Blossoming Resilience

Embracing human experience in the workplace positions actuaries to thrive in an uncertain future James Dunseth, Tony Johnson and Cecilia Zhang


Sally, a lifelong Californian, was hired three months ago to be the new chief actuary for a large life insurer on the East Coast. At 6 a.m. PT, Sally turns on her laptop and joins a 25-minute biweekly huddle with her seven direct reports. Later, she walks into her office at home to take a few calls with other leaders to discuss a preview of the latest quarterly earnings results. Sally then pauses her workday at 3 p.m. to take over childcare responsibilities from her partner. She and her son walk their dog in the neighborhood, and after they come home, she sits with him for their daily math class. At 9 p.m., after her son goes to bed, Sally turns on her laptop again to join a video conference with an offshore team to discuss experimenting with R/Python use cases. Sally does all of this without ever having stepped foot in her company’s home office.

Most people might find it surprising that Sally has never met her team in person and drives strategy discussions via virtual meetings. This was likely not the typical experience of most chief actuaries before 2020. A work arrangement like Sally’s in this example may call into question how such a leader integrates with company culture, forms trusting relationships with her teams and feels fulfilled in her work. However, given recent events, Sally’s experience quickly represents the norm for many individuals hired into the workforce since March 2020.

Today’s world is drastically different from a year ago. Since the start of 2020, a global pandemic has turned work and personal lives upside-down for many individuals around the world. Although most would agree that the impact of COVID-19 will continue to be felt for years to come, one could argue that various disruptors had already laid the groundwork for businesses and individuals to transform the workplace. These include disruptors such as the influx of artificial intelligence (AI) and the changing dynamic of a multigenerational workforce,1 both of which affected ways of working long before COVID-19.

Actuaries, along with other professionals, are among those forever impacted by the “hard pivot” that is raising questions about different ways to work. Not only are most actuaries now working from home—where they remotely execute quarterly close processes, run computationally intensive models and manage complex data sets—many are navigating the added duties of home-schooling their children. They are being asked to remain productive and handle not just their day-to-day tasks, but also take on additional responsibilities while business pressures mount.

Coping with these challenges is stressful and emotional. The sheer amount of task switching needed to maintain “work/life integration” takes a significant toll on people’s well-being and overall productivity. This toll comes with a steep price—one that ultimately can cause actuaries and other professionals to lose sight of the passion they once found in their work. This article discusses several ways that both organizations and professionals, like actuaries, could embrace human experience in the workplace to help build the resilience to thrive in an uncertain future.

Reimagine Human Experience

In the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, a refreshed concept of the employee experience—human experience—emerged as one of the top trends. Out of 9,453 survey respondents, 84 percent of respondents rated human experience as an important trend.2 Human experience is a concept that expands beyond the traditional lens of the employee experience where individuals in an organization are viewed within specific parameters. At work, human experience focuses on the biggest factors of job satisfaction—meaningful events that create an impact far greater than individual task execution and completion. Human experience recognizes that humans are more complicated than the components of a machine. While individual motivation consists of a blend of drivers in different areas, fundamentally, humans are sense-making and meaning-seeking.

From an organizational perspective, we suggest five ways organizations can design a powerful human experience for their workforce. The emphasis is to imbue the concept of human experience into these areas:

  1. Consider job redesign.
  2. Focus on well-being.
  3. Invest in learning and mentorship.
  4. Increase visibility into customer impact.
  5. Support virtual effectiveness.

In addition, we suggest four activities for actuaries to consider as they navigate the workplace:

  1. Practice self-reflection.
  2. Actively look for opportunities to upskill.
  3. Seek mentorship.
  4. Advocate for yourself.

Constructing a Resilient Organization

Consider Job Redesign

One approach to developing an enhanced human experience is to connect employee aspirations to their jobs. According to a LinkedIn study, 49 percent of employees surveyed are willing to give up part of their compensation to stay in the same position if an additional sense of purpose exists.3 Organizations can seize the power of purpose and redesign jobs to focus on more valuable and meaningful outcomes for employees. The redesign process should begin with pixelating the work of the actuarial function to understand where actuaries spend their time. The activities identified as part of this work decomposition are then reconciled against the outcomes and outputs requested by customers and stakeholders. This helps to provide an understanding of where time and effort are being under- and overspent in relation to the value created from the energy exerted.

