How Aflac tackles employee turnover through engagement

When 40% of your staff hails from the millennial and Generation Z age groups, you need new ways to keep them engaged. But employers can take steps, both large and small, to help retain top talent, says Matthew Owenby, senior vice president, chief resource officer for Aflac.

In his keynote address last week at EBN’s Benefit Forum and Expo in Nashville, Owenby revealed the average tenure at the insurance firm is 18 years.

“We have people with 30 years of experience,” he says of the company, headquartered in Columbus, Ga. “It’s an amazing company and they are staying 20, 30 and 40 years. The call-in center turnover ratio is 8% nationally.”

And 7% of that is due to spousal relocation, he adds, “this is pretty unusual.”

Also see: Deloitte launches predictive HR platform to engage workers

Despite the ubiquitous TV commercials featuring an iconic duck, the insurance firm knows that its employees have a serious job. “People don’t call asking for duck. They call because they have leukemia or they fell of the ladder,” he says. “If you take care of employees, they will take care of the business.”

The millennial and Gen X workers expect transparency, because, as he puts it, “that is where the relationship starts.”

“They want things outside the company. They want one-on-one mentoring,” he says. "They don’t want automation in what is important.” In response, Owenby says although the firm has invested in employee automation “we are now walking that back.”

Management communication is key inside Aflac. The firm recently held its State of the Company address, and “this is not a one time event at Aflac,” says Owenby.

Employees want to be involved in the company and with its leadership he notes. “We bring all employees together once a year for [a] state of the company address. We then split up executives to have breakout sessions with employees.”

Also see: How can employers create an engaged culture?

He says that Aflac’s chief people officer will hold monthly sessions with high potential employees on topics like "do they know their job?’" "do they know their mission?" he says, adding that these sessions are also a chance for Aflac employees to vent about their jobs.

“One of the things we really focus on is coaching,” he says. “We have people tell us online what their strengths and weakness are. And then we put them into groups to network and discuss how they can get better at work,” he says.

The company takes a wide approach to engaging across different groups of employees, and
Owenby recommends Aflac approaching to reaching multiple groups.

For its female employees, the insurer holds a “women’s tea” where women gather with female executives to discuss career development and challenges women face in the workplace. “It’s a small simple thing that we get wonderful feedback,” he says.

Aflac also holds “men’s coffee” meetings where men come together to hear from executives about workplace issues and strategy. “We talk about personal development and how people can advance their careers,” he says.

Employee surveys and reaching out via social media is way the company targets its younger groups. “We have a nationwide career expo where we talk about our job and in some cases we do speed interviewing. Employees can connect to a real person who is hiring managers,” he says.

Also see: 7 companies offering Facebook-level benefits to attract talent

“Millennials and Gen Z-ers want to be connected. We have Aflac Better Together, a mobile app that gives a snapshot of the company” he says. “We also have a My Aflac for Facebook,” but cautions that going online can have its risks.

“You have to hire a full-time person to make sure [the online posting] goes well. It could be an end of a career. Maybe you have to hire an intern or two,” he says, but admits that “the vast majority of posts are positive.”

“There are occasions we have to come in and clean it up,” he adds.

And engagement has to go beyond technologies. Employers providing a human touch can create a real connection.

For example, he says, on bonus day, Aflac employees are physically handed checks instead of electronically depositing the money into their accounts.

Owenby says this hands-on method is a way to physically connect with people. “It makes a massive difference,” he says.

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