Canadian Underwriter

Focus has been on staff health, but what about the leaders?

April 22, 2021   by Adam Malik

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Leaders at property and casualty insurance organizations need to make sure they are taking care of themselves during the ongoing pandemic crisis, because if they’re not, they won’t be of much help to their staff, panellists said during a recent webinar.

The well-being of senior executives and managers can’t be ignored, said Sonia Boyle, chief human resources officer at Gore Mutual Insurance. Think of it as experiencing an emergency on an airplane: The instructions are to put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping someone else.

An organization needs to support its leaders as well as its staff, Boyle said during the virtual CIP Symposium session The Decentralized Workforce.

Where leaders are concerned, the organization should be providing strategies for senior executives and managers to support their teams, and also strategies for the leaders to support themselves.

“If our leaders aren’t taking care of themselves, and aren’t addressing what they need to ensure that they have mental and physical well-being, then they’re not going to be effective for anybody,” Boyle said.

The problem, she added, is that the broader employee population tends to receive the lion’s share of the organization’s attention and concern. The burden is placed on leadership to provide support to their teams and staff.

“So taking a step back and recognizing that there’s a special need to…[support leaders] — whether it’s around how they can manage more effectively, [or] how they can take care of themselves in order to lead their teams — giving them strategies to do that I think is really, really critical,” she said.

One common issue for managers is that they feel responsible for helping their staff with every problem they may have. This becomes an issue when managers aren’t equipped with the expertise to provide the help and yet, because they care deeply about their team, they feel they must provide help.

“When their team [comes forward] with issues, or stress, or concerns, the manager almost jumps into ‘fix-it’ mode,” said Dr. Stephanie Fitzgerald, senior business partner of mental health at Rolls-Royce. “They really want to engage in [finding a solution], and they jump into problem-solving [mode].”

But in the above scenario, the employees may not in fact need help from the executive or manager. Rather, they may need support from professionals specializing in a certain area. “We need to recognize where the boundary is drawn, and where our responsibility [as leaders] ends,” she said.

The manager’s responsibility typically ends with issues related to doing the job, such as dealing with a problem client, Fitzgerald added.

Jan LeRoy, vice president of human resources at Marsh Canada, agreed. “I often see with leaders that they just [say]: ‘I have to solve the problem for them.’”

Leaders should build up their staff’s resiliency by coaching them through their problems, as opposed to trying to fix their problems for them, LeRoy says.

Sample questions that leaders may ask their team members include: “What have you tried so far? What are the challenges you’re facing? What other options are there?” LeRoy said. Leaders should be “teaching and coaching people how to solve issues for themselves, so they feel more empowered and competent to do that, versus ‘I have to jump in as the manager and leader and fix it.’”

These days, leaders need to remember one thing: This is a difficult time for everyone. “I’ve had managers saying to me, ‘My team’s struggling. What can I do? How do I stop them struggling?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s a global pandemic. This is really hard,’” Fitzgerald said.

The best thing leaders can do is be supportive. You can’t fix your team, but you can support them to get the assistance they need. “That can lift a big burden off some managers as well,” she said.


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