Based on this analysis, the work actuaries perform can be reconstructed to better align to higher-value tasks that meet stakeholder and customer needs. Some of the previously performed tasks may be delegated to other functions that are better suited to perform the work, such as delivery centers or managed service providers. For those tasks that still require completion by the actuarial function but need to be performed more efficiently, technologies such as machine learning, robotic process automation and natural language processing can help actuaries perform repetitive and time-consuming work with minimized error. 4

The redesign of actuarial jobs should include a dynamic scope that breaks functional barriers. The concept of “superjobs” aims to explore this possibility. Superjobs combine tasks previously performed by different professionals and therefore require a broader scope of domain, technical and human skills.5 It is only possible to create superjobs when most repetitive and administrative tasks are automated and performed by technology. Superjobs are designed to be more flexible and outcome- and productivity-oriented.6 Human qualities such as creativity, problem-solving, data interpretation and empathy will become central to the day-to-day activities for those who take on superjob roles. For example, an actuary’s focus today might be to conduct and summarize a series of model runs. In the future, the actuary’s aim may be to find new ways to effectively communicate earnings results to leadership to facilitate decision-making, or to develop strategies to influence policyholder behavior that encourages healthy habits and reduces unintended outcomes. The new scope of work boasts a sense of purpose and provides opportunities for actuaries to perform meaningful work regularly.

Well-being: A Key Ingredient

A critical component for putting meaning back into work is well-being, and well-being should always be integrated with job design. Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report states that well-being is one of the highest-rated priority areas for organizational success.7 However, the topic of well-being possessed the largest gap between perceived importance and organizations’ readiness to take immediate action. Out of 8,949 respondents, 80 percent of companies rated well-being as important or very important for organizational success over the next 12 to 18 months; yet, only 12 percent indicated they are ready to address it immediately.8 Within a subset of organizations that measure the impact of well-being on organizational performance, 62 percent suggested that it positively impacts workforce experience.9

Operationalizing well-being in job design can take many forms. Examples include virtual work settings, flexible schedules, and part-time or project-based roles. Consider ways in which your actuarial department could increase well-being in a virtual work environment. Can project-based staffing provide flexibility to actuaries to help with major projects like new product launches or companywide experience studies? Does increasing the breadth and depth of actuarial rotation programs better equip actuaries to understand and communicate with different internal stakeholders? What about hiring actuaries outside of traditional educational institutions to enhance the geographical, sociological, racial and economic diversity of the actuarial workforce? Focusing on well-being as a principle of job design opens the door for a bold imagination of job possibilities and helps differentiate an organization from others in creating meaningful human experiences.

Invest in Learning and Mentorship

When the nature of a profession evolves, it is critical that organizations invest in learning to support the growth and development of its people. Actuarial leadership can set the vision of the skills for future success, which may be different from the skill sets defined even 12 months ago. Companies should quickly pivot to consider investing in training such as:

  • Verbal communication of complex concepts
  • Code/model optimization techniques
  • Empathy and teamwork in a virtual environment

Opportunities exist to enhance the capabilities and skills of actuaries by establishing a comprehensive learning strategy cultivated from a strong relationship between an organization’s training and development department and the actuarial function. Multimodal training will help address different learning needs and preferences. For example, microlearning provides bite-sized training that can fit into actuaries’ busy schedules, whereas physical or virtual classroom training offers opportunities to interact and discuss learning topics with both the instructor and other participants.

