Canadian Underwriter

What COVID-19 taught P&C leaders to do with their staff

January 8, 2021   by Adam Malik

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Continue to show patience and understanding, while keeping communication open, Hub’s Canadian leader is telling her fellow leaders as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise throughout Canada.

“I had this conversation with our family dinner table — just this whole notion around with respect to communication,” said Tina Osen, president of Hub International Canada. “I think just having a lot more patience, and a lot more understanding, and a lot more compassion. That is two-way: Me, with the teams that report to me, and hopefully them a little bit with me, too.”

No one has had to lead through such times, observed Ray Chun, president and CEO of TD Insurance. “There’s no playbook for this,” he told Canadian Underwriter, which makes how leaders communicate with their staff all that more important.

The holiday season may be over, and the calendar has flipped to a new year, the pandemic is very much with everyone. Canada’s public health agency reported Thursday that there are 79,203 active COVID infections across the country, with daily averages of 7,688 new cases between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6. Quebec has instituted a nightly curfew, while Ontario reported a new record daily case of 4,249 new cases Friday.

“Even though there’s this promise of vaccinations coming down the pipeline, we still have to get through these winter months — and a lot of us are back in some form of lockdown again,” Osen said in an interview.

“For awhile now, I think people have been kind of just getting tired. I call it crispy — feeling [that at] any moment they might cry if you told them their work product wasn’t very good, because they’re just tired. It’s almost like a shift into people feeling burnt out.”

Communication is top of mind for both Osen and Chun because working in a remote environment means fewer opportunities for serendipitous conversation. Regularly checking in and speaking with colleagues is essential, especially since those normal office environment touchpoints are not available, like walking by someone’s desk and talking about your day.

“You take for granted, when we were all physically located, that cooler talk [and] the few minutes before the meetings and connecting with your colleagues,” Chunn said. “This is all about the health and wellness of our colleagues. It’s just to check in more frequently and regularly, just to make sure that people are doing well. Everybody has different situations. As a leader, it’s just spending some more time communicating, checking in with your colleagues and learning yourself.”

Staff do want their leaders to be authentic and showing compassion towards them, but also offering stability, inspiration and hope, Osen explained. But they don’t want to hear that everything is going well and the sky is filled with butterflies and rainbows because they know that’s not the truth.

“At the end of the day, it comes back to trust and being authentic and being transparent with them about where the challenges are right now and communicating regularly,” she said. “It’s really, really important for us to acknowledge that it isn’t always a bed of roses.”

Osen spoke to Canadian Underwriter just before the holidays and noted how the holiday season didn’t feel the same going into it as it used due to COVID-19. There are fewer celebrations and she’s noticed people aren’t in a celebratory mood.

“I just noticed a little bit more — not just with our employees but just with customers in general — everybody being a little bit shorter than they might be normally.”

She encouraged everyone “to have that patience and that understanding and that compassion,” with each other because it’s not normal times for anyone.

“Then, on top of it, leadership has forced us all to be resilient and [we] absolutely have to just roll up the sleeves and get down and be willing to adapt and try and help solve on the fly.”


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