A radical shift to working life is on the cards. Is the insurance industry ready to adapt?

By Harris Pozderovic

Employers are no strangers to adjustments. While changes to working life may seem inconceivable for many employers and employees at first, time has shown that once something gets rolling, it doesn’t take long for it to become the norm

The covid era quickly transferred boardroom meetings to Zoom calls and saw working-from-home arrangements no longer reserved for particular circumstances but rather being the norm. Now, “hybrid” working setups are offered as an incentive by employers to attract new talent.

The latest change forecasted by industry observers is the transition to a four-day working week. Global trials suggest positive outcomes for employee morale, with workers responding to feeling less stressed without a loss of revenue for employers. 

A Senate Work and Care Committee Report in March recommended the Government launch a trial on its effectiveness, with many private businesses already testing the waters. Not-for-profit advocate 4 Day Week Global says its 100-80-100 model – referring to 100% in wage for 80% in working hours while maintaining 100% productivity – represents a functional formula for the future of work.

Its potential is also gaining traction with the public, with reporting from recruiter Hays finding that 40% of Australians see a four-day working week becoming a reality within the next five years, while a further 16% believe it could materialise in the next 12 months. Another 21% say it will take up to a decade. 

“The four-day work week has been a topic of discussion for several years, but the pandemic shifted the way we work, and now many professionals continue to prize flexibility,” Hays Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Nick Deligiannis says.

“Proponents argue a four-day work week can boost productivity, improve employee morale and wellbeing, and reduce stress and burnout. At a time of talent shortages, it can also aid candidate attraction, engagement and retention.”

But he also notes “concerns about the practicalities”, with many employers worrying that a shorter week could lead to decreased productivity and increased pressure to meet further demands in fewer hours. 

Financial advice firm Invest Blue is halfway through a six-month trial of a nine-day working fortnight, with each full-time employee offered the chance to take every Friday afternoon or second Friday off.

It says the responses from its employees and clients have shown excellent results.

“Our people value and appreciate the additional flexibility and control,” Chief Operating Officer Lexi Glover tells Insurance News. “They see it as a privilege, not an entitlement, which is key.

“As such, if there is urgent work to complete or an important meeting to attend, people are happy to do a couple of hours’ work on their nominated day off. That is integral to the success of this program and the broader organisation.”

She says the company’s decision to trial the program acknowledges the importance of employee health and wellbeing for a productive workplace.

“As financial advisers, we provide comprehensive personal advice to empower our clients to live their best possible life. We also want our people to live their best possible life.

“While we absolutely need to be here for our clients and our team-mates, there are creative ways to get work done and be available.”

But can an industry like insurance, which needs to be totally responsive to brokers, clients and a host of other connected factors, afford to have its workforce move to a 32-hour working week? And how much would companies resist?

The Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance’s Industry Engagement General Manager Mark Silveira suggests compromises between work/life balance and client responsiveness are not at odds.

“It has been shown, particularly during covid, that in general employees were able to retain and arguably enhance both work/life balance and responsiveness,” Mr Silveira tells Insurance News.

“Most people in the insurance sector have a common unspoken goal – that of assisting others at a time when they need us most.”

He says that as a continuous battle ensues among businesses to recruit talent, employers would be wise to consider the value of providing a flexible working schedule.

“The growth capability of insurance organisations is heavily dependent on trained and competent personnel, and the industry is seeking new ways to attract new entrants, as well as accessing those who may be seeking to return to the insurance workforce.

“In this current employment climate, it makes sense for an insurance business to consider all options [that would] attract people into the industry.”