A conversation with Catherine Kosin, senior vice president and Michigan market leader and Beth Larson, branch administrator, Bloomfield Hills
In November 2019, Wellness Works celebrated the community health efforts of Oswald Companies in our campaign, “Giving Back in the Workplace.” Now, almost three years later, Wellness Works followed up with the independent insurance brokerage and risk management firm to see how their workplace wellness efforts have evolved amid the pandemic.
“It’s not just about wellness anymore. It’s also about engagement, mental health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts,” said Catherine Kosin, senior vice president and Michigan market leader at Oswald Companies.
Over the last three years, Oswald Companies made significant adjustments to its workplace wellness initiatives by continuing to support physical and mental health as well as prioritize DE&I efforts, leadership training, and hybrid work flexibility.
- Oswald Companies is an employee-owned risk management, property and casualty insurance, employee benefits, and life insurance company with eight market locations across Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
- Oswald Companies’ leadership focuses on DE&I throughout the organization by supporting employee-directed committees and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which create a culture of belonging. A few of these ERGs are a women’s leadership council (WLC) and young professionals network called OswaldCLIMBS.
- Oswald Companies’ managers are enrolled in a training course that empowers leadership and strengthens communication skills to better support virtual and in-person teams.
- Remote work made it possible for Oswald Companies to change their long history of hiring with emphasis on geographic location to now welcome skilled talent from anywhere in the country.
- Internal mental health initiatives through ERGS, OswaldEngage and OswaldThirves, continue to support employee well-being after the pandemic.
New Employee Resource Groups Further Extend DE&I Efforts
In addition to Oswald Companies’ existing OswaldDEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) ERG, two newly organized resource groups launched this month for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), the LGBTQ+ community, and their allies to share experiences, connect, and learn from one another.
Employees involved in Oswald Companies’ ERGs are passionate and excited about driving belonging throughout the organization. Employees lead the discussions while senior leaders serve in support roles.
“We don’t want to make this a top-down thing. We don’t want the C-suite dictating what DE&I looks like for our organization. We want it to be grassroots, and we want it to come from our people,” said Kosin. “There is some level of executive oversight, but I am not there to tell them what to do. I am there to say, ‘that’s a great idea, how are we going to run with that?’ or ‘this is how I think we should propose it to the executive group.’”
Based on the results of an internal inclusion survey, Oswald Companies’ DE&I committee has a better understanding of employee needs and aspirations, and the steps needed to cultivate an inclusive environment that supports staff on their journey. Additionally, the survey results inspired the committee to thoughtfully review Oswald Companies’ internal processes through the inclusion lens. For example, the vendor selection process has since been rewritten to encourage relationships with more diverse groups, including women-owned, minority-owned, and local business vendors.
Remote Work Widens the Pool for Skilled Talent and Allows Flexibility
Like all industries, Oswald Companies has been impacted by the Great Resignation. Many employees retired early or sought career shifts amid life changes brought on by the pandemic. The pandemic expanded how Oswald Companies thought about their internal structure and recruitment strategy. After a year of remote work, some leadership challenged the company’s history of only hiring individuals who could commute to the office, which led to a hiring shift that now welcomes skilled talent from anywhere in the U.S.
The pandemic also forced more frequent connections between locations, leading to the breakdown of traditional silos. Once siloed in organizational structure, the walls are coming down at Oswald Companies:
“We have made a large number of hires that live in cities that aren’t where we have an office presence because we went after the talent instead of looking at the geography,” said Kosin.
Additionally, a recruiting council was established to create a network of talent referrals from staff, effectively connecting hiring managers with interested talent.
“The sky is the limit,” said Kosin. “We are still a work in progress, but for us, it’s exciting to see how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.”
As the COVID-19 situation becomes more stable, businesses across the country are slowly transitioning back to work. Oswald Companies’ staff is encouraged to be in the office twice a week, but it’s not mandatory. Kosin shared that approximately 80% of staff are doing that, some choosing to commute five days while others are more comfortable coming one day. This healthy mix of flexibility ensures that work gets done while trusting staff to make the best decisions for where they are in their lives at this time.
Leadership Training Strengthens Skills and Connects Teams
A new hiring strategy that embraces fully remote staff brought the challenge of ensuring managers could effectively lead their remote teams. Oswald Companies’ leadership was thoughtful in the way they made sure remote staff felt submerged in its culture with frequent touch points supplemented by mandatory leadership training.
By the end of the year, 80 managers across the organization will have participated in the i3 Leadership and Management Program which focuses on “impowering, igniting, and impacting” company staff. This two-and-a-half-day session helps leaders build strong foundational skills so no matter where team members are or at what stage they may be in their career, managers are trained and empowered to manage individuals in a way that makes them feel good about their experience at Oswald Companies.
Since the i3 Leadership and Management Program involved managers from all eight of Oswald Companies’ market locations, managers have found it to be a great way to connect with and understand one another.
“Getting to attend this class with people from other market locations was really valuable because you realize you are facing the same challenges and issues and talking about how you are going to tackle them together,” said Beth Larson, Bloomfield Hills branch administrator.
When organizations like Oswald Companies recognize the importance of investing in leadership development, the benefits are endless. Not only will team dynamics improve, but managers’ perceptions of the company can also improve.
“You feel appreciated when your company recognizes that you are valuable enough to develop,” said Larson.
Mental and Physical Health Initiatives Continue to Support Employee Well-being
Oswald Companies’ employee engagement committee, OswaldEngage, is a group of internal committee members who are passionate about the organization, culture and fellow-employee owners. They bring engagement, team building, and fun into Oswald’s hybrid work life.
OswaldThrives, Oswald Companies’ health & wellness committee is a group of wellness-minded staff dedicated to the health, wellness, and safety of Oswald’s employee-owners, with advanced goals of serving their clients and communities through leadership and education in these areas.
In the pandemic’s early stages, these committees focused on keeping staff connected and moving. Now, almost two and a half years later, teams continue moving together by tracking activity minutes in competitions with other local businesses. Additionally, Mental Health Moments is a recurring program that invites staff to relax at work with complementary chair massages and meditation sessions.
Community Health Efforts are Still Strong Amid Pandemic Challenges
Among improvements to Oswald Companies’ workplace wellness initiatives over the years, the company continues to have a large presence in the communities they serve through Oswald’s employee-owner driven governing body, OswaldCares, that brings all company fundraising and volunteering opportunities under one umbrella.
Through the highs and lows of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oswald Companies’ teams found ways to support non-profit organizations in need. Volunteer opportunities included a mix of in-person and virtual options respectful of individuals’ comfort levels and geographical locations, such as:
- Packing food for Focus Hope and recording children’s books for its early intervention program virtual library
- Participating in Pass the Love’s community drive-thru that connected local families with fresh produce during COVID-19
- Collecting art supplies for Kids Kicking Cancer
- Purchasing and wrapping gifts for Friends of Foster Kids during the holidays
- Supporting staff who are involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year recognition
- Clearing blight in Detroit with Life Remodeled
- Participating in the Life Remodeled career fair