Q&A: How State Farm Boosted Benefits To Recruit (And Keep) Employees | WGLT

Q&A: How State Farm Boosted Benefits To Recruit (And Keep) Employees

Nov 12, 2020

The insurance business is very competitive—and not just for customers.

Insurers like State Farm and Country Financial face a lot of competition to recruit and retain employees. Recruiting difficulty is on the rise, especially for actuarial, technology, executive-level, and analytics positions, according to a labor market study released earlier this year.

WGLT recently spoke to State Farm Senior Vice President Annette Martinez, who oversees areas such as human resources and diversity and inclusion, about work-life balance. And coming Friday, Part 2 of our interview will focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives within the company. 

WGLT: State Farm recently added and expanded leave benefits for your employees. That includes enhanced paid parental leave, plus adding “celebration leave” and “life leave.” Why do you do that?

Martinez: We’re constantly looking at our benefits package. We’re looking at what’s relevant in the marketplace. Are we competitive? In fact, we just completed a survey over the last couple of months with our own employees, where we asked them to rate our benefits. Because it evolves, and the (different) generations maybe expect different things.

These were three benefits that we knew were in the marketplace. We actually had paid parental leave before; we just expanded that benefit. And so that's been something we've had long term. And we saw that we were falling behind a little bit in what other companies were doing. And so we took the chance to expand that.

The celebration leave was an interesting evolution, because a lot of companies have more holidays than we have. And so we could have added some of your traditional holidays. But where we landed was, why don't we give employees a choice when they want to take that leave? So perhaps maybe not one of the holidays that we currently give as a leave, maybe that's the day they want. Martin Luther King Day is a day that a lot of people use celebration leave on. But other people use that for their birthday. And it's their chance to get away and enjoy and celebrate their birthday. 

And so the flexibility of the celebration leave was really key for us, instead of just doing another holiday.

You said you were concerned at a time about falling behind on paid parental leave versus what other companies were offering. What happens if you do fall behind?

It is highly competitive now. So we have been very fortunate in our organization because our employees, like in many companies, they are our best recruiting source. We tap into our employees oftentimes to say, who do you know out there that you think match the State Farm need?

"We're always looking to make sure that our benefits are the most competitive as possible."

And so in that way, we do have a really good recruiting source from within as well.

But beyond that, and as we continue to grow, we're competing for a smaller (pool) – you know, unemployment has been very good. And so they're not a lot of people necessarily looking for work. And so it is a highly competitive marketplace.

And quite frankly, we want to get the absolute best talent that we can. So for us, we're always looking to make sure that our benefits are the most competitive as possible. So that isn't one area where a person would say, ‘Hey, I'd love to work for you. But you don't offer this so I can't come.’ We don't we want to put all that aside and say, ‘No, we are the best employer to work for.’”

State Farm recently landed on Working Mother magazine's list of the 100 Best Companies. It was your first time making that list. What decisions along the way leads to a ranking like that?

We're really proud of that. Working Mother, we’ve had a very good relationship with over the years ,and we partnered with them. We've done some research with them.

But as we look at the career track, and the things we're doing for women in the workplace, some of the benefits that we offer, we just really felt like we were in a place that we could be recognized for that work and, and have people feel proud about working for an organization who really benefits women. And so for us, it was just a match of really being able to tell our story to them. And they recognize that we're doing a lot of really positive things for females.

State Farm is a business, so the bottom line is also important here. How does setting a healthy life-work balance, particularly for women who work for your company, help you long term from a financial perspective?

First of all, we know women buying power is very, very high. And we want to have those perspectives within our business. So we need women that are part of that buying power to inform us. We want talented women in our decision-making roles, so they can help us think about how we position our business for that that particular policyholder set. So that's important for us as well.

There's also a lot of great research out there that talks about having a good, healthy balance of women in leadership roles and executive roles. That companies perform better because of that, and I think it's what we talked about with diversity and inclusion, is that bringing a lot of different skill sets, perspectives, experiences, you really come to better business decisions by doing that.

Over the summer, CNBC reported that about 9% of State Farm employees quit their jobs in 2019. Are you happy with that amount of churn, and if not, where do you want to be?

Actually, as we compare to other companies – we have a lot of contact center associates, and in the industry, the turnover rate for that can be as high as 50% to 60%. And, and as we compare ourselves to other organizations in turnover, and really even in longevity with the organization, there are very few companies that have the level of data that we have, just in keeping associates. We are very high in our retention.

You do want some churn in your organization. It's not for everyone. We want to make sure that people can be their best selves here, and if it's not, they don't find jobs that are meaningful to them, then we would prefer they go find that in other ways, because we know they're going to be happier. And that we're able to then really use us positions for people who want to be part of this organization.

State Farm is obviously headquartered here in Bloomington, where you have over 14,000 employees. Are there things that State Farm has to do from a work-life balance perspective to recruit and retain employees here specifically?

We are very fortunate in Bloomington-Normal, because I think we have a good name in the community and that people do see us as a really great place to work and understand that.

But we're always trying to, again, talk with our associates, understand what matters to them. This year, in particular, as most of our time has been in work from home, we've had to exercise extreme flexibility. And we just work with our leaders to say, talk with your people see what works for them. We have parents who are trying to home school and work at the same time, and we're just talking about, can you give flexibility? Maybe they need to stand aside for a couple of hours and work with their children, and they can work maybe a couple later hours in the evening.

So we’re trying to give as much flexibility as possible. And it's been a real test for us. But we're really proud of … we're testing the sentiment every month, just checking in to make sure employees are feeling good about their situation. And we're getting such positive results. And that tells me that the leaders are having those conversations.

The one thing that gets complicated when you’re a business our size is, there's not a one-size-fits-all. And so this really comes down to our leaders having the right conversations with their people, and trying to use whatever flexibility they need for those in those very specific situations for individuals.

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