A massive claims burden, high premiums and the talent crunch have exhausted insurance industry professionals. Here’s how they see their working lives in 2023

By Miranda Maxwell

Record insurance claims and recruitment woes have led to overwhelming workloads and a “burnout crisis” that urgently needs addressing, the latest Insurance News Wellbeing Survey reveals.

Our third annual wellness poll, circulated to the industry in August, widened its criteria this year to ask about bullying, discrimination, mental health care and remuneration.

We recorded a high number of references to “burnout” among our 1174 industry respondents, tallying with new research from Allianz Australia which also finds fatigue and burnout is widespread in the workforce.

Tellingly, the cost of psychological workers’ compensation claims are now 2-7 times higher than claims for physical injury, with harassment and pressure the main drivers.

In insurance, record bushfires followed by record floods resulted in record claims – a situation that has been exceptionally wearing for claims professionals.

A Victorian employee in her 40s says: “It is not healthy for leaders in catastrophe management to be exposed to that level of pressure for long lengths of time. Workplaces need to protect the psychological safety of employees that face catastrophes with little reprieve.”

A WA underwriter who has been in the industry for 20 years says businesses “are hiring less staff and expect staff to do more work. It creates a burnout crisis that really needs to be addressed”.

Following are some more examples of feedback where burnout was mentioned by survey respondents:

“I’ve been doing 2.5 peoples’ worth of work with zero break. I’m completely burnt out.”

“The pace of change and volume of work is hard.”

“The industry is overworked and burned-out. There is not the resources or emotional capacity to continue to deal with more and more disasters.”

“Companies are increasingly burning out their staff and hire inexperienced replacements when those people leave. It used to be a good environment where people mattered.”

The Allianz research says a diverse, multigenerational workforce encompassing Gen Z through to Baby Boomers makes effective mental health support difficult to deliver.

“Encourage open and safe dialogue with employees on what balance looks like for them,” Allianz says, calling for processes to address burnout and ensure workloads are achievable.

“SWITCH OFF? I WISH”

Asked about recruiting new talent, 61% of respondents say it is “more difficult than usual” or “very difficult”. Understaffing and inadequate training were common complaints, and more than two-thirds of respondents say they struggle to wind down after work. Some typical comments:

“There is no switch-off. Critical staff shortages has meant a doubling/tripling up of workloads for extended periods, which is impacting physical and mental health of employees.”

“Sometimes I wake up at 3am thinking about work and can’t get back to sleep.”

“Switch off? I wish! Work is constant.”

The response was evenly split between men and women. Most say a hybrid work model is now firmly entrenched in the insurance industry – and that there is still a lot to like about their chosen profession.

“It’s a window into the world, underpins the economy, provides variety and the opportunity to learn new things,” a NSW professional in her 50s says.

“I love my job and helping people, it would be a shame not to be in this industry anymore,” says a SA broker. “I don’t care about meeting any [key performance indicators], but providing a great service to clients. It’s very rewarding when they are happy.”

“It feels like we’re truly trying to be there to support people in times of climate crisis, or on one of the worst days they’ll have,” says another broker.

Almost 70% of respondents say they now split their work hours between office and home, and just 22% say they are back to being permanently in the office, with 71% confident the insurance industry has not been negatively affected by hybrid working. Only 6% say their employer is not flexible.

“My productivity is better, I save so much time in the morning and actually get a good rest before work without the stresses of public transport” – a NSW broker in her 30s.

“THE WORKLOAD HAS INCREASED INCREDIBLY”

Many respondents say workloads are extreme and have had a severe impact on their mental health, with some saying they are doing the work of several people.

Some typical comments:

“I am now looking after five times the GWP I did three years ago and being paid $20,000 less.”

“The workload has increased incredibly, emails are never-ending and demanding. Teams meetings are being booked consistently through lunch. There are no breaks/downtime periods. It’s all go, go, go.”

“Shortage of talent. I have to work harder.”

“More and more is asked without consideration of any limits of what can be done.”

Some respondents say people are not being replaced at some firms due to strained profitability. Work is being redistributed among remaining staff when colleagues depart, and workloads are “excessive” and “unreasonable”.

“Companies are squeezing headcounts and further stressing existing employees.”
“We have over 20 claims vacancies at any one time.”

“We are told more work, products, processes are coming – but not more staff – so we need to be more ‘efficient’.”

“THE HUMANITY IS DISAPPEARING”

Mental health problems were widespread, with 40% of respondents to the Insurance News Wellbeing Survey 2023 saying they had suffered.

Asked “Have you sought professional help?”, 54% of replies were “yes”. One said they were trying, “but the medical system is completely stuffed”. Others said they were talking to family and friends, while a number decided to move jobs.

An SA broker in his 20s says he is struggling: “I have anxiety from this industry.

There is no accountability from anyone. I can’t stand it but am anxious about making a change to another career with financial pressures.”

A Queensland professional in her 40s, who says always works in the office due to an inflexible management, says she has increased social anxiety and it’s time for a change. “The exposure of underwriters appears to be dwindling and more reliant on tick-boxing. The humanity is disappearing.”

“A MALE-DOMINATED ECHO CHAMBER”

A sizable 38% of our insurance industry respondents say they have been bullied or harassed at work, and a third feel they have been discriminated against.

An SA broker aged in her 50s says she was bullied years ago, but the memory lingers: “It really shattered my confidence to the point that even now I can sometimes be stressed and anxious, and have self-doubt.”

A claims consultant says he feels targeted. “I do my best every day but I work in claims – nothing is easy here but I have great cuisine to get me through the tough times.”

The survey drew complaints from some respondents of “persistent chauvinism”.

