Change, growth and evolution-while they may be synonyms, they're also inherent to the fabric of time and the advancement of humanity. As societies change with the passing of time, so too progress the ideals and expectations of the people who comprise them.
Even in what may be viewed by many as the stodgy, risk-averse, slow-to-adapt insurance industry, progression is still happening on a daily basis. As the new technology supporting the industry continues to sprout and take root within organizations, the same is true of the budding young workers, i.e. millennials, coming into replace the now-retiring baby boomer generation. But with all the options available to these tech-savvy IT workers, what draws them to the insurance industry and where are they going once they're in it?
SCANNING THE FACES
In the past, insurers used the lure of a stable career path with a predictable work environment and compensation, says Rob Salkowitz, a Seattle-based writer and consultant specializing in the social implications of new technology. But now, he believes, younger workers aren't going to be motivated by this anymore, as they're inherently less invested in the workforce, have less to lose and tend to be more mobile in general.
"Having grown up around the expectation that corporations aren't going to be loyal to them, they're looking for opportunities where they can build their skills portfolio in an effort to be attractive to another employer if the opportunity arises," he says. "The last thing they want is to be locked into a static environment where they're developing specialized skills and knowledge that won't translate over into the next thing they want to be doing."
To combat these new expectations, Claire Schooley, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., believes the proper work environment is of paramount importance as young IT workers choose their employer.
"They're looking for an environment they feel good about and feel comfortable in-one where they see their colleagues as people they interact well with," she says. "They like an environment where they have a say and where their voices are heard."
Insurers today must have a flatter organizational structure-one not as hierarchical as in the past, Schooley goes on to explain, citing that within this new business composition are abundant opportunities for growth, career development and learning. Carriers also need to have the social opportunities that allow workers an open forum in which to talk and collaborate with their fellow workers-oftentimes in a cohort team setup, which allows them to learn from their team members. This is ideal for younger IT workers, as they get along well with their older counterparts, respond well to mentoring from within their group and relish the opportunity to glean tacit knowledge from previous generations.
"But if the younger workers find an organization doesn't have a lot of these opportunities and traits, they're going to leave," she warns.
BAITING THE HOOK
Given the latest generation's aversion to being tied down, one of the keys to luring new workers is technology. According to Salkowitz, technology supports how the millennial generation wants to work-in a collaborative, team-oriented environment, which is a departure from the traditional IT contributor who worked locked away in his office for days at a time. Technology also enables more teamwork and sharing between members, more visibility into management and business objectives and helps ensure projects are aligned with the management effort, he says.
Going hand-in-hand with their desire for a collaborative team environment is the latest social networking technology.
"The new workers prefer companies that are open to bringing in new technology, especially social networking and Web 2.0 technology," Schooley says. "They like to have an opportunity to have a network-whether it's a community of practice, or a forum where they can ask questions. It's all about getting the information they need."
Of course, most insurers can't just rip and replace their legacy systems, or plop the latest Web tools or networking platforms on top of their existing systems at the drop of a hat, so it takes a bit of finesse to get the younger workers excited about learning that COBOL system they probably assumed by now would be collecting dust in a storage room somewhere.
"I try to bring our core systems up to date as often as possible, but I can't always do it," says Darby O'Neill, VP, information technology, Princeton Insurance Co., a medical professional liability insurance provider in Princeton, N.J. "Therefore, I explain to them that maintaining some of the older systems is just as important as working with the new ones. The underlying core development of the older technologies is often the same with as it is with the new. I just remind them that what they're doing is important or they wouldn't be doing it."
But even with the proper management and motivation, insurers need to take the risk of investing in contemporary technologies not only to benefit the business, but also to show workers that the organization is one that promotes growth and change, points out Rod Travers, SVP, Robert E. Nolan Co., Simsbury, Conn.
"If I was a new IT person coming into an insurance company today, the first thing I'd do is question why all this old technology is here and why we're continuing to invest this time and effort into outdated technology," he says.
CATCH AND RELEASE
One not-so-technically demanding trait desired by the younger generation is the ability to work remotely, as the requirement to be in the office today is not as great as it once was.
"Now that you have the ability to collaborate-to have online meetings and share documents-you don't need all that face time," Salkowitz explains. "With current gas prices and all the environmental awareness, particularly among younger people, the opportunity to not come into the office is greatly desired. The technology-secure VPN connections, safeguards for mobile data, etc.-anything that allows workers to have that remote and mobile work style in a secure, complaint way is helpful because you can say yes to the workers who want those tools."
Of course, determining who has the telecommuting opportunities can be tricky.
"One of the things I've had to do is figure out who can [telecommute] and who can't, and exercise that decision-making," says O'Neill. "It's very difficult to manage, especially with the younger workers just coming in. You don't know how it will affect their productivity."
O'Neill says she doesn't have any IT employees who telecommute on a full-time basis, but does offer it on a case-by-case basis.
While allowing employees who work within 45 miles of its offices the opportunity to telecommute, Arrowhead General Insurance Agency Inc., San Diego, has instituted a remote work center in an effort to meet this demand.
"With this new generation of technical employee," says Steve Boyd, Arrowhead's CIO, "we've learned to be flexible more than anything else. We recognize that we can't always compete with all the startup companies in Southern California that are offering stock option plans and the like, so we try to counter with having a remote work center. We allow employees to pick where they want to work: either in the primary office in downtown San Diego or our production facility in Carlsbad, which is about 35 miles north. It's not quite telecommuting, but it allows them to minimize the commute time."
Another key to attracting younger IT workers, according to Salkowitz, is technology that supports instant, informal communication-instant messaging (IM) or other real-time communication methods, and the mobile devices that allow workers to access enterprise data where they need it.
