Coasting to Retirement
Generation gaps can lead to sticky situations between senior and junior producers. Brokerage owners must do their part to ensure appropriate practices are in place.
In today’s labour market, “an unprecedented number of workers from four generations — traditional, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y — are working alongside one another and bringing their own values, goals and communication approaches to the workplace,” says Rich Paul, vice president of the health and performance solutions department at ValueOptions and author of the HR Report article “Engaging the Multi-generational Workforce.”
“Such generational dynamics in the workplace affect morale, productivity, recruitment and retention,” he adds.
Each of the four generations identified view work in vastly different ways. The traditional generation is delaying retirement (or returning to work), baby boomers are beginning to retire, Gen X has realigned their work/family priorities and Gen Y is entering the workforce with distinctly different demands of their employers than those of previous generations.
Paul’s article states that, “as workplaces move toward matching job roles with skill sets and becoming more horizontal in structure, employees find themselves in work environments with co-workers of different generations. Multi-generational work environments can breed misunderstanding and conflict, and can compromise growth. Yet they also can be a source of positive challenge, opportunity, and significant growth if managed effectively.”
How does the owner of a small brokerage address these issues? What might be the ethical implications for this brokerage that is starting to sense an undercurrent of discontentment brewing? What might be the ethical challenges and opportunities in dealing with the resentment between a senior producer, perceived to be coasting to retirement, and a junior producer, working hard to climb the corporate ladder?
The senior producer’s approach of taking long lunches, engaging others in office banter, and avoiding technology, has been noticed by all, particularly the junior producer. Conversely, the junior producer doesn’t seem to have enough hours in the day, is always feeling rushed, taking courses at night, and embracing technology. The senior producer resents the up-and-coming challenge posed by the junior, and the junior producer resents the lack of effort on the part of the senior.
Is it fair for the senior producer, despite or because of his 30 years in the industry, to be taking an easy approach to his responsibilities as he nears retirement?
As a professional, the senior producer must maintain his integrity, loyalty and accountability to his employer, his clients, and his co-workers. In this scenario, it would seem that what is in question is not the work product, but the work ethic. This may be due to a difference between perception and reality. Let’s assume that the senior producer has already “paid his dues” and climbed the corporate ladder and is reaping the benefits of all that hard work. He may be working from referrals and renewals and not necessarily “pounding the pavement” for new business. The junior producer’s resentment may come from a perception that the senior producer is being compensated disproportionately to the effort. The likelihood is that if working on commissions, the senior producer is probably making less money (because commissions for renewals are reduced). All successful producers will typically be highly motivated, but motivations may change over time.
What to do?
The brokerage owner needs to demonstrate and exercise leadership, communication, and planning skills. His or her job is to manage and motivate talent, engage all employees for a productive work environment, and align benefits with the needs of each generational group, all the while ensuring fairness and transparency towards all. He or she needs to create a team that understands the vision and values of the brokerage and the value proposition to clients. Within this vision, the team needs to respect and value the multi-generational differences that the team members contribute. The owner needs to set the tone and expectations with individual staff; conduct team meetings that support team engagement behaviour; “unreward” office behaviours that support silos or barriers; be transparent about career paths and succession plans in the organization; and develop client communication plans that support business plans.
The brokerage owner needs to assess the situation between the senior and junior producer. Sometimes, in mature workers, “confusion about their role in the organization, and a perceived disrespect for their historical knowledge of the industry and the organization, can contribute to a lack of engagement,” says Paul. “Feeling respected for their contributions and historical knowledge is important to these employees, who prefer not to be marginalized as ineffective because they may lack the team-orientation or technological skills of later generations.”
If the brokerage owner assesses that the senior producer’s work product is in question or that he is a distraction or is compromising office procedures, she may need to approach the senior producer and discuss retirement plans. Appropriate succession planning is necessary and involves discussing a detailed plan, reviewing portfolio and client roster, mapping out transition plans, determining what part of the succession plan to share with the team, and determining how to enable the senior producer to transfer knowledge and mentor the new account representatives.
Naturally, the brokerage owner will be concerned that many of the senior producer’s clients may only deal with him and would migrate away to a competitor when he retires. The owner needs to assess the portfolio the senior producer has been managing and identify those that are currently being well serviced and those that can easily be reassigned to another producer.
If many of the clients have been serviced well, and not just by the senior producer but more so by CSRs, then the relationship with the brokerage as a whole may be sufficient enough to keep most of the clients. If the succession planning process is done in a timely manner, with lots of lead-time, it is then possible to ensure that these service relationships are well established.
The brokerage owner must understand that she has an ethical obligation to the clients to ensure that the transition to a new broker or team is managed efficiently and effectively with the right level of expertise and service in the reassignment.
And the junior producer . . .
The brokerage owner should also work with the junior producer to discuss development goals, assess workload and book of business, identify knowledge transfer, and structure mentoring opportunities. He or she would do well to recognize that younger workers–who tend to be very independent, outspoken, adaptable and over-confident–bring creativity, innovation, inclusiveness, and immediacy, all of which, if harnessed and transformed can help move the brokerage forward, according to Paul.
Given some of the resentment that can exist between the senior and junior producers, the brokerage owner would do well to be fair and transparent about career paths and the planning around succession. For example, it would not be fair, and not appreciated, to dump the senior producer’s portfolio on the junior producer. It would not be reasonable to expect collaboration and consultation to occur naturally between senior and junior, without good communication, planning and leadership from the brokerage owner to engage the team in supportive behaviour. There may be advantages in enabling and encouraging the senior and junior producer to partner, to share their knowledge–someone with more experience in the industry sharing with someone with less experience, someone who is technology-savvy sharing with someone who is not. One’s strengths must compensate for the other’s weaknesses.
Managing the mix of multi-generational differences in the workplace needs to come from a place of professional ethics and good business strategy. Everyone, from the newest recruit to the most seasoned employee, should be treated with respect for their competence and initiative–as if they have great things to offer and are motivated to do their best. All parties should endeavour to be fair, to not cause undue harm, to be consistent and transparent in their decision-making, and in keeping with good corporate values and responsible management–to the benefit of employees and clients.
The CIP SOCIETY represents more than 15,000 graduates of the Insurance Institute of Canada’s Fellow Chartered Insurance Professional (FCIP) and Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP) Programs. As the professionals’ division of the Institute, the Society offers continuing professional development, information services, networking opportunities, and recognition and promotion of the designations. This article is developed from commentary solicited from senior members of the CIP Society and is intended to generate a dialogue about ethics among professionals. We welcome comments and scenarios to the discussion at firstname.lastname@example.org. This series of articles is archived on The CIP Society’s Web site at: www.insuranceinstitute.ca/cipsociety.
© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.