Today in Williamsburg, VA at the 104th Annual Convention of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC), a next generation of leaders took the stage to talk about what motivates their peers as well as the future of workers’ compensation. They were the recipients of the IAIABC NextGen Awards, a program that recognizes individuals under the age of 40 who are having a positive impact on workers’ compensation and the organizations for which they work.

As soon as the introductions were started, those of us in the room who could now be designated as old codgers immediately could tell that these young whipper snappers have a different take on things. The participants were asked to introduce themselves, tell us who they worked for, and to “tell us what your spirit animal is.”

I am not sure what we could glean from that tiny bit of information, but it seemed to be important, so we all paid attention. The group was generally very confident, and overall chose strong and majestic spirit animals for themselves. There were lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), and perhaps a wolf or two in the mix. My absolute favorite responses, however, came from two recipients who both work for the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.  Systems Analyst Colby Painter identified his spirit animal as a squirrel, saying he liked to plan ahead, had a lot of energy and was easily startled. Insurance Compliance Manager Aubrey Chigwada signaled hