Originally published by AM Best in October 2016
Recently, I attended a conference that included a session called “How to Engage Millennials.” At the end of the session, the presenter asked for questions. An audience member asked “We are always talking about what Millennials want. Have they taken the time to learn what we want from them?” Questions that followed this were in a similar vein. We all know that Millennials expect different things from their employers, and the conversation seems to be growing stale for some. However, in the insurance industry, the need to attract and retain Millennials has never been clearer. We know that nearly 50% of the insurance industry’s workforce will be retiring in 15 years. We also know that Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, but they are not choosing to work in insurance. These numbers will lead to a talent gap if we fail to recruit, educate, and retain Millennial employees.
Knowing all of this, we need to move past explaining what Millennials want and how they are different. We need to address the challenges we have in attracting and retaining this generation. Let’s start by recognizing and getting over these four hurdles:
1. The Speed of Technological Change and Lagging Adoption in the Industry
It goes without saying that in our everyday lives, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the capability of household technology. Many schools and workplaces have seen similar improvements in the span of 15-20 years. Insurance companies are still generally far behind the curve. For a generation that has grown up with Macs, iPhones, and Androids, it is a shock to use DOS based systems which are common in the industry. When younger employees complain about the lack of user friendliness to our veteran coworkers, we often hear stories about doing everything on paper or sharing computers. It is such a foreign concept, and even though we recognize the expense and amount of effort that would be spent to move everything to an up to date computer system, we wonder why invest our time in an industry that hasn’t invested in itself? (Of course, there are a myriad of reasons to build a career in our industry, but that message gets hidden frequently.)
2. The Specialization of Entry Level Roles
Particularly at larger carriers, over the last couple decades, entry level roles have become more and more specialized. Where a recent college graduate may have been able to obtain a Field Adjuster or District Sales Manager role, one is now hired as a Med Pay Adjuster, a Customer Service Representative who is only authorized to discuss billing issues up to a certain level, or even as a Processor, which may be a simple data entry role. In these types of roles, it is often hard to understand the contribution one is making to the company’s purpose, which is more important to Millennials than to prior generations. And, since these roles are non-exempt or hourly and covering shifts outside of standard business hours, participating in the development opportunities that many companies offer during the day can be challenging. This situation leads to a challenge in retaining Millennials who may not feel a direct connection to the company’s purpose and who often do not see a clear path to developing their career.
3. The Amount and Cost of Education
Millennials are the most educated generation ever. In addition, they have obtained this education at a very high cost compared with prior generations, which includes taking on the highest levels of student debt that our country has ever seen. With that being said, Millennials have spent many years in academic environments and are used to a structure that is substantially different from the structures they find upon taking an entry level position that are specialized to the level discussed above. There is a separate discussion to be had about how best to prepare them and whether our education system is setting them up for success in the business world, but the reality is that the differing expectations between managers and new employees creates a challenge in attracting and retaining this generation.
4. Millennials’ Need for Flexibility
Finally, Millennials get married later, have children later, and buy homes later than previous generations. Much of this has been attributed to the increased student debt mentioned above. However, it means that Millennials have more flexibility early in their careers. They can “try on” a couple different industries, create a start-up, or search for the perfect culture fit at a company. This difference in life experience compared to previous generations can lead to tension in the workplace. However, if your company can adapt to this change, it could lead to attracting and retaining employees who truly believe in your specific mission and are fully engaged in achieving it with you.
As an older Millennial who has been in the insurance industry for the last ten years, I have witnessed these four hurdles looming higher over the industry as time passes. I’ve also witnessed companies that are starting to take notice, and I am confident that the industry will adapt to the needs of the future. As we make decisions about what changes we must make, we must continue to talk about attracting, educating, and retaining Millennials.