Generations in the Workplace
The claims world needs millennials, and it may need to change to retain them.
The current workplace is quickly becoming a generational melting pot. baby boomers are retiring (albeit slowly), Generation X is firmly entrenched in their careers, and millennials are pouring into the workforce. Soon we’ll need to prepare for the influx of Generation Z professionals as they begin their career journeys in a few short years.
This cultural melting pot yields diversity in terms of what employees seek in a career, how they engage with one another, and what we should all expect from our colleagues and employers.
The good news for claims professionals is that our work reflects this very same generational melting pot. At its core, the role of a claims professional involves assisting someone who has suffered some type of unforeseen loss within the rules of the underlying contract—the policy. The people suffering these losses are as diverse as our workforce, which produces a beneficial alignment between those who sustain a loss and those helping them to find relief.
Millennials have recently surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in the United States. As more millennials enter the claims world, there will be increased incidences of multi-generations in the workplace. Following are some suggestions for all involved to promote understanding and effective collaboration. These, of course, are broad generalizations.
It may be foreign for some of us to talk about huddle rooms and touchdown stations. Seeing our colleagues working with headphones on or working with one hand while they hold their smartphones in the other isn’t commonplace to the claims office of yesteryear, but it’s rapidly becoming the norm today. It may require some employer or manager compromises, but in the end it’s worth creating an environment that appeals to our new millennial colleagues.
Equally important is for millennials to recognize that there is a time and place where increased formality is important. For example, texting in meetings for the most part will not appeal to baby boomers and Gen Xers.
Social media is something deeply ingrained in the lives of most millennials. Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram are tools that millennials have embraced and often do not travel far from. It’s understandable that these applications will find their way into the workplace. Non-millennials should understand that and, to the best of their abilities, embrace the fact that millennials generally will always have their phones close by.
However, millennials also should understand that a career in claims means dealing with other people’s property and personal information. There are both ethical and legal obligations that should prevent claims professionals from using social media to convey claims war stories, express frustration, or share photographs. While checking social media during the workday poses no serious threat, there must be a complete ban on anything that relates to the claims environment.
In addition to social media, we’ve witnessed the proliferation of text messages in the workplace. While it would be unfair to attribute this to millennials, it’s worth warning that if the use of text messages by anyone stems from a belief that these are “off the grid” and in any way less discoverable in the face of litigation, nothing could be further from the truth.
Current technology enables the rapid retrieval of any and all emails, text messages, phone logs, and voicemails sent or received on any device. Texts never go away, but they do hinder the efficient ability to retain important correspondence in the claims file, forward it to other interested parties, and memorialize the exchange. It’s far easier and more sensible to utilize proper business email for claims communication.
Millennials tend to communicate in a different manner from previous generations. To a great extent, millennials, and certainly those in Generation Z, struggle to envision a pre-internet, pre-mobile phone world. Social media, tablets, and smartphone apps are part of their earliest childhood memories. Boomers and Gen Xers handled claims with telephones, face-to-face meetings, and even the now prehistoric pencil and paper. With that said, here is some advice that millennials should heed:
- Talking really means talking. If an insured, claimant, or colleague wants to “talk,” this may very well mean speaking by telephone or in person, especially if they are a baby boomer or Gen Xer.
- Texting is not email. Refrain from texting in a business context unless the exchange was initiated or requested by the insured or claimant as the desired
- Watch your tone. Emails should be constructed with a proper business tone and format. These are not text messages filled with shorthand, acronyms, and abbreviations. Use of salutations, paragraphs, and proper writing style should be employed.
Millennials embrace different types of training environments than many who have come before them. Online classes, eLearning, and electronic platforms have been part of their education from the onset. To that end, it’s important that the first impression organizations make on these new entrants appears to be equally fresh and aligned with their generation.
Many current professionals entered this business by completing an enormous stack of new employee paperwork and then being subjected to a series of multi-week traditional classroom training sessions before ever being exposed to a claims file or perhaps even understanding what our chosen vocation had in store for us. Ask most baby boomers and Gen Xers why they chose a career in claims, and the most frequent answers will reference a company car or recessionary times.
Just as the promise of a company car probably doesn’t hold the same allure for millennials, old-world onboarding and training will probably turn them off before they receive their first paychecks. The HR interface with millennials—how they are trained, how often they receive training, and a clear career path with incremental steps that are as close as possible—will help compel them to remain loyal to the organization for longer than the current three-year average.
Questions abound in terms of whether groups or pairs from different generations make sense in the workplace. For me, it’s both wise and unavoidable to ensure the evolution of claims careers and efficient transfer of knowledge to embrace the traits set forth previously. The risk stems only from a failure to recognize the differences in these generational groups and to foster an environment that embraces this diversity.
The need for claims departments and claims organizations to foster an environment that has multigenerational appeal is high-stakes poker. The industry badly needs the infusion of millennial talent, energy, and enthusiasm to take hold in our industry and help stem the brain drain associated with retiring baby boomers who won’t stick around forever. Employers also need to ensure that the quest for appealing to millennials doesn’t disenfranchise baby boomers and Gen Xers.