By Mark Shlien, president, iPeople LLC
When it comes to insurance employment, it’s a good news/bad news scenario. The good news: the insurance industry is hiring. The bad news? Despite high unemployment in the past few years, it is still difficult to find skilled workers.
The Insurance Information Institute reports the downward trend in carrier employment growth that began in 2008 is reversing itself. Job growth was positive each month in 2012. In the agent and broker sector, growth has been constant and has continued: 9,100 jobs were added as of May. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of health and long-term care insurance agents will grow 22 percent by 2020, faster than average for all occupations, spurred by an aging population and changes to healthcare.
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In a 2012 national survey by SHRM (the Society of Human Resource Management), HR professionals ranked their top priority as retaining and rewarding the best employees (59 percent). Sixty percent also predicted that there will be more jobs with specific technical requirements and more jobs requiring a higher level of education.
The agency system is one segment of the economy which has a shortage of people qualified to fill openings. Not only is it difficult to recruit experienced insurance people, but it is also difficult to retain them.
Click through the following pages to help evaluate your approach to recruitment and retention.
1. Make your agency attractive to candidates. Today's employees are looking for more than compensation and benefits. They want to have a positive work environment where employees are rewarded for good performance and where everyone shares in being part of a successful firm. Ask yourself if your agency has a positive image in the community. Do you have a modern management approach with good communication and support of employees’ needs? Is your office comfortable and attractive with good automation support and equipment? Do you communicate your goals and reward your employees for achieving them?
2. Use effective recruiting methods. In the past, agencies relied on referrals or used newspaper ads to recruit. Today, Internet sites can be a source of resumes, but it is time consuming to review and screen them. Employee referrals can also be a source of candidates, but also require time and attention to keep employees focused on referring friends and associates.
Read related: "Employees: Your Greatest Asset and Your Greatest Challenge."
Because time is limited, most agencies prefer to use recruiters or search firms to fill positions. Search firms use their databases and contacts to find quality people, rather than merely providing resumes. They start with a job description and a profile of skills and qualities before making calls and screening the job candidates. They will also arrange interviews, facilitate communication throughout the process and assist with developing a compensation package. They will even follow up after the candidate is hired to determine how they are doing.
3. Examine how you select employees. Once a candidate is hired, he or she will need to be trained and coached. An employee who should not have been hired will cost the agency, not just in salary and benefits, but the time of other employees.
Two tools which can help managers make better hiring decisions are behavioral interviewing and pre-employment assessment tools. Behavioral interviewing presents questions about the candidate’s actual job experience. For example, to assess service skills, the interviewer might ask how the CSR handled a difficult account or how they manage their time. Creating a standard list of questions which is used by all the agency interviewers assures good interviewing and enables the interviewing team to compare notes. Pre-employment assessment tools can also avoid costly hiring mistakes. Insurance tests can identify the level of knowledge an individual has, and psychological testing can help assess sales capability and predict the individual’s ability to succeed with the agency’s sales approach.
4. Update your compensation plans. Compensation plans should be both competitive and rewarding. Periodically, the agency should review salary and benefits information to make sure salaries are competitive. It is also important to offer a pay-for-performance compensation system, which rewards employees for achieving results related to the agency’s business goals. But employees also value rewards that are not monetary. Surveys conducted by The Society of Human Resources Management indicate employees ranked interesting work, employer flexibility, feeling valued, having training and advancement opportunities as top factors influencing their decision to change jobs.
Offering perks can also be a cost-effective way to attract and retain employees. Casual dress, flexible starting times, earning time off (comp days, floating holidays or summer hours), job sharing or using part-time positions provide the agency with a powerful advantage in the job market.
5. Ensure that your communication is effective. A good method for communicating individual expectations is through the performance review process. Through periodic feedback, employees understand how they are doing and what training opportunities they should pursue to develop their skills and knowledge. Communication in general is important to modern employees. They want to know how their work fits into the big picture of the agency's vision and mission. They appreciate monthly meetings that provide updates on plans and new developments and address their questions and concerns. hey are also motivated by public and personal recognition. Finally, they respect organizations that ask for feedback on management and on the agency overall.
Attracting and retaining employees begins with a well-managed agency. Developing and promoting a positive organization and rewarding employees for their efforts are essential to performance and to a good reputation. Recruiters can help identify candidates, but agency should also have a good selection process to assure the right candidate is hired. And finally, solid compensation plans are important for attracting and retaining talent.