Norton Rose Fulbright Australia’s Insurance team recently hosted a panel discussion which explored the intergenerational divide in the workplace.  The panel explored what the differing values, communication styles and work habits of each generation mean for the insurance industry, and considered multigenerational risk through the prism of loyalty, leadership, innovation, corporate social responsibility and insurance products.

The esteemed and multigenerational panel comprised:

  • Catherine Carlyon, head of claims at XL Catlin
  • Jennifer Pham, Senior Underwriter at Swiss Re
  • Mitchell Spurr, Complex claims examiner at AIG
  • Alan Merten, lead partner of Actuary practice at Deloitte
  • Adam Hines, Founder and Director of Aether Insurance & Risk
  • Ben Handler, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Cohen Handler

Insights from the panellists

Millennials

Following an address by the Honourable David Coleman MP outlining the Federal government’s firm commitment to harnessing the power of disruptive technology, the panel considered the idea that millennials are less loyal than their older counterparts.

Catherine Carlyon’s description of millennials in the workplace today as being ‘less sticky, more picky’, was presented as a challenge faced by employees and employers alike. With a strong focus on lifestyle decisions and taking charge of careers, the perception – or perhaps misperception – of millennials as “flighty” was contrasted with the fact that employers naturally strive to retain employees that are the right fit, regardless of their age or generation.

Innovation

Business are faced with the challenge of embracing technology and innovation, or risk being left behind. This involves tapping into the multigenerational workplace to influence culture and spark innovation.

Ben Handler, a millennial entrepreneur, explained how his agency had recently tapped into a valuable resource by asking all employees to innovate and contribute to challenges faced by his company. While this model has been effective in the start-up environment, Ben is unsure whether it could be rolled out in bigger corporates.

Another model that Alan Merten has seen effectively employed in the US is the roll out of sub companies by big corporates, tasked with innovating on behalf of the bigger company. Alan considered this strategy was a reflection of the inability of certain big corporations to innovate as dynamically as smaller, more nimble start-ups.

Corporate & Social Responsibility

Technology has blurred the line between our work and personal lives, leading to an increased emphasis on corporate responsibility and diversity in the workplace, as employees seek opportunities to feel a sense of influence and purpose. The question is:  will employers who do not embrace their CSR obligations wholeheartedly fail to attract millennial talent?

Using herself as an example, Jennifer Pham explained that as a consumer, she buys emotionally and avoids association with brands that have received criticism in the media for their environmental practices. As an employee, however, Jennifer considers that this is not a central factor, particularly in a labour market in which millennial beggars cannot afford to be choosers.

Risks & Opportunities

With the workplace changing as a result of the first wave of digital native employees, and an expectation by all that services and products will be efficient and accessible, the insurance industry will undoubtedly undergo change. The current economic environment is also coming into play, with financial pressures seeing millennials more focussed on experiences than assets, and less likely to spend big until later in life.

With the introduction of new technology and the sharing economy, and the corresponding shift in risk from owners to manufacturers, Mitchell ventured that it’s likely we’ll see an opportunity for insurers to target sections of risk rather than the whole market.

Further, automation brings additional multigenerational risks. As Alan opined, the automation of jobs could result in a skills shortage due to junior employees no longer being required to perform basic tasks traditionally carried out early in their career, which are often essential building blocks to more advanced tasks. With older, experienced generations moving out of the workforce, this skill shortage will be a risk that needs addressing.

Next Steps

 The challenges faced by companies as millennials continue to flood the workforce provides a timely reminder to not only the insurance industry, but all businesses, to embrace employees of all ages as individuals.

A strong theme from the night was not that there is anything inherently different about the new millennials, but rather, that workplaces have throughout time needed to adapt to multiple generations, with different wants and needs based on their different life stages. As the pension age rises, people get married later and Baby Boomers move off into retirement, it is clear that workplaces will need to adapt to the different risks that these changes pose, and the insurance industry will need to remain flexible and respond.