What makes an agency a great place to work?
When researchers at Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance asked more than 730 independent insurance agents that question, 63% of them said workplace culture was a key factor.
It comes as no surprise to me that workplace culture — the values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that make up the feel of the work environment — is a big aspect of what attracts and keeps employees at a company. In my nearly 40 years in the insurance industry, starting as a personal assistant and now as a regional executive, I’ve seen firsthand how workplace culture impacts employee satisfaction.
Over the years, I’ve seen big shifts in what employees expect out of their workplaces. One of the biggest changes has been the rise of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as an integral part of company cultures.
For me and many others, this is a welcome change. In an industry that is still predominantly white and male, I’ve often found myself in the position of being the only woman or person of color in the room. Early on, much of the advice I received was to try to blend in and assimilate.
Nowadays, I hear from other women and people of color in the industry who also have had the experience of being the “only.” However, instead of attempting to assimilate, they’re proud of what makes them unique, and they recognize the value of their perspectives and contributions.
Their colleagues are eager to come alongside them as allies, helping to break down traditional barriers to entry and growth in the industry.
Regardless of background, today’s employees want to work in environments where they feel valued and heard, and where they can bring their full selves to work. This is the heart of DEI work: building workplaces that are inclusive for all.
Research shows that DEI is good for employee satisfaction. A 2021 study by Boston Consulting Group found that employees who work in inclusive cultures are three times more likely to say they are happy in their jobs than those who don’t feel included. They are also more likely to say they have a positive work-life balance and less likely to say that work stress affects their personal life.
Independent insurance agents seem to understand the benefits of building inclusive cultures. While some agents are still apathetic about the term “diversity, equity and inclusion,” many are taking steps to make their agency cultures more inclusive.
The Liberty Mutual and Safeco 2022 Agency Growth Study found that 80% of agencies with seven or more team members are currently, or believe they should be, engaging in DEI activities. These activities include creating environments where the team can be their authentic selves, managing cross-generational issues, engaging in DEI conversations and more.
However, the study found there is a disconnect between how agency leaders and frontline staff experience agency cultures. For example, while 69% of agency leaders say their team can be their authentic selves at work, only 46% of frontline staff agree.
So, how can leaders bridge the gap and help ensure their agency is a great place to work for all employees? They can start with defining company values and practices that put people first. When every interaction is guided by values such as empathy, transparency and collaboration, employees will feel safer to be themselves at work.
Agency leaders also need to model inclusive leadership. Research from Harvard Business Review in 2019 found that teams with inclusive leaders were 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 17% more likely to report that they are high-performing.
Part of modeling inclusive leadership involves opening conversations with employees about company culture and about DEI. Whether directly or through anonymous surveys, leaders can create opportunities for employees to share what they like about working at the agency, what they would change and what would make them feel more included and engaged.
Building healthy, inclusive company cultures takes work and intentionality, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Agencies that work to create inclusive cultures will be better positioned to attract and retain top talent, tap into innovative ideas, and thrive far into the future.
This article was originally published in Insurance Journal. Reposted with permission.