In addition to formal training, informal and on-the-job learning, such as mentoring and job shadowing, can also help actuaries incorporate new skills and knowledge into their daily work. Organizations can establish formal mentorship programs to pair actuaries with one another or other professionals for development in various areas. Leveraging both traditional coaching models and reversed coaching models for leaders is critical as the workforce becomes more diverse and multigenerational. For example, actuarial leaders who hold managerial responsibilities and facilitate customer/client service experiences can provide valuable coaching to others in communications and leadership. Similarly, tech-savvy actuaries can coach others in virtual effectiveness. By leveraging both formal and informal learning mechanisms and dynamic mentorship, organizations can help create a culture in which employees proactively acquire new knowledge and skills and adapt to novel challenges.

Increase Transparency to Customer Impact

In a complex organization, many stakeholders’ voices matter. An organization should incorporate the experience and aspirations of its customers, employees, partners and the communities in which it operates, and then create opportunities for employees to not only understand but contribute to the impact made on the customer by one’s efforts. One study found that productivity increased 170 percent when call center employees learned about their impact on the end customers.10 With increased visibility into how one’s job contributes to the overall customer experience, employees can contribute in the most impactful and supportive ways.

It is also important to promote the collective understanding of the value of the actuarial function and its impact on all stakeholders. Actuaries are known for using their technical abilities and knowledge to help companies analyze risk, but little is known about whether actuaries know how their work helps the customer. Organizations can offer more insights for actuaries to understand their individual roles, their partnership with other functional professionals, and the overall organizational mission, vision and value. Actuarial leaders should evaluate what impact means for an organization and its employees and connect it beyond the boundary of organizational performance. This creates a personal connection to customers beyond the product or brand.

Support Virtual Work

A meaningful human experience cannot overlook the changing workplace. As part of the new era of working as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, workplace transformation is expected to accelerate rapidly, and many organizations will continue to operate in a hybrid of physical and virtual workplaces. The physical boundaries of the workplace are shifting, and with that comes many opportunities. For example, organizations may now be able to expand from a regional recruiting strategy. Geography no longer presents a barrier to accessing top talent. In a virtual work environment, organizations can hire top actuaries from anywhere, and individual actuaries have more flexibility to consider job opportunities despite where they live. But this kind of strategy cannot be implemented successfully if an organization does not have a concrete plan for productive virtual work. It requires tools and resources to establish trust among teams, IT infrastructure for maintaining connectivity, methods for maintaining data privacy and security, an established culture to sustain positive virtual interactions, and a shared understanding that collaboration and work delivery could potentially be different than the traditional method of engagement that occurs in the physical workspace.

Developing Resilient Actuaries


To build resilience, actuaries need to discover their personal purpose. Periodic reflection helps to identify motivations for work (or the “why” that an individual contemplates when executing a process, task or activity). Let’s consider the desired workplace experience and the preferred tasks and activities performed in the normal course of one’s daily work. There are two key approaches to discovering the case for personal “whys”: exploring different types of motivation and solidifying a social cause.

Motivation is abstract and can be hard to grasp, and there are many motivational theories. For example, Maslow’s need hierarchy is often quoted when discussing motivation at work. According to Maslow, there are five need levels: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization.11 When a lower-level need is met at work, an individual’s motivation shifts from the lower level to the higher-level needs. Leveraging such theories could help actuaries establish a framework to understand their personal motivators and identify opportunities to fulfill their needs.

Individuals also can identify an area they are passionate about and support it. For example, actuaries can explore societal issues they would like to address and people they want to help. By forming the habit of recurring reflection at least every few years to gauge personal priorities and aspirations, actuaries can identify ways to incorporate these goals into the work they do.

Here is a hypothetical case study. Alex, an actuarial student from New York City, recently graduated from college. At this early stage of his career, Alex is interested in exploring different opportunities at various companies. Alex feels excitement when he finds opportunities to work with and for many different people. An actuarial position in the industry may not align with Alex’s current aspiration, and therefore he considers joining a consulting firm where he can work on short projects for different insurance clients. Alex also aims to help underprivileged communities in the New York City area. After conducting research online and networking with a few seasoned professionals, Alex discovers three companies that fit his criteria and starts to engage in the recruiting process.

