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​Putting learning before earning

  • Publish Date: Posted about 2 years ago
  • Author:by Mark Weller

There is much talk of the great resignation and an impending talent crisis. If you want to retain your best people in the current climate, you'll need to completely re-evaluate what your staff really want.

Back in the midst of the first pandemic lockdown when everyone was still grappling with adjusting to remote working, the group HR director of a major insurance broker found something interesting. The firm was monitoring people's use of IT and he noticed that some staff members were logging into the company systems in the middle of the night.

The reason for this kind of monitoring was less about being a 'Big Brother' and more about mapping employees' work habits. But for the HR director, it was a red flag. Was it that some people prefer working during anti-social hours, he wondered. Were they still working effectively?

For some, the stress, burnout and constant juggling has been too much and they are voting with their feet. A re-evaluation of priorities have inevitably followed the pandemic and latterly the conflict in Ukraine.

Record quit rates

The stats are telling. UK workers are quitting their jobs at a rate not seen since the height of the GFC, according to analysis by Deutsche Bank. Meanwhile, there were over 1.3 million open vacancies between December 2021 and February 2022 - a record high.

We all remember those early days of lockdown. Adapting to a multitude of video calls, and town hall meetings while navigating new ways of working and - for many - juggling childcare and family commitments.

More recently, the pressures have evolved as firms have shifted to hybrid models. Even now, if you do come into the office, much of your day is taken up on Teams, Zoom or Slack to interact with clients and colleagues working remotely.

For many, the pressures feel relentless and the corporate cohesiveness of the past has gone, leaving them feeling disengaged.

Performance inevitably suffers. With too many responsibilities and too much pressure, those responsible for making decisions do not have the time they need to weigh up the information at their disposal and work through all the outcomes.

I know many highly-experienced industry executives over the age of 55 who in the last 12-18 months have opted for early retirement or begun consulting on a part-time basis. Unburdened by mortgages, school-age children and with money in the bank, they are exiting the workforce and taking their skills with them.

Conventional perks are not enough

In the insurance industry, it is the tightest talent market in decades. If you're accomplished, you can name your price. There are examples of individuals getting counter-offered 15% or more of their salary to stay in their current roles.

But half of those who have left their jobs over the past two years are living off their savings. This suggests that remuneration as a strategy is simply not enough to hold onto talent.

So what is the solution? How do we prevent this brain drain?

First is meeting today's expectation of a flexible work life. Fifty-seven percent of Brits polled by Theta say they do not want to go back to the 'normal' 9-5 office hours, while 40% stated that a strict return to the office would hinder their performance.

Some firms are introducing extra holidays and days off. Some are trialling 4-day working weeks. Some offer incredible benefits, bonuses and salary schemes.

But money and conventional perks are not enough. What we are seeing is a real cultural movement in how people want to work and what they expect from their employers to maintain their productivity, motivation, health and wellbeing.

For too long, training and culture have been under egged. We have been too focused on process and technology, to the detriment of our intellectual property. Agile working practices are great but have missed some of the focus on how we create time to support both training and coaching to deliver better high-value “people” driven decision-making.

It is not too late. Lloyd's Project Rio is helping to shift the balance with its focus on the importance of fostering an inclusive, high-performance culture.

As Harvard Law School's Erica Ariel Fox explains, today's leaders must put learning ahead of earning. "Knowledge workers" - as she describes them - want to learn and develop and they are actively seeking corporate cultures with "learning in their DNA".

Industry professionals expect to receive proper support and investment from an army of coaches, mentors and trainers. They want to be given the right tools so they can be more effective in their roles.

Such an approach does not, of course, guarantee that firms will be able to stop people from leaving. After all, skilled individuals must spread their wings. Ambitious underwriters, brokers, analysts, IT professionals and many others don’t expect to stay in the same organisation throughout their careers, and we shouldn’t try to make them if we can’t offer them what they can achieve.

But if we - as an industry - can invest in our talent and cater to that hunger to learn and develop, we will all prosper and be all the richer for it.​