Canadian Underwriter

How are you managing your mental health?

February 11, 2020   by Adam Malik

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From left, Alison Paul (Canadian Red Cross), Chantal Gagné (Desjardins Insurance), Stephen Darling (Stan Darling Insurance) and moderator Anna Ziolecki (Partners for Action) during a panel discussion on mental health and disasters at CatIQ Connect on Feb. 4 in Toronto.

Insurance professionals can run the gamut of emotions over the course of a claim, which is what makes managing mental health a challenge, according to industry experts.

Whether it’s the broker fielding the call from a panicked client to the claims advisor overseeing the loss to the adjuster who regularly interacts with the distraught client, a claim can touch many across the field.

And emotions can start off positively, said Chantal Gagné, vice president of personal insurance at Desjardins Insurance. “The first day following a claim, from a claims advisor’s perspective, the first feeling is like, ‘I’m a superhero. I’m ready to go there. I want to be there for my customer,’” she said as part of a panel at the CatIQ Connect conference recently in Toronto. “And, honestly, if we think about it, that’s why they have chosen this profession – to help clients.”

Claims experts come up with a plan before they get there on how they’ll tackle the claim, but, Gagné explained, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you see the damaged property and the people affected. “When they arrive on site … it’s a big reality check.” That’s when they “feel a bit of discouragement. The nice plan they worked on probably won’t work.”

That’s what Gagné calls the first phase. The second, or middle, phase sees the advisor working day in, day out for months at a time. “Most of the time, they’re not home because they’re working seven days a week. These weeks are a critical time that will be the difference between make or break.”

Then the finish line – at least, for the claim. The strain of the journey on the advisor’s well being, however, carries on.

“Those employees who succeed at realizing they need to get back to their normal lives and get back to their normal activities and spend quality time with their family, get back to hockey on Tuesday nights — those are the ones who will succeed going through that [roller coaster],” Gagné explained. “The others who stay swamped in their work and don’t take time for themselves, they’re at risk of getting tired and at risk of a burnout.”

The panel was moderated by Partners for Action director Anna Ziolecki, who asked what was being done to improve mental health supports for claims teams. At Desjardins, Gagné said they have programs to provide psychological support.

However, “this is more of a reactive than a proactive approach. So there may be something there to improve on, knowing it’s continuing to evolve,” Gagné said. “Other things we need to do as employers of claims teams is we need to create an environment that allows them to feel safe, that allows them to trust their colleagues and allows them to not feel alone when this happens.”

Their managers also need “to be well equipped to support employees in those situations and ask questions to make sure they’re proactive in their listening to what they have to say,” Gagné added. “I think we are responsible to create that kind of environment.”

Panellist Stephen Darling, president of Stan Darling Insurance in Sundridge, Ont., explained how he will do little things like bring in breakfast and lunch for his colleagues who are burning the midnight oil for clients, saying there’s only so far someone can go until they reach a breaking point.

“I wanted to make sure they realized that, yes, you’re appreciated for what you’re doing because, at some point, you’re going to be exhausted if all you’re hearing is people complaining or giving you their problems,” he said. “It’s going to be harder the next day to pull that off.”

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