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Maintaining Team Morale in a Challenging Market

Part Four: Hard Market Agent Survey Report
person in red sweater holding babys hand

Your employees are one of your greatest assets, and a happy employee can help lead to business growth. With the residual effects of the pandemic combined with the challenging insurance landscape, it’s easy to understand why maintaining employee morale can be challenging—especially as some agency owners are trying to remain optimistic themselves. Another factor impacting morale is the difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees, forcing owners to be creative in finding ways to keep talent.

According to the recent Trusted Choice survey “Navigating the Hard Market,” the majority of Big “I” member agency principals are concerned about morale, and they’re taking steps to keep employees’ spirits up. Here’s a look at what successful agents are doing to maintain enthusiasm.

Staying Positive

The survey asked independent insurance agents, “How are you maintaining team morale and motivation during these challenging times?” The most common answers were increased communication, company-paid lunches and extra time off, followed by team-building efforts along with raises or bonuses when budgets allowed.

graph about agencies adding more training

To balance morale, over 50% of agencies have implemented new training initiatives to ensure their team is equipped to handle the challenges of the market. This shows that agency leadership is vested in its staff and wants to help them in these hard times.

Most survey respondents said good communication is critical, and that they invest time and effort in regularly checking in with their employees. One agent says, “Communicate transparently and promptly with team members. Share information, goals, progress and difficulties to ensure everyone understands the situation and can participate in the problem-solving process.” Another agent agrees that transparency is important and says, “We talk openly about the problems we are facing.”

Several agents commented that they’ve experienced difficult times in the past, and nothing lasts forever. One survey respondent says, “We communicate often and keep each other apprised of all changes within companies. [We] continually remind ourselves that this will be a short-term issue.”

One agent gives employees “Constant reassurance that sometimes things are out of our control.” Another says it’s important to “celebrate the small wins, any win.”

Recognizing that burnout and stress are major contributors to poor employee morale, several agents said they give employees more time off via additional vacation days or half days on Fridays. They also find different ways to make the workplace more welcoming, as one agent explains, “There is a new picnic table outside, we put in a small gym with a giant TV, and we also put in a MASSIVE massage chair and created a relaxation room.”

What Agents Are Saying

Chris Orletski, President, Blankit Insurance Group, Florida

This isn’t the first time Orletski has been through tough times during his career. Before joining the insurance industry a decade ago, he worked as a real estate agent and stockbroker, surviving the real estate crash in 2007 and the financial crisis in 2008. Despite his best efforts, several of the firm’s employees became discouraged and left in the last two years to pursue other lines of work, one in a different industry.

Orletski encourages his team to take a step back, look at the big picture, and support each other. “We are all in this together,” he says, “and we try to keep a team approach — so not one person thinks they are drowning in the deep end.”

Carol Boucher, Senior Account Executive, Ericson Insurance Advisors, Connecticut

The firm primarily serves the personal and business insurance needs of affluent clients across the U.S. It has had to hire more staff to help on processing and support the relationship managers.

The agency has relied mostly on referrals from current employees to find people with insurance experience because there is no time to train new staff. “It has been very difficult to find good people, especially for high net worth, because it is a very specialized area,” Boucher says.

The agency offers incentives like competitive compensation packages, and managers work hard to stay connected with employees through daily video meetings and team-building activities. The hard market conditions have been wearing on everyone, so managers want to do what they can to keep morale up. “It’s called a hard market because it does make everything hard,” Boucher says.

Anonymous, Account Manager and Branch Manager, Agency in Florida

Even long-term accounts with established “great relationships” have struggled, which only increases the stress on agency employees, especially those who are the first to field client complaints, the manager says. “On particularly taxing days, even those who’ve worked at the firm for years want to simply walk out. Replacing them has never been easy, but now applications are few and far between.”

The firm does take several proactive steps to retain employees. The goal is to “bolster the team, always looking for ways to get them away from their desk for even a few minutes when things are getting tough,” says the branch manager. Even small gestures can have a big impact, so the manager regularly treats the team to food and “silly stuff, like puzzles, just to give them a break and a moment to talk with others.” The manager also follows up with one-on-one encouragement when needed.

Agent Solution: Team Building

Generally, survey respondents reinforce the message that “we’re a team,” and as one agent says, “We are all in the same boat.” Agents also recognize that there’s nothing more helpful in building a community than breaking bread together. Several survey respondents commented that their firms provide breakfast or lunch on a regular basis. One agent says, “We eat lunch together on Fridays,” while another relates, “We have team lunches every day to make sure we are on the same page.”

Other agents are being more thoughtful in the kinds of meetings they’re holding. For example, one agent says, “[We] introduced one team meeting a month where the primary function is for team building by having fun.” One agency uses its regular meetings to discuss the firm’s accounts, “giving each other ideas.” Another agency holds an office meeting each week to discuss the marketplace. “We also discuss one specific coverage and read through insurance contracts related to that coverage each week (both personal and commercial).”

Experienced agents seem to be weathering the storm better than most. One agent sums it up this way: “Our team has 25-40 years of insurance experience and has the knowledge to ride out the changes until companies come to a conclusion on how to make a profit in our changing times.”

Need more support in this hard market? Check out the full suite of resources we have for agents here.