OVERCOMING THE GENERATIONAL DIVIDE
How to attract and successfully manage Gen Z talent
By Mike Becker
“I believe the children are our future.” These words from Whitney Houston’s song “Greatest Love of All” ring true for many businesses, including independent agencies. Agency owners understand that they need the next generation of talent to grow and thrive.
Consider this: One-half of the current insurance workforce is set to retire in the next 15 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But finding and hiring Gen Z talent is just the first step. Making sure they are successful and want to stay is critical. It takes considerable resources to recruit, hire and train new employees, so ensuring that they stay matters.
That’s where there can be disconnects. The owners’ views about what makes a good work environment don’t always correlate with Gen Z staff expectations. In fact, Deloitte Digital recently reported that just 61% of Gen Zers said that work was a significant part of their identity; 86% of bosses said the same.
Despite having different points of view, there are ways to hire and motivate the next generation. Here are three ways agency owners can be successful.
Get Gen Z interested in insurance
Insurance doesn’t have the flashy brand recognition of Google or Nike. It can take a little more selling to get talent interested.
Owners should take advantage of one of the industry’s best selling points: stability. Everyone needs insurance, and insurance fulfills a critical need. Many college careers and first jobs were disrupted by the pandemic. Some were laid off; others had trouble finding work. There’s something to be said about an industry with steady employment.
Hanna Moody, operations coordinator at Centennial Insurance Agency, graduated from college the year the pandemic hit. She says, “I wanted dependability in my career. If I did real estate, for example, there are good and bad times. But insurance stays pretty level. And people told me that this was an industry that was not going away.”
Owners can also broaden the talent pool beyond people with insurance and sales backgrounds. Insurance basics can be taught. But qualities like willingness to learn, drive to achieve, and ability to form relationships can’t be trained. Considering people from a variety of backgrounds gives agency owners a wider selection of Gen Z candidates.
Make sure your agency has a good online presence, with a website that’s easy to navigate and current. Maintain a regular presence on social media sites. Red Gorman, owner of Red Gorman Insurance, says, “We try to present ourselves the best way possible through our website, social media, and Google reviews. We know that young people are looking for jobs online and if they see a listing they might want to apply to, they are headed to the website, to the Facebook page, to the reviews to find out more about the business.”
Get Gen Z to stay
Recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training take considerable time and resources. Having a new employee leave after a few months is a huge waste of those resources. And Gen Zers won’t hesitate to switch jobs if they aren’t happy in their current work.
But the same tactics that owners have used in the past might not work. Gen Zers don’t always interact or communicate in the same ways. By making adjustments, owners can help Gen Z employees thrive and be happy in their work.
- Reward hard work with flexibility. “Gen Z doesn’t want to work hard,” is a common misconception. But it’s not true. Gen Z often has a “work hard, play hard” approach. When they are working, they will put in 100% effort. They want to succeed. But they also value personal time. They want flexibility so that they can still participate in things outside of work. It’s best not to micro-manage, and allow staff who have proven themselves to occasionally adjust their schedules.
Luke Gordon, an insurance agent with Ott Insurance, is one of the youngest agents at the agency. He says, “I always liked the idea that, if I work hard, I can be successful. That’s what insurance gives me, especially in my position where I work off commission. At my agency, I like that hard work is recognized and rewarded. If I want to take a vacation or leave early one day to play golf, they don’t second guess me because they know I am caught up and my work is where it needs to be.”
- Define your agency culture. “What’s your culture like?” is a common question during the inter-view process. Even if you haven’t specifically defined your agency culture, you probably have one. What are your values? What do you prioritize (customer service, education, new sales)? What is your work environment like? Does the team celebrate wins together? Do you do anything to foster team building?
At Red Gorman Insurance, each year, Gorman and his employees create vision boards. “We put on them life goals, personal goals, and work goals. We then stick pins in them—yellow pins to show that it is in process and green pins to show that it has been achieved. These boards are displayed in our conference room and every few months we will regroup and talk about each other’s progress,” Gorman says.
- Provide training for more traditional interactions. Insurance is a relationship business. Traditional interactions like phone calls and in-person meetings are integral to the day-to-day work. But Gen Zers may not be used to these forms of communication. Remember they have never known a world without the internet. Most grew up with cell phones and social media. A large number of their interactions take place in the digital world.
Mary Katherine Henderson, director of marketing at Crosse Point Insurance Advisors, says, “Younger generations are used to doing things virtually or online. They don’t interact in-person very well. They need guidance on phone etiquette and in-person etiquette.”
Make phone-call and in-person meeting best practices part of your onboarding training. Consider doing role playing to get them comfortable. Also, make sure to stress how valuable the phone can be, as they might be more inclined to do most things via email. For example, if an employee has a question for a customer or carrier, they might be waiting hours to get a response by email, but could get the answer immediately via the phone.
- Mentor continuously. One of the best ways for the next generation to grow is to learn from others with more experience. Moody says: “I wanted a place where I would have the opportunity to grow and to move up. And I wanted someone to invest in me and teach me what I need to know to be successful in this industry.”
By offering flexibility and an opportunity
to learn and grow, owners can create a
workplace where up-and-coming talent see great value.
According to Gordon, “I think agency owners would benefit from teaching young employees the ropes and share what they did to become successful in business. I feel like a lot of agents come in—especially if it’s their first job—and don’t know where to start. It can be tough to figure out exactly how to start building a book of business.”
Some things can be accomplished with simple steps. For example, position a new hire next to a tenured employee so it’s easy for them to ask questions. Offer lunches with Gen Z team members, allowing them to ask questions and pick your brain about your career. Encourage them to participate in educational opportunities or join associations where they can connect and network with other leaders in the industry.
Address the elephant in the room
Remote work can be a divisive topic in all industries. Many employees say they want to work from home. And companies aren’t sure if fully remote is the best approach. In insurance, the remote debate can be a difficult one. Employees, especially those starting out, need to learn from colleagues with more experience, which is hard if the team is spread out. But requiring team members to be in the office full time can cause job seekers to pass over your job posts.
Henderson thinks a hybrid approach is best. “I think we need to let go of the “8 to 5” mentality. With the smartphone, we are no longer an 8 to 5 business. We are serving customers when they need us. A hybrid schedule could offer a win-win for employees and owners. Owners can have the team in three days a week, not only doing their work, but also collaborating and learning from each other. And then employees get two days of remote work, giving them more flexibility in their schedules.”
When discussing your agency’s work policy, be transparent. If you want team members in the office, provide concrete reasons for them to be there. If you explain the importance of training and how it’s easier to do in person rather than remote, it will be easier for employees to get onboard.
Agencies need to hire young talent so they can continue to grow. But Gen Zers want different things than insurance veterans, and owners need to be willing to make adjustments to get them interested. By offering flexibility and an opportunity to learn and grow, owners can create a workplace where up-and-coming talent see great value.
Mike Becker is CEO of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), one of the largest national trade organizations serving independent agents. As a forward-thinking insurance leader who embraces technology, he has more than 15 years of insurance industry experience. He leads PIA’s strategic initiatives, advocacy efforts, and insurance carrier relations as well as oversees all growth initiatives and program launches.