How are you coping with the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic? The global crisis has been cited by Lloyd’s chief, John Neal, as the largest insurance challenge ever faced by the insurance industry, and potentially the most expensive event in insurance history. For businesses and individuals facing the uncertainty of the pandemic, this has been a time filled with unprecedented challenges, from operational resilience to mental health, to performance, and the need for support and advice has never been clearer.
At the BDMA’s recent webinar on ‘Performing Under Pressure’, chairman of the BDMA, Simon Ford (pictured above), posed the question to the gathered panel of how, in their individual organisations, they have developed a policy for coping with the pressures of the pandemic. Discussing this, Richard Done, commercial operations director at Polygon UK and Ireland, noted that clear communication is instrumental in helping people with the pressures and stress caused.
“Right from the outset of the COVID pandemic, we’ve made it very clear that the most important thing for us was to keep our people safe and then look at our customers,” he said. “But how do you communicate that to a number of people? That’s through videos, through email conversations, through what we call ‘townhall hangouts’, so, we got all the teams together and let them ask questions to understand what’s going on.”
Done highlighted that there are differing pressures faced by staff, depending on their own circumstances, with people on furlough facing different challenges to those who are working through the crisis. It’s about managing all those challenges, he said, and ensuring everybody has somebody to talk to, at any level of the business, to enable a greater understanding of the difficulties being faced.
Alison Unwin, head of domestic major loss at Sedgwick, agreed that communication has been essential during the pandemic, and emphasised the importance of employees being kept up to date with what their business is doing. Sedgwick has already created numerous processes and toolkits to enable managers to identify the needs of individuals who have been struggling over the last five months, she said, and will continue to re-assess these in light of the changing nature of these challenges.
“It has been about just looking at people as individuals,” she said. “Not as a group or a team all the time but recognising that each of us has something in our lives that perhaps other people didn’t know about but which, all of a sudden, became a challenge during this. And, as managers it’s about giving them the flexibility to be able to cope with that. And I think we got a lot of it right but I’m sure that there’ll be lessons that we can learn and just keep on getting better at and improving to make them feel comfortable enough that they can get their workload done without feeling [that] pressure and stress.”
Policy manager at the ABI, Sarah Brodie (pictured immediately above) noted that, from her overview of the insurance industry, it is clear that insurers are very aware of the changes which have resulted from COVID-19 and of how to continue working and supporting customers. She believes that insurers are also taking the concerns of their employees very seriously at this time, and will need to continue this, particularly in light of the lockdown easing. As the next phase unfurls and insurance companies start to consider returning staff to the office, they must use a phased approach and consider the needs and preferences of their employees.
MD of underwriting and technical services at AXA Insurance, David Williams (pictured below), noted that while service level agreements (SLAs) are important to allow staff to know what is expected of them and what they should be aiming for, businesses must accept that the operational environment has changed. Some things take longer now, he said, while others have become more urgent. It aids the wellbeing of employees to know what they need to do, but they must also be supported if they are struggling to achieve any key metrics and not be allowed to suffer in silence.
“For instance, we found in some of our teams that productivity was massively down while they were working from home on small laptops, whereas, in the office, they had dual screens,” he explained. “So, being able to either recognise that productivity is going to be lower, or providing [staff] with extra screens, that sort of dialogue needs to go on. And I think if you’re doing it internally, then with your external partners as well, you should also be having those discussions and deciding whether SLAs need to be amended.”
If organisations do not take the time to support the wellbeing of their teams then they are making a massive mistake, according to Dr Phil Hopley, MD and consultant psychiatrist at Cognacity. People wellbeing is going to be one of the biggest drivers of business success over the next decade, he said, and now the economy is entering recession, businesses are going to be under more pressure than perhaps ever before.
“It’s simply not the case that you can drive your employees into the ground,” Hopley said. “It’s not sustainable, and the focus on wellbeing that COVID-19 has given to everybody means that [businesses] are going to be judged by this. Also important to this area is that younger people, millennials and the like who’ve come through school where they’ve been educated in mental wellness and resilience, now expect this as part of what they do.
“So whatever your position in an organisation; senior, middle, or bottom, but particularly for those at the top, prioritise this and make sure that you and the people that are managing people recognise its importance and make this time because, ultimately, it will pay you back because you’ll have people sustaining their performance at a better level.”