Forrester's Schooley agrees. She finds that younger workers like to have the same technology available to them in their personal life at work, especially IM, which she says most organizations outside the insurance realm now offer.
"A younger worker once told me that: ‘If I had to make a choice between a telephone and IM, I would choose IM because I can find the person in the organization quickly, I can see by a presence if they're online, I can send a short message, I can get the information I need quickly, and I can keep going and do my work,'" Schooley relates.
Going along with this, Wade Preston, systems design/systems admin, Farmers Union Co-Operative Insurance Co., finds the younger generation desires constant communication, especially with today's newest mobile devices.
"The ability to have iPhones and the like for communication lights up their lives," Preston says, whose role at the small P&C carrier in West Des Moines, Iowa, is similar to that of a CIO. "I've noticed that by allowing them to have access to e-mail and Internet at all times, you're getting more out of them even during off-hours."
When the new 3G iPhones were released a few months back, Preston immediately bought them for his team. While some companies may worry that this may open a Pandora's box of unprofessional communication, he has not found that to be the case.
"They like the toys and the latest communication fads," he says. "Even at work, they tend to communicate more-probably a lot more non-professional than you would like-but that comes with today's society. Despite this, my younger employees still maintain a good work ethic, and these tools keep them happy and interested in their work."
NEW FACES, NEW ROLES
Evolving along with the technology is the role of the IT worker itself. Robert E. Nolan's Travers feels strongly that companies now create job descriptions that offer a diversity of responsibility-so a person doesn't have just one set of responsibilities, but multiple responsibilities. This way, workers can learn and grow-in both the technology and business realms, and it meets their drive for knowledge, skills and variety.
Forrerster's Schooley agrees. "They want cross training, and to not be doing the same job in IT over and over again, which is a significant difference from the previous generation."
Steve Boyd and Arrowhead have taken this to heart. Having recognized the desire of the younger generation to not want to sit in the same role for an extended period of time, he has adjusted the organization to allow IT workers to wear multiple hats and gain exposure in other areas, which he notes was a significant challenge for his management team to start.
"We're seeing people now with different talents than ever before and, because of this, we don't want the traditional tech person who just wants to sit at the computer and code," he says. "The younger workers want to interact, they want to know how the business is doing and put their brainpower to good use to solve problems. As a result, we've created new positions.
"A technical business analyst at Arrowhead is a unique position we didn't have a few years ago," Boyd continues. "It's someone who can truly sit down like a business analyst would and understand the business needs, but is technical enough to be able to quickly develop solutions and alternatives to problems. These new analysts make up the large percentage of our group today."
SO FAR, SO GOOD, SO WHAT?
With experts agreeing that-in addition to the latest technology-diversity, variety and balance in the workplace are integral to attracting and retaining new, young workers, insurers need to make sure they evolve now before they're all snapped up.
"IT workers are in perennially short supply," Salkowitz says. "With the skills gap widening significantly in the next decade as the boomers continue to retire, the competition for new workers will become fierce, especially since skilled IT workers have their choice of industries. [Insurers] must position their industry to present the type of opportunities for which young IT workers are looking."
(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Getting to Know the Workforce
While personalities are unique from person to person, there are still notable trends that seem to typify the current worker generations. Typically, these similarities are formed out of growing up within a given societal dynamic, with this shared formative experience leading to similar expectations and personalities in the workplace.
Baby boomers: Having been in the workforce about the past 30 to 40 years, with many typically in management roles now, boomers are, on the whole, on the cusp of retirement (although many may be forced to stay/reenter the workforce due to financial concerns or personal desires to keep active after retirement). According to Rob Salkowitz, a Seattle-based writer and consultant, boomers (people born approximately from 1946 to the early 1960s) tend to be a loyal, communicative, competitive, hard-working culture that values putting in long hours and make an overt effort to demonstrate their value to their organization.
"(Boomers) grew up in an age when everyone was questioning things, so they questioned the roles and responsibilities their work environment had for them," says Claire Schooley, senior analyst, Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass. "As a result, many of the rights we have today, whether it's rights of males or females, are because they really questioned things and tried to makes changes for the better."
Generation X: Entering the workforce in the late-1980s and 1990s, and typically serving in middle-management roles, Gen X (born approximately from 1965 to 1981), Salkowitz says, is less interested in political maneuverings than their boomer predecessors and are more results-oriented. On the whole, Gen X is less interested in communication for it's own sake and more interested in simply being told what needs to be done and not being made to come to a meeting, he explains. They're also more interested in work/life balance, particularly as a reaction to the 60-hour weeks they watched their boomer parents put in as a child.
Generation Y (Millennials): The people currently entering the workforce (born approximately from 1981 to 2001) have had a more nurtured upbringing than the prior generations, Salkowitz believes, having had lots of activities scheduled for them as children to expose them to many different types of ideas and opportunities. An opinion of them being viewed as entitled has arisen as a result, but he doesn't agree with that assessment. Instead, he sees them as being more entrepreneurial than previous generations. Millennials also have a rapacious quest for knowledge. And, they had a strong emphasis placed on teamwork in their education, as well as on self-esteem and recognition for achievements, whether meaningful or not. Steve Boyd, CIO, Arrowhead General Insurance Agency Inc., San Diego, finds millennials need to move more quickly than previous generations, and want new opportunities right from the start of their term of employment. Like Gen X before them, Schooley notes work/life balance is of great importance to Gen Y. They like having the freedom to do their work anywhere they please, and at the hours of their choice, which is a departure from the boomer mentality.
"The older generation expects to be at work five days a week, but they're really benefiting from the younger generation's desire for mobility and work/life balance, and are enjoying the flexibility," Schooley says. "They're finding that it's nice being able to work away from the office."
(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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