” half of Millennial respondents and 75% of Generation Z respondents shared they had left roles for mental health reasons. Younger generations are more open about depression and anxiety. Help normalize these feelings and support individuals by providing resources and tools for assistance.

The insurance industry remains a candidate-driven market and what tomorrow’s leaders desire in a long-term employer is shifting. Take a fresh look at your retention strategy, talk with younger workers to better understand their unique needs, and help pave the way for ongoing success within your organization.

About Tony Cañas

Cañas is a property/casualty client advisor with The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. He is also the co-founder and chief motivational ofcer at Insurance Nerds and co-author of the book Insuring Tomorrow. Phone: 800-466-1578. Email: tcanas@jacobsononline.com More from Tony Cañas

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