Insurance talent war weapon: the secrets of the exit interview

 Insurance business

This article was produced in partnership with Intact Insurance. 

Bethan Moorcraft of Insurance Business sat down with Maryann Besharat, VP, Human Resources, Intact Insurance, West, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada, to discuss the War for Talent, and what insurance and HR leaders can learn from the people who leave. 

Engaged in the so-called War for Talent, Canadian employers in the insurance industry are doing everything they can to attract and retain skilled workers. But are they learning from those who leave?

The exit interview is a key tactic that should not be overlooked by brokerage leaders and insurance HR professionals, according to Maryann Besharat (pictured) VP, Human Resources, Intact Insurance, West, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada.

A thoughtful exit interview reveals a lot about what does or doesn’t work inside an organization, explained Besharat. It provides critical intelligence that employers can use to increase employee engagement and retention.

Exit interviews can be conducted through face-to-face conversations with managers or HR leaders, surveys, or a combination of the two. Typically, exit interviews ask pointed questions about the employee’s experience, why they’re leaving the organization, and (if they’re willing to share) where they intend on going and why.

Why do employees leave?

Whether you’re a small independent insurance brokerage with 30 employees, or a large corporation with 30,000 employees, odds are your employees are resigning for one of five key reasons, Besharat told Insurance Business.

  1. Lack of career development and advancement

If an employee is exiting the insurance industry altogether to pursue their dreams in a different sector, there’s little an HR manager or a brokerage leader can do. But if an employee is leaving because of an advancement opportunity with a competitor, that’s a different story. Employers have control over their people’s career development and advancement – the number one reason why people leave companies.

“Leaders and HR professionals can use that data to consider: Are we a little slow to promote? Does this person have the skills they need to succeed in a higher role? Should we accelerate the promotion rate?  Or is this down to the tight labour market and the competition for talent? It doesn’t mean we have to react; it means we have to ask ourselves some key questions, review our processes and determine if they require any amendments,” explained Besharat.

“If we know people are leaving because they think someone else is offering them a better career path, we then need to talk to them about career mapping, how long it will take to advance, and what skills are required for promotion.

If they don’t know that, why would they stay? Leaving them to operate in the dark is the worst thing you can do for your employees.”

  1. Inadequate total compensation

Competitive compensation is “table stakes” and always has been, according to Besharat, but she believes that throwing more money at employees will not necessarily make them stay. She urged employers to focus on the other controllables. “If people see a future at the company, if they are inspired by their leaders, if they are engaged in meaningful work – those factors all contribute to how they think about their compensation,” Besharat said.

  1. Uncaring or uninspiring leaders

‘People leave managers, not companies’ is as true for small insurance brokerages as it is for large, national insurance companies.

“Even if you’re a small brokerage with 30 employees, how much have you invested in your management? Are they 100% fixated on transactions – meaning they’ll discuss only work files with direct reports – or do they take the time to get to know their reports and build a strong relationship? Are they having career development discussions with their direct reports?” asked Besharat.

“Having an uncaring or uninspiring leader is a common reason why employees quit. So it’s important to track turnover within specific teams and invest in your leaders management and people skills.”

  1. Lack of meaningful work

An inspiring leader can help employees to understand that the insurance industry has a terrific story to tell.

“Why are we here as an insurance industry? We help people through good and bad times, and we’re there for them when the unthinkable happens,” said Besharat. “Whether you’re in an administrative role or dealing directly with customers, always think about the bigger purpose. The insurance industry offers immensely meaningful work’. We’re in the enviable position of being able to help Canadians when it matters the most. We need to share that narrative broadly and we need our leaders to live it with their teams every day.”

  1. Unsustainable work expectations

People’s perspectives around the work-life balance shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s more focus now on flexibility and opting out of the hustle culture – especially among the younger generations. Employers and managers need to pay attention to workload and make sure that it’s sustainable over the long term, said Besharat.

“Managing workload can be a challenge during a talent shortage – employers need to be mindful of burnout and fatigue among their employees” she stressed.

Why are people leaving your brokerage?

Lack of career development and advancement, inadequate total compensation, uninspiring leaders, lack of meaningful work, and unsustainable work expectations are the top five reasons people leave organizations. The good news: most of these reasons are controllable. The bad news: if you’re not conducting exit interviews, and you don’t know why they’re leaving, you’ll just keep on losing people.

The turnover at each specific brokerage or carrier tells its own story – but you won’t know what it is, Besharat emphasized, unless you’re conducting those exit interviews. In this hyper-competitive talent market, brokerages and insurers must make use of all the tools at their disposal, including learning from the people who leave.

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