03May2012
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SOA Blog
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Keeping the actuary you hire: Four traps to avoid

With demand for actuaries expected to grow 21% through 2018 [i], options abound for talent that finds itself dissatisfied in their current roles.  Further, there is widespread recognition that being an actuary is one of the best jobs. (Third best in America, to be precise).  So the expectations to be content on the job are pretty high.

The result?  Like any employer reliant on in-demand talent, actuarial employers need to give thought what makes the job attractive to employees.  Each company is different, so you’ll need to find your own unique formula.  But consider first what actuaries have in common.  Actuaries are:

  • Highly intelligent professionals who have spent 4-8 years workingtowards their credentials.  They have exceptional mathematical, analytical, financial and statistical skills that are put to the test on a regular basis in order to keep their valued credentials.
  • Integrators, accustomed to working in a collaborative environment and bringing together a broad range of data to build predictive models that speak to companies in a common language that helps them make important business decisions.
  • Problem-solvers who take their personal integrity very seriously, viewing it as part of a wider social contract with the public and their profession. (See SOA Code of Conduct.)

Clearly, actuarial professionals need to feel engaged and achieve the satisfaction that comes from a meaningful job.  In a recent McKinsey Quarterly piece, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer explore how employers kill that sense of meaning in jobs.  In sending the right signals to employees that lend credibility to the meaning in their jobs, the four most frequent traps management must avoid are:

  • Trap 1: Mediocrity signals…Words and actions need to match. Citing two examples, the authors point to the mismatch between rhetoric      espousing innovation and progress, when the signals management was sending      were all about near-term cost cutting and “being ordinary.”
  • Trap 2:  Strategic ‘attention deficit disorder’… Focuses on the top managers that start and abandon initiatives so frequently that employees never learn whether initiatives are succeeding, leaving the organization with, at best, a muddy strategic focus, rather than clarity.
  • Trap 3:  Corporate keystone cops… “When coordination and support are absent within an organization, people stop believing…  [making]  it extremely difficult to maintain a sense of purpose.”  Without purpose, how can you gauge progress?
  • Trap 4:  Misbegotten ‘big hairy audacious goals’ (BHAG)… Despite their value in many organizations, in some companies, “… such  statements are grandiose, containing little relevance or meaning for people…. Result is a meaning vacuum.” Again, leaving employees with neither viable purpose nor sense of progress.


What approaches have you used to keep actuaries engaged in your company?  Or if you’re an actuary, tell us what you wish employers would do to make the job more rewarding.


[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.

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