Due to past economic growth, urbanisation and popular education the insurance industry has expanded considerably over the past few decades, resulting in acute competitiveness and rivalry between companies. The impact of this competitiveness is felt amongst employees in the insurance industry by engendering general feelings of distrust, tension, strain in interpersonal relations, interpersonal conflicts and coping with sustained pressure.EasyEquities is launching an epic new feature in partnership with InvestSure that allows the investor to insure their investment capital.

An increasing number of surveys reveal that performance pressure and work-family conflicts have been found to be the most important contributing sources of work stress among employees in the insurance industry. Other identified sources of stress within the insurance industry are related to dealing with demanding or difficult clients, the employees ability to survive in the insurance business and to achieve their career goals, time pressures and meeting deadlines, working continually to achieve targets, technology and system changes, mental strain of work and work overload. Whilst the first two were perceived as a threat to self esteem, the latter ones were more associated with job demands. It seems that the overall perception of work stress by employees within the insurance industry is associated with work demands, lack of job security and the need to maintain a professional self.

Research has shown that physical and psychological health were found to be a major outcome of perceived stressors. Recommendations in research reports suggest that insurance organisations are advised to take note of the impact of stressors such as job characteristics, workload and work-home balance in order to protect both the employee and the organisation against negative effects of occupational stress. If the industry leaders don’t prioritise individual wellbeing, and the physical and psychological stressors are allowed to  continue unattended, insurance businesses can expect to encounter negative costs with continued, elevated levels of stress, such as burnout, absenteeism, employee turnover and lowered levels of service delivered to clients.

Specialist bespoke high net worth underwriter MUA Insurance Acceptances has responded to these risks by representing the insurance industry as one of the leading sponsors of Africa’s first International Mindfulness Conference recently held at the Cradle of Humankind. With their recent public focus on employee, broker and client wellbeing as a leading strategy to define their future growth, their representation and collaboration with the Institute of Mindfulness In South Africa could well be considered a new approach to risk management.

Chief Executive Officer, Dawie Loots comments, “If we take a look around at our country it is a sad reflection of the lack of mindfulness we have as leaders. We must prioritise the mental and physical wellbeing of ourselves so that we can lead by example and make mindful choices that positively impact our employees, business partners, shareholders and the South African economy. We have partnered with IMISA to create awareness within the insurance industry of a critical skill called mindfulness which can help us to address the risks and concerns we’re seeing in many research reports about the impact of occupational stress in our industry.”

Chairman of IMISA, Dr Simon Whitesman opened the conference with an emotional and honest address about the content and experience design of the conference that took two years to plan and featured thought leader and founder of mindfulness based stress reduction training Emeritus Professor of Medicine Jon Kabit-Zinn. Other local and international contributors included social activist Jay Naidoo, Mindful Of Race teacher Ruth King, director of Mindful Leadership Casper Oelofsen, co-founder of MBSR training program in Cape Town Linda Kantor and Research Chair at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. The focus of the conference was not only to educate delegates on mindfulness based research and discuss the societal challenges that are negatively impacting economic growth, but an experience of observing thoughts and engaging in debates that were revealed as grenades of truth in business and in our country.

Casper Oelofsen, one of the founders of Capitec Bank and Cash Crusaders, together with international expert Rebecca Crane facilitated discussions and shared research insights on mindfulness at work, in business and in leadership with leaders and practitioners in the field. Jay Naidoo shared personal discussions with Nelson Mandela on mindfulness. He shared his mindful view that “to heal South Africa there a few keys. Finding your purpose. Finding community. Learning to forgive.”

Mindfulness is defined by Emeritus Professor of Medicine Jon Kabit-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”.

The fourth industrial revolution brings increased complexity to the world of work. With increased complexity we see an increase in the number of distractions we are exposed which challenges our ability to focus on one task at a time.

Oelofsen reminded delegates that to navigate in a world of complexity, the core skill needed is to be present to the now, that our biggest hurdle as leaders is the discomfort we feel as a result of the many distractions, lack of control and multitasking. There was also a sense of discomfort, but also an experiential reminder of the impact of multitasking when Mark Williams took delegates through the switching cost experiment. The high cost of multitasking to business and individuals is up to 40% lost in productivity and few leaders recognise the negative impact it has on our wellbeing. To thrive in a complex working environment it is critical that individuals learn how to manage themselves through inner focus which is achieved with mindfulness practices and regular self reflection.

Linda Kantor shared her Phd research results on the impact of learning the skill of mindfulness as an important skill for leadership development and individual wellbeing. Learning mindfulness can reduces stress, enhance immunity, improve sleep quality, reduce symptoms of mental health (depression and anxiety) and enhances resilience and coping skills. The benefits for business have revealed that it also positively impacts negotiation skills, eliminates cognitive bias in decision making, ethical conduct, job satisfaction and job performance, leadership efficacy, insight problem solving and creativity.

MUA has identified IMISA as an important part of their value chain in partnering with brokers to continue to develop products that respond to the challenges, risks and demands of the fourth industrial revolution that impacts both their employees and clients. It is not only a strategy of growth and innovation, but a reminder to the insurance industry that human connection is critical to navigate the landscape of trust that insurance clients pay a premium for.

“We provide bespoke risk management solutions and have identified that education and training in the skill of mindfulness and personal mastery is critical to proactive risk management for our business, employees, business partners and high net worth individuals who have the ability to create a tipping point of positive change and growth that benefits the millions of South Africans who are struggling and in need.”

“Partnering with IMISA was an easy decision because we believe and recognise the value and importance on taking care of oneself. If I don’t take care of myself, how I lead and make decisions comes from a place of stress and pressure. As a business we’re making decisions that will contribute to the education and practice of mindfulness and individual wellbeing so that we can better care for the clients we serve.”

While leadership development continues to be a buzz word across corporate South Africa, its impact is starting to raise questions on its ability to deliver the strategic growth that our economy needs. As our South Africa continues to be challenged by effects of corruption and poor leadership choices, leaders are being challenged to reflect on their legacy and the impact their choices are having on the individual well-being of their employees.

MUA Insurance Acceptances are investing in developing online content and programs on mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, coach training and personal mastery to address the occupational and life risks associated with working within the insurance industry.

“Our success has been established and sustained through human connection and a personalised service that we deliver to high networth individuals with our broker network. If we’re going to nurture our industry and grow our business we need to respond to the suffering and pain we’re seeing in our industry and in our country. Our choices at MUA are a reflection of being the change we want to see in our industry for the benefit of our client. Clients need insurance solutions to protect their risks and we have a responsibility to make sure that how we deliver those solutions is done with thought and care in a mindful way.”

Mindfulness could be the answer that the insurance industry needs to reflect and respond to the fourth industrial revolution. Individual wellbeing as a priority could be the key to unlock and address the need for economic growth and a solution that responds to the increasing societal risks which are a consequence of mindless choices that contribute to the ever increase gap of inequality and human suffering not just in South Africa, but around the world.

Author: Michelle Ashen-Abrahams