There were also eight mentions of “woke” policies and several criticisms of “virtue-signalling.” A number of replies say men are having a tough time that has gone unrecognised.

A NSW life insurance professional despairs that “the money is the only thing that is good about our industry” and adds that insurance is still a “very male-dominated and egocentric industry”.

“I have seen vast differences in responses to my male counterparts. I have also been made to feel like coffee girl or admin despite my knowledge and years of experience,” she says.

“I find the industry to be insular, lacks innovation, is an echo chamber, a bit of hubris and ego, male-dominated. People are employed based on number of years’ experience, but often these people lack emotional maturity and emotional intelligence, communication skills, and are lacklustre.”

Here are other sample comments:

“It’s definitely ‘jobs for the boys’ at the top level.”

“White middle-aged Christian males are now the target for discrimination.”

“Becoming a mother prevented me from a promotion at my previous employer.”

“Age discrimination (especially for males) is now prevalent and blatantly open in the larger ‘woke’ broking firms.”

“It’s policy to have female/minority targets so even getting a job interview as a middle-aged white man is becoming impossible.”

“THERE IS A MAJOR SHORTAGE OF TALENT”

The Wellbeing Survey finds widespread agreement among respondents that there is “a war for talent” going on, although one professional notes this year was an improvement on the staffing “dumpster fire” of 2022.

Survey replies say firms are paying over the market to secure the best candidates – and when salaries are not competitive, inexperience reigns. Here are some views on this:

“We are losing staff in droves as they offer much higher salaries elsewhere.”

“Vacancies are a lot harder to fill, my company will need to get a lot more competitive in terms of salary.”

“The younger generation don’t want to carry out menial tasks.”

“Candidates lack industry knowledge or motivation and believe it to be an easy role/easy money.”

“There is a major shortage of talent, the long-term effect of big insurance companies reducing headcounts and sending entry level jobs offshore.”

“Recruiting? Employees are given additional accounts, the workload is outrageous.”

“It’s a tough industry right now in a competitive market, making it tough to recruit and retain.”

“My company pays significantly above average for the role and still struggles.”

“We have allowed natural attrition to occur for too long without investing in training for new entrants into the industry.”

“Regional brokerages ravage each other’s talent.”

“The [recruitment] sticking point now is always around work flexibility. If demands are not met, they will walk away.”

“Younger employees run at the first sign of being uncomfortable/busy.”

“They want to pay a pittance and under-invest in new staff training.”

“YOU HAVE TO MOVE TO LIFT YOUR INCOME”

The 2023 survey also asked about salaries, finding almost half of the respondents had received a 1-5% pay rise, while 13% received 6-10%. Around 6% were rewarded with even larger salary increases.

But it’s far from being all about the money. The war for talent, coupled with tougher working conditions in staff-depleted companies, has had a significant impact on employees, with 32% of respondents saying they are considering moving jobs in the next 12 months.

Some 25% of this cohort say they will move for financial reasons, and 35% are seeking a better work environment and conditions.

One professional moved after working three roles and coping by working long hours of unpaid overtime, including weekends. “Not a lot of job satisfaction if you are spread that thin, as you cannot do anything properly. There was no reprieve/support in sight.”

Many complained of a lack of training, and “slack staff getting treated the same as hard-working staff”. Some other comments:

“Pay is a serious concern across the industry. You have to move in many cases to lift your income, even though you are considered a good performer.”

“Makes you want to look for another job seeing the wages that inexperienced staff are demanding.”

AI: “TRAINING STAFF TO BE OUT OF A JOB”

Only 19% of respondents to the Insurance News Wellbeing Survey 2023 give their workplace an “excellent” rating when asked how well their company invests in technology to help staff do their job efficiently, while 37% selected “good but needs more”.

As artificial intelligence (AI) shakes up industries, the survey finds 60% are concerned about the technology’s impact on their careers.

Some said the way AI rates insurance policies is “at present not accurate”, and others say “people will quickly realise it’s not what it’s cracked up to be”. One respondent says AI is “taking over in a large way” and “we are training our staff to be out of a job”.

Some other viewpoints:

“Simple tasks will be sent to AI and there will be job losses.”

“With claims the results so far are poor.”

“AI has proved fairly incompetent in the technicalities of insurance and still has a long way to go, by which time I will be retired.”

“Worried about aspects of my job being taken over and also if I’ll be able to keep up.”

“Good to free up people to do things only humans can – relationship-building, empathy, customer service.”

“Looking forward to it! It would automate so many mundane tasks leaving room for the more complex, exciting and meaningful work.”

“While it has an opportunity to reduce costs it has the capacity to take away a lot of roles.”

“AI and the amount of money being spent on it will decimate my industry.”

CLIMATE CHANGE: “NOT DOING ENOUGH”

The survey reveals 42% of respondents worry about the future of the insurance industry itself as the climate changes, and a further 37% are “slightly concerned”.

“Insurance is at the forefront of a changing world, economically, climate and socially,” says a veteran NSW broker. “This presents challenges but also huge opportunity to support communities.”

We received more than 100 detailed comments on climate change. Here’s a sample:

“The industry is not doing enough.”

“There is a shift, with some markets and industry segments accelerating their investment in the right direction.”

“The current model will need to evolve to survive, otherwise it’ll become completely unaffordable for the majority of households, which in turn will lead to the breakdown of the pools.”

“We will see areas other than North Queensland being uneconomical to insure.”

“Unless all stakeholders work together and come up with product alternatives many areas will become more unaffordable.”

“We won’t have customers as no one will be able to afford it.”

“We are seeing real-world effects now, with companies withdrawing from many areas.”

Our sincere thanks to those who responded to this year’s Insurance News Wellbeing Survey. The entire survey will be uploaded to insurance
NEWS.com.au shortly.