Embrace the Churn (of Pool Employees)

  

I’ve been asked one question in every meeting I’ve had with pools of late (I’m not overstating it): “Are other pools struggling as much as we are with hiring?”

My answer, without hesitation, is “yes.” 

The current hiring and employment dynamic isn’t unique to pools, but it is certainly having an impact within our industry. Here are a few observations based on my recent conversations with pools:

  • There seem to be limited candidates for all pool positions. Pools are struggling to find candidates for roles in claims, underwriting, risk management, finance, technology and executive leadership. It’s difficult for pools to find qualified candidates, and in some cases they simply can’t find any candidates at all (qualified or not).
  • There does not appear to be a single contributing factor to staffing difficulties such as geography or pool size. I’ve heard about hiring issues from large pools, small pools, U.S. and Australian pools, and Canadian reciprocals. (Pools outside the U.S. report slightly better hiring results but still limited numbers of candidates.) If there’s a discernable region or context that makes it easier to find candidates, I can’t identify it based on conversations to date.

That said, there are pools that seem not to be experiencing this same dynamic. My impression is that these are the lucky few. 

  • Remote and flexible work environments might help with recruitment but are not a cure-all. Even pools seeking candidates for fully remote roles with flexible hours and strong compensation packages are facing recruitment and hiring challenges. In today’s employment environment, remaining flexible to meet the expectations of candidates is table stakes for hiring — but doesn’t solve for the lack of candidates overall.
  • Sometimes, even making a hire doesn’t solve the problem. I’ve heard multiple stories of pools hiring into a position only to have the new employee leave after a few days or weeks. In some cases, the new hire was ill suited for the role; in others, the person left for another job offer. 

My sense through pool conversations and reading about current demographics and the employment market is that these hiring struggles are not going away. In fact, I think it’s likely they will become more prominent over the next several years as we face a greater number of retirements within pooling.

Reticent as we may be to adapt hiring practices and pool cultures, I think we have to embrace the churn. To me, this means reconciling yourself to shorter-term employees. (Note that I suggest we embrace it, not like it.)

We know the history of pooling has been one of long-term employee retention, and it’s great for that to remain a goal. But a strategy to retain a majority of pool employees for the bulk of their careers is no longer realistic. We have to rethink employment structures, relationships and culture to adapt within the current environment.

Here are a few things to consider doing right now:

  • Develop standardized onboarding processes and education for new pool employees. You’re going to have more new employees more frequently, so you have to be efficient with introducing them to your pool’s operations and expectations. No matter the size of your pool, if you don’t already have an onboarding protocol, now’s the time to build and implement one. 
  • Develop offboarding processes, too. You’ll also be managing more employee terminations for a variety of reasons. Be sure there’s a documented process that’s easy to follow when an employee leaves the pool’s employment.
  • Provide clear learning and advancement pathways. Whether they’re new to your pool or not, most employees want to see a pathway for job growth and continued learning. This can be difficult in small pools or siloed departments. Find a way to show growth opportunities to every employee, whether it’s within a specific pool discipline (like moving from an underwriting technician to underwriter) or cross-training (like providing an underwriter with some risk management or member services duties).
  • Shorten learning times (by a lot). Demonstrating growth and advancement opportunities is key, but stretching employee growth out into a five-year plan will undercut its value. Show employees what new learning and employment growth can be expected within one year, and create learning plans with cadences that match annual performance reviews.
  • Prepare to lose people you thought would ultimately retire from your pool. This is a hard reality to accept, but you’re likely to lose a couple of the best employees at your pool before you think you will — and they might be the people you least expect to leave. The current employment market makes an array of lifestyle choices and significant salary increases possible for some employees.
  • Invest in documenting work processes. The only way you can embrace employee churn is by being prepared for it. Having to recreate workflow or work processes when someone leaves is disruptive and inefficient, and it will likely lead to other (possibly larger) organizational challenges. Invest now in documenting each person’s responsibilities and methods for performing their work tasks. 

Here’s one final thought I hope you’ll consider: Helping to keep the best and brightest people in pooling is better than losing them altogether. I know it’s tough to lose an employee to another pool, and no one feels comfortable “poaching” another pool’s staff. It’s likely, though, that the natural ebb and flow of the employment market is going to increase the rate of employee transitions between pools. 

Although this might create some short-term pain, it’s a longer-term win to keep great people within the pooling community. Whatever you can do to support your team to stay in pooling — even if not at your pool — will be beneficial for the industry as a whole.

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Ann Gergen is AGRiP’s executive director and a former pool administrator. She has worked closely with and for pools, public entities, reinsurers and related service providers throughout her career.

Published Oct. 26, 2021.

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