Workplace culture has been a hot business topic for some time, and interest shows no signs of abating. We’ve all heard about some of the “coolest” companies that tout their culture as a true differentiator. For example, tech giants Google and Facebook have been longstanding advocates for a strong company culture and as a result are leading examples of enviable places to work. Others such as billionaire investor Ray Dalio’s firm Bridgewater have embraced a very different version of culture – in his case one focused on “radical transparency” – and have seen similar success. No matter the approach, what these and other forward-thinking companies share is a passion and commitment to a strong workplace culture and its impact on their overall success.
Culture has been at the forefront for me since the early days of forming my claims management consulting firm. Over the past 16 years it’s been a top priority as we’ve grown our workforce, and aimed to attract and retain the best talent in the business. As a small business, we see the impact of a strong culture even more. What we’ve honed has helped us not just in forming our identity but also with creating a set of values that drive how we interact with our customers.
However, in working with many claim operations over the years, we’ve seen how many are still late to the party when it comes to prioritizing workplace culture. While some are scratching at the surface with remote work opportunities and agile work environments, few have fully embraced culture as an unquestionable tenet. Even beyond the impact it has on talent acquisition and retention, we think it can also serve as a driver for better risk management and customer service results.
Workplace Culture – Do We Know It When We See It?
As much as we may think we know about workplace culture, maybe we should step back and try to define it. If you Google this term as I did, you might get 10,000 or more results. While there’s no shortage of research on the topic, there are some common themes that are key to building a solid foundation.
Employees like to know that they are doing meaningful work and feel connected to their employer’s reason for being in business. Sharing a common set of values with their employer and understanding how their unique skills fit into the bigger picture are important to employees seeking meaning from their work. Identifying with a greater purpose is often tied closely to feeling successful, which is also highly motivational.
Employees often fail to meet their full potential if their contributions are not regularly appreciated. Employers who take the time to acknowledge good work see increased loyalty among their employees and even improved job performance. In fact, it’s so important that according to social scientist Dan Ariely, whose research covers the drivers of motivation, “When we are acknowledged for our work, we are willing to work harder for less pay.” The challenge for employers is finding the right way to show appreciation, especially since everyone responds differently to varying types of acknowledgement.
Beyond expanding the talent pool, companies focused on diversity see improved employee performance. With a broad range of life and work experiences reflected, decision making by a diverse group produces better results. A culture that recognizes this and commits to it can truly be more successful.
Environment is one of the most important aspects of culture. In recent years the focus has been on an open environment to improve collaboration and productivity. In fact, about 70% of U.S. companies now have some type of open floor plan. In addition, flexible schedules have also become more common, as has remote work. Companies that focus on flexibility and the environment in which we work see a more productive and engaged workforce as a result.
Personal and Technical Development
Employees embrace opportunities to contribute, learn, experiment, and to develop new skills. They want to know they have a clear path to growth within their company, which ensures a strong future. According to Gallup, only four in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree they had opportunities in the last year that allowed them to learn and grow. This clearly needs to be more of a focus for employers as they compete for talent, especially among younger generations.
Fostering a great work culture depends on open and honest communication. Communicating with employees consistently and directly leads to improved levels of trust in their employer. Companies must commit to this as a practice from the highest level throughout the entire organization for it to impact the culture.
While the above isn’t by any means comprehensive, it touches on many aspects of a strong workplace culture. When it comes to the insurance industry, and specifically claims operations, we’ve observed over the years where they are committing resources to building a strong culture, and whether it’s been paying off in terms of business results.
In fact we recently conducted an informal poll of Disability and Life insurance claims professionals to hear more about trends in their workplaces. For example, several told us that they have flexibility in their schedules and work location, and a majority reported working in an open, “collaborative” office environment. When asked whether they believe these factors impact productivity, more felt flex schedules contributed than work environment. For claim professionals this flexibility to when they work may be even more critical given the level of intensity and burnout that can happen in this field.
See also: How IoT May Revolutionize Claims
Looking at additional factors, having consistent and open communication from management was most influential to their level of satisfaction. An engaged team can only serve insurers well as it means commitment to the work and loyalty to the company.
If we revisit these themes again from the perspective of claims management, here’s what we believe are the most significant ways culture can have an impact:
For claim analysts, it can be extremely challenging to keep in mind the greater purpose – deadlines and complicated case details can easily supersede that. Are team leaders reminding them of the meaningful work they do? Does the company frequently and publicly cite examples of how customer lives are impacted by the great work that the claim team is doing?
In reality, the focus for many is on impersonal metrics built from the command and control environment. While we need hard numbers to gauge productivity, the story of what’s being achieved and why it matters is also important.
Taking time to acknowledge those claims that were particularly well handled and acknowledging the analyst’s efforts is important. Sharing this with others on the team can then serve to motivate them, causing a ripple effect. A team that sees their value is recognized is simply going to focus on delivering their personal best.
While we often think of race and gender as key aspects of a diverse workforce, what about age? Like the rest of the insurance industry, the graying of the workforce is something to address. Finding ways to attract younger workers and from more diverse backgrounds is necessary to creating a stronger claims operation in the long run. How often do you encounter a Millennial who has figured out how to do something much more efficiently? This “life hack” generation has a lot to offer us in terms of openness to learning new technologies and improving our processes. Likewise, older generations have much to offer in experience and wisdom. Baby Boomers for example are remaining in the workforce longer by delaying retirement, allowing for more opportunities to mentor and collaborate with younger counterparts.
We all have the co-worker who just can’t dial down the volume meter. Or the colleague who insists on talking to themselves for all to hear. Working in an open environment can make these issues even worse, and for those working on complex claim reviews it can be downright counterproductive. While there are benefits to a collaborative space, claim analysts can be challenged to read and analyze detailed documentation, or have sensitive phone conversations in these environments. Creating a space tailored for critical thinking and quiet is important. Even better, allowing them the flexibility to work from home or set their own hours can encourage productivity and efficiency, and greater job satisfaction overall.
Personal and Technical Development
There are many organizations that likely have a focus on technical development for their claims teams. However, rounding out this training to include softer skills like communication and empathy for example can also be just as valuable to their ongoing success. After all, what good is it to be able to follow all processes and remain compliant if they can’t effectively communicate with claimants and make key connections? Offering a well-rounded training program that encourages these additional skills can only serve to enhance job performance and satisfaction for analysts.
One of the key components of any engaged workforce is feeling connected with management. When we recently polled claims professionals about several key factors related to their productivity, the level of communication was the item most often given the highest ranking for level of influence. Being consistent and clear in communications is needed with any profession, but especially in occupations like claims where analysts are working independently, and now more often remotely.
See also: Getting Culture Right: It Starts at the Top
Workplace culture is more than just a buzz phrase – there are legitimate and quantifiable reasons a company should prioritize it. For those working in the insurance industry, there are unique challenges to fostering a winning culture – attracting younger workers, keeping up with and leveraging new technologies, and promoting a sense of purpose for their employees to name a few. For those on the front line with claims management, the more engaged and productive they can be, the better the results for not just insurers but their customers.