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Playing for Keeps: Strengthening Retention Through Professional Development

Playing for Keeps:
Strengthening Retention Through
Professional Development


Carie Crane, FLMI, ACS, AIRC, ARA
Vice President, Professional Development

September 2023

As we approach the end of 2023, it can be tempting to hope that some talent challenges are now behind us. However, there are clear reminders that, while perhaps the shape of it has changed, the talent landscape remains a pressing concern for employers. In fact, McKinsey named “talent in transformation” as one of six core priorities for chief executives this year.

When it comes to managing talent successfully, top organizations know this does not only mean recruiting strong new employees, but it also requires holding on to those already hired. A commitment to retention is critical. In fact, a Human Resource Executive survey reveals 47 percent of these leaders feel hiring and retaining key performers is their most pressing challenge. The insurance sector may face some especially intense headwinds: An InsuranceNewsNet article cites Jacobson Group data finding total industry turnover (voluntary and involuntary) reached almost 15 percent over the previous 12 months.

In this potentially harsh reality, what are company leaders across the industry to do? One key focus area likely to drive talent engagement and connection is professional development. In fact, Conference Board research indicates chief human resources officers (CHROs) will focus on strengthening development and culture this year. This is a step in the right direction, as McKinsey research suggests a primary reason people leave their job is a lack of career development.

A company can genuinely demonstrate commitment to professional development in several contexts:

Onboarding and Retaining New Employees

LIMRA research points to the importance of supporting employees with the right resources. This can be especially important when trying to generate interest with recruits and new employees. When employees were asked about what they would seek in a potential employer, 19 percent cite “the ability to acquire new skills” among their top five most important factors.

A recent Conference Board report indicates Gen Z is likely to represent nearly one-third of the workforce by 2025. Employers that are offering what appeals to this newest segment of potential employees are most likely to engage more talent. A strong professional development culture will provide growth opportunities and a sense of purpose — strengthening engagement with young new hires.

A compelling consideration is to offer new employees participation in a mentorship program. According to the Association for Talent Development, 48 percent of organizations have established formal mentoring programs. Employers believe these initiatives improve participants’ job satisfaction (61 percent) and organizational culture (57 percent) — which both clearly link to reducing turnover.

To ensure the employees you worked hard to hire stay with your organization long term, it makes sense to provide professional development early on. Its specific form may vary based on the individual’s role and preferences, but the important thing is to take action and offer mutually valuable opportunities.

Reskilling and Upskilling Veteran Employees

It is equally critical to focus on retaining employees with longer tenure. In today’s challenging environment, losing institutional knowledge and experience at this level can be even more risky, as it is difficult to replace.

Your workforce must feel they have the support needed to succeed; this is directly connected to their desire to stay.

LIMRA research shows employees who agree their company provides the training they need to do their job well are 1.7 times as likely as those who disagree to want to remain with their current employer.

And there may be room for improvement in this area: Pew Research Center states only 44 percent of American workers feel extremely or very satisfied with their training and development opportunities.

A global Randstad Enterprise survey reveals 42 percent of executives say talent scarcity is one of their top concerns. To address talent shortages, 76 percent focus on reskilling and career engagement among existing employees. This involves a different application of professional development, where employers identify where it makes sense to prepare employees for new or more advanced roles they need to fill. One approach is “quiet hiring,” where an organization taps existing talent for stretch assignments, providing the opportunity to enhance their skill sets and other incentives.

Providing Exceptional Customer Experience

Also, when teams are developed and trained effectively, this boosts the quality of customer experience they provide. When employees feel good about their work, supported by their employer and equipped to do their job well, this translates into positive experiences for internal and external stakeholders. Creating a culture of learning and professional development boosts morale — which, in turn, carries over into how employees treat others.

This is especially relevant today, as Gallup finds trust and confidence in U.S. institutions declined last year. This sentiment, and an accompanying decrease in customer satisfaction, can have a long-lasting negative impact. In part, this is caused by employees feeling less empowered to provide exceptional customer experiences. Companies can address this by supporting front-line workers through professional development that helps them feel inspired by their brand purpose and fully capable to serve their customers.

Showing You Care

Ultimately, providing professional development shows you support and care for your employees. MetLife research shows feeling “cared for” by their employer is a primary factor in employees’ general health and happiness. However, 42 percent do not currently believe their employer cares for them; of this group, just 54 percent are loyal to their job.

Learning opportunities — along with impactful work, autonomy and a strong team — are identified as key contributors to employee engagement. Leading employers recognize this interconnection, viewing professional development as a driver of value for new hires, veteran employees and customers.