An understanding of one’s motivations can help determine which organizations can be the best fit. Finding an organization that supports one’s individual aspirations to make a meaningful impact can help actuaries find fulfillment through work.

Actively Look for Opportunities to Upskill

Learning represents another cornerstone for building resilience and always accompanies change. Individuals share the responsibilities with their organizations to identify the functional, technical, business and human skills required at their level in the organization. The average half-life of a technical and functional skill is only two to five years in today’s world.12 Actuaries need to constantly be on the lookout for emerging skills and seek out opportunities to upskill.

Moreover, as more actuarial jobs evolve into superjobs, human capabilities such as problem-solving, creativity and emotional intelligence become ever more important. For this reason, continuous learning will become increasingly critical for enabling a successful actuarial career. Leveraging learning opportunities internally and outside of work is essential. Therefore, making a commitment to explore future trends, subsequently reading materials on these topics and taking courses to become well-versed on a given subject matter becomes a personal quest for resilience and agility.

Seek Mentorship

Becoming resilient is a collective effort, so individuals require support networks to increase the likelihood of building a resilient mindset. The support network for career advancement is not complete without mentors. Actuaries can actively look for mentors within their organizations as they progress in their careers. It is one thing to have all the necessary skills to excel, but being able to succeed in a particular organizational setting requires the understanding of its culture and ways of working, as well as a network for advocacy.

Mentors from within an organization can provide coaching and guidance to individuals based on their own experiences, and this coaching can be invaluable to junior employees. For example, prior to a virtual quarterly earnings meeting, actuaries can work with their mentors to complete a dry run to help increase personal confidence and preparedness to present in front of leadership. Mentors and the interactions between mentor and mentee are key to helping navigate career paths, providing sponsorship and support, and forming connections with other colleagues.


Actuaries should remember that everyone has the power to advocate for meaningful and fulfilling experiences at work. Many workplaces are becoming more employee-oriented in an effort to help organizations compete for the best talent. Leaders rely on authentic and timely insight from employees to monitor the effectiveness of organizational design and programming. Employees asking for support to maintain good financial, physical and mental well-being will continue to be part of effective career navigation. Actuaries should not forget to raise their hands, regardless of their titles or levels, and ask for the changes they want to see in the workplace.

Change has become a common theme for actuaries over the past few years. Factors such as technology advancement and changing workforce demographics have pushed organizations to respond and adjust. The current global pandemic has only accelerated many transformations at work. For organizations to be resilient when facing unpredictable change, the individuals within them must also be resilient. This article offers insights into operationalizing the concept of human experience in the workplace to make work meaningful and fulfilling in order to boost resilience. Organizations can design a powerful human experience for their workforce by:

  1. Redesigning jobs to provide individuals with opportunities to perform meaningful tasks frequently.
  2. Incorporating well-being into job design to provide flexibility.
  3. Investing in learning and mentorship to help individuals across all levels thrive and adapt to changing demands.
  4. Increasing visibility into customer impact to facilitate understanding of how an individual’s job affects the end customer, helping to promote productivity.
  5. Establishing a solid foundation for virtual effectiveness in an increasingly virtual workplace.

Individually, professionals like actuaries can have a meaningful work experience throughout their careers by:

  1. Developing a habit of reflecting on personal purpose and aligning with organizations that amplify their individual impact.
  2. Proactively seeking opportunities to learn new knowledge and skills in anticipation of shifting demands.
  3. Establishing a support network through mentorship to hone in on skills and adapt to specific organizational contexts.
  4. Leveraging their voices to advocate for their personal needs so they can maximize their potential at work.

Embracing human experience helps to build resilience and agility to be able to proactively adapt and remain competitive, regardless of what challenges lie ahead.

James Dunseth, ASA, is a senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP with experience in the future of work for actuaries and other professionals.
Tony Johnson, ASA, MAAA, is a principal in the Chicago office for Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads Deloitte’s managed services offering for the insurance sector of financial services.
Cecilia Zhang has a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP in New York. She has experience in large-scale organization transformations across different industries.

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