ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Stress in The Insurance Business

Being an insurance agent consultant, I face more than my share of examples of the destructive power of stress in the business of operating an insurance agency. Heart attacks, strokes, divorces, drug and alcohol dependency are just some of the results of this self imposed and controllable killer.

Yes, stress is self imposed. It has much more to do with an individuals self-esteem than it does with external influences.

But first we must identify the difference between stress and pressure and we must differentiate between normal and extraordinary levels of stress.

Pressure is exerted by outside influences. Stress is exerted by inside influences. The best example of stress and pressure is that of a simple balloon. Blowing into a balloon causes stress on the inside walls of the balloon. Simultaneously gravity causes pressure on the outside walls of the balloon. Additional external pressure can be applied by squeezing the balloon but without some level of stress inside the body of the balloon, it will generally not be damaged by any amount of gravity in outside pressure. The problem arises due to too much stress on the inside walls of the balloon. Even if no additional pressure were exerted beyond gravity, too much stress causes an explosion. If the additional pressure of squeezing on the balloon is also exerted, less stress is needed to cause the same explosion. Either way the explosion destroys the balloon. This combination of stress and pressure in our lives results in strokes and heart attacks and a whole list of physical and mental problems.

The only way to avoid bursting like a balloon is to relieve stress. While you can not (and do not want to) relieve all stress, the more pressure is put on you from external sources, the less stress you can maintain and keep your equilibrium. If normal amounts of pressure are exerted on you in your home or business life, some stress is good for you - it fills you out and defines your purpose in life - whether it's to be an insurance agent or a balloon.

Now, let's back this parable into a more realistic situation. Normal stress for an insurance agent involves meeting prospects, selling, and managing your business. Each of these functions require self imposed deadlines, quality expectations and performance expectations.

Now, add the pressures of negative company underwriters, uncooperative or ineffective employees and a nagging spouse and you have the beginnings of an over stressful situation. No, the situation is not one of undue pressure - it's one of too much stress. Why? Because you can't control the pressures exerted on you from outside sources. You can only control the stress that you exert on yourself. Just as letting the air out of a balloon eliminates the possibility of it's over expansion, when outside pressures build to your detriment, your only recourse is to lower your stress levels - internally.

But how can we do this? The answer is both complex and difficult to achieve. In order to relieve your stress you, like a balloon, must have a safety valve. Those of us with healthy psyches have such a valve in the form of outside interests. But there are still too many insurance agents for whom their business is their only interest. Yes, they may have families and belong to churches and other civic organizations. However, you will find them in the office early in the morning, late in the evening and on weekends. Their social events are related to the business of insurance. They play golf - but only with clients or company people. Vacations are rare and are too often planed around insurance related meetings or events. They don't understand (and often discourage) others who have outside interests divorced from their career.

Does this identify someone that you know?

There is no single or simple answer to the problem of stress in the insurance business. But there are individualized answers for every person. The key for each individual is to do something that feels good and takes your mind off the business long enough to feel relaxed. For some of us athletics is the answer. Contact sports, recreational golf, running or even simply working out are great stress relievers. But just as many people can relieve stress to stamp collecting, playing an instrument or attending movies or the theater.

No one can identify your stress relief method but you. However, if you feel guilty about not being at work while your performing some recreational activity, that activity is not your stress relief mechanism.

Stress relief is not synonymous with laziness in non- performance. You have every reason to impose stress upon yourself and feel guilty if you simply don't do those tasks that are required to make you successful. However, we found that that is simply not the case for most principals of insurance agencies. They are performing to the best of their capabilities most of the time. They don't necessarily succeed all of the time but they are trying. The guilt and self-imposed stress over the lack of sufficient success when reasonable efforts are being made is the unhealthy stress that perpetuates the problem.

After reading this article we suggest that you take a close look at your own activities. Do you have outside interests? Do you use those interests to reward yourself for a job well done or to relieve stress when you can no longer be effective at work? If your answer is yes, congratulations. You probably have a healthy psyche and can cope with the day to day activities of an insurance agency. If you see the danger signs reflected in your work or personal life or, especially, if you don't understand this article at all and don't know why stress is unhealthy, we strongly urge you to take some time for yourself and determine whether your agency is worth dying for. We've always been under the impression that our business is there to make us a living, not a dying. Each time the Agency Consulting Group is called to settle an estate of an agent who died before his time, we are sorry that we couldn't have counseled him with the contents of this article years before. Hopefully, this will reach a few high risk people and avoid a stress related problem in the future.