Increase employee engagement by rethinking your approach to onboarding and the long-term experience.
It's been a little over a year since many organizations briskly transitioned from their traditional brick-and-mortar offices to primarily virtual environments. Insurance professionals have adapted to remotely servicing their customers, connecting with colleagues over computer screens and juggling the many other challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As business moves forward, organizations are rethinking their recruitment and retention strategies, including how they onboard and continually engage employees.
While the overall economy is still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, insurance remains competitive. In March 2021, the industry's unemployment rate was 2.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to the overall U.S. unemployment rate of 6%. Since the pandemic began last March, the insurance carriers and related activities sector has added nearly 32,000 new positions and it's likely this growth will continue throughout 2021. More than half of insurance carriers plan to increase staff in the next 12 months, according to The Jacobson Group and Aon plc's 2021 Q1 Insurance Labor Outlook Study.
Additionally, many geographic constraints have been lifted for hiring, as insurers become more comfortable with full-time remote work. The labor outlook study found 95% of insurers have shifted their expectations around employee schedules and hours when offices reopen. As many as 56% plan to offer full-time remote work, and 77% will offer the option to occasionally work from home.
With an abundance of opportunities available for top talent, employers must ensure their employees feel engaged and fulfilled in their roles to decrease the risk of losing them to a competitor.
Cultivating a meaningful employee-employer dynamic in the virtual environment requires a strategic approach. From new hires to tenured professionals, it's important to energize individuals at all stages of their relationship with your organization to maximize their long-term impact.
Be Strategic About Onboarding
Building a solid foundation early on is critical to an employee's long-term success in a role. Even if your in-person onboarding strategy was effective pre-pandemic, those tactics should be revisited and evolved to ensure they translate to the remote workplace. In the first few weeks after a new hire's start date, focus on providing the tools, resources and training to help them thrive with these five components:
1) Create individualized onboarding plans. Develop a tailored onboarding schedule that accounts for the employee's learning style, experience level, and current understanding of the company, industry and role. Provide this schedule on their first day and walk them through a roadmap of when and how training and informational sessions will take place, what they can expect, and the goals of each meeting.
2) Give a warm welcome. How do you typically welcome new individuals to your team? It's likely you used to take them out to lunch on their first day, provide a tour of the office and make key in-person introductions. Think about how you can recreate those experiences virtually.
Even small gestures can help individuals begin to feel like part of the team. Schedule a welcome lunch over Zoom to help put faces with names. Facilitate 15-minute virtual coffee breaks with colleagues they'll be working with regularly. Encourage members of your team to reach out and say hello—even if it's through an instant message. If your budget allows, you may even consider sending a small care package with a welcome note and branded office supplies or other items. Prioritize making your new hires feel included and valued from day one.
3) Provide the right technology. It's also important to introduce new employees to your IT team early on. Deliver physical items, such as computers, phones and headsets before their first day of work to alleviate unnecessary stress and delays. Ensure someone is available to assist with any tech issues and initial questions as employees get up and running.
If your team uses specific tools for project management, time tracking, video conferencing or other needs, confirm new hires not only understand how to access these platforms but that they're also aware of any team- or company-specific processes.
4) Highlight company culture. In addition to personal introductions, consider how you can help new employees become an active part of your culture and embrace corporate values.
Point out how these values are demonstrated throughout the organization, both when working onsite and remotely. What are your office traditions, and how have they evolved in the remote environment? How do you show your commitment to employee growth and development?
Offer assistance as individuals navigate office dynamics and levels of professionalism from their home offices. Is there an all-company Skype, Slack or Teams chat? What is appropriate to share? Are there virtual meetups or lunch groups where they can engage with other employees?
5) Connect frequently. Starting a new role can be daunting, especially in the virtual environment. During an individual's first few weeks, check in at least daily to see how they are doing. Ask if they have questions, if there are additional introductions you can help facilitate, and how they feel about their current workload and responsibilities.
As they become more comfortable in the role, set up regular one-on-one meetings, providing dedicated space to discuss projects and challenges and to connect on a more personal level.
Keep Employees Engaged
While a comprehensive and strategic onboarding process is essential, the need to proactively engage employees doesn't end after a few weeks or months. It's an ongoing and evolving process. There are many benefits to an engaged workforce, including higher productivity, increased profitability and reduced turnover.
