Although AFLAC's chief information officer Jim Lester boasts, "Employees love our duck," the quacking mascot isn't the carrier's only draw. A fun-filled Employee Appreciation Week and more practical perks, such as use of Georgia's largest corporately owned childcare center, are among the offerings that have made AFLAC, the leading US writer of voluntary insurance coverages marketed at the worksite, a sought-after employer in an industry that recently has struggled to attract the best and brightest, especially in the information technology space.
Now, this commitment to staff developmentand funhas helped Columbus, GA-based AFLAC ($37 billion in assets) snare the highest ranking for an insurance company (and number 33 overall, up from 61 a year ago) on Fortune's recently published list of the "Best Companies To Work For" in the US. And while all employees are eligible for perks, the firm's IT personnel, enjoy a uniquely beneficial experience. IT management at AFLAC focuses not only on keeping employees happy, but educated as well.
The carrier's existing IT training program is currently being refined into a more focused program that is better able to meet the ever-changing demands of the department. "Technology training, as a rule of thumb, has a shelf life of five to six weeks at the most," explains Lester. "When we implement a new technology, we need to get employees trained in a sequence of courses where they can be objectively rated, and, within six weeks, using it in the real world."
AFLAC employs a training coordinator who works full-time specifically for the IT organization. Infrastructure support personnel are continually being trained in relevant IBM (Armonk, NY) and Microsoft (Redmond, WA) technologies. This training, most of which is mandatory, takes place in a classroom with both internal and external instructors, depending on cost.
A voluntary e-learning resource is also available for IT staffers, as well as the rest of the company's employees. Course offerings range from time management to courses on Microsoft Office products, such as Word and Excel.
Education Is Critical
The training not only improves IT employees' skill sets but also prepares them for growth opportunities, which Lester anticipates will be numerous as the company moves away from its legacy system over the next three years. "There is no static situation here, such as that you know COBOL and that will be all you do forever," Lester explains. "Employees are going to have to move and shake, and it's a big challenge for everyone, but people are excited about stepping up to the bar."
Keeping personnel informed of such changes is a priority for Lester, who notes that yearly manager luncheons with AFLAC's CEO Dan Amos help foster an open communications environment that is "particularly effective." Lester describes IT's communications method as a mixture of "unique and traditional." The department has an open-door policy, but IT resource managementhuman resources specifically for ITis available to work as a liaison between managers and employees who don't feel comfortable speaking directly to their managers. Also, Employee Council meetings are conducted by IT resource management for technology personnel in the absence of their managers. Personnel are encouraged to discuss work process issues and anything else that may be on their minds.
Online Suggestion Box
An online suggestion box is another resource available in the IT organization. This not only encourages communications, but rewards them. The Bright Ideas Program was designed to cut costs while improving work processes. Employees propose changes and if the suggestions are implemented, the employee who made the suggestion receives a gift certificate or monetary award.
The morale of AFLAC's IT employees is kept up through planned activities. "We recently had an IT bowling party late one afternoon," explains Lester. "We sang and shared a meal. It was a lot of fun." The carrier also encourages its employees to spend time with their families. As part of AFLAC's Employee Appreciation Week, which takes place in April, the underwriter's staffers are given tickets to amusement parks and Atlanta Braves baseball games, so they can enjoy family time over the weekend. And, if all else fails to keep spirits up, there is never a shortage of quacking duck hats and shirts to go around.
-- US employees: 3,251
-- Employees outside the US: 2,493
-- New jobs: 604
-- Job growth: 19%
-- Voluntary turnover (2000): 14%
-- Applicants: 7,737
-- Most-common entry-level job/salary (professional): Supervisor, $40,186
-- Most-common entry-level job/salary (production): Customer service specialist,$20,953
Source: Fortune "Best Companies To Work For"