Employee engagement rates fluctuated more in 2020 than any other year in the past two decades, according to Gallup. The uncertainty of the past year also caused many individuals to remain in their current roles even if they were unhappy or had been considering making a switch.
As individuals feel a greater sense of economic stability, it's more likely those who are feeling unfulfilled will seek out other opportunities. By reevaluating your long-term approach to employee engagement, you can create an environment that empowers and energizes employees while contributing to your organization's overall success.
Here are five ways to keep your employees happy and engaged:
1) Listen to individual needs. The past year has brought on unique personal and professional challenges that all individuals are experiencing differently. Take the time to ask employees how you can best support them, recognizing they may be navigating mental and physical health, childcare, financial concerns and more.
By opening this dialogue, you can meet individuals where they are on their journeys toward becoming more effective and equipped employees.
Would flexible hours enable them to best meet the needs of their family, while giving them the time and space to focus on work? Are there any obstacles you can remove? For instance, if multiple individuals within their household are working and learning from home, determine whether a faster internet connection would make them more productive. Or, if they need multiple tabs open to perform tasks, perhaps a second computer screen would increase their efficiency.
Take the time to understand the challenges your employees are going through and think of creative solutions for recurring pain points. These and similar small gestures can have a major impact on an employee's ability to do their best work.
2) Recreate in-office interactions. Just like making introductions for new employees, you must also be intentional about maintaining and growing remote relationships. In a physical office space, individuals have impromptu conversations in the breakroom, catch up in the hallways, or even walk together to pick up coffee or lunch. These informal interactions are important for strengthening working relationships and creating trust among teammates.
How can you recreate these virtually? This could mean facilitating interdepartmental networking or creating formalized programs to unite individuals who may not otherwise cross paths. You may choose to hold office hours on Zoom, inviting individuals to dial in to seek opinions on projects or brainstorm ideas. For some leaders, instant messaging and video conferencing has made them more available to their employees than they ever were behind closed office doors.
Lean into this accessibility and invite opportunities for impromptu conversations when time allows.
3) Commit to frequent communication. Establish frequent and transparent methods of communication to create a sense of connectivity among employees and alleviate feelings of uncertainty. This also helps individuals stay focused on department and organizational goals, as well as how their responsibilities directly contribute. In addition to one-on-one meetings, hold regular team huddles and companywide meetings to provide an open forum for answering questions and providing clarity on various topics and changes.
Encourage individuals to discuss their personal goals and share best practices or lessons learned. You can also use this time to celebrate accomplishments and wins.
4) Reevaluate your tools. Take a fresh look at the applications your team uses for communication, project management, customer relationship management and more. Are these tools still meeting your team's needs? What other options or more streamlined technology might be worth exploring?
Consider employees at all points of the technology spectrum. Some professionals may be most comfortable with email and phone calls, while more tech-savvy individuals may prefer apps for collaboration and team discussions. Involve a diverse group of employees in these conversations and solicit their opinions around how you can best accommodate day-to-day technology needs.
5) Enhance recognition and incentives. Rethink your approach to employee recognition and incentive programs, as well as how they can be improved for the remote environment. Seek feedback from employees. What do they think is working well? What do they think is not? Do they have ideas for more effective incentives? Are there companywide projects that could be made into contests? Engaging in friendly competition is a great way to bring employees together and help connect those who might feel isolated.
Outside of business-specific initiatives, consider creating challenges around wellness or other shared interests to boost morale. Enhanced recognition programs can help create much-needed positive energy in the virtual environment. In fact, 82% of employees are happier when they are recognized at work, according to SurveyMonkey.
Whether you are onboarding a new employee or seeking to energize your current staff, be intentional and strategic. The programs and tactics that worked at the beginning of 2020 may not be effective anymore. And those you implemented in the pandemic's early stages may not be getting the job done either.
By reevaluating your approach to onboarding, prioritizing open lines of communication and continually seeking feedback, you can create a virtual work environment that retains and energizes employees throughout all career stages.
Brett Carter is a managing director for the executive search practice of The Jacobson Group, the leading global provider of talent to the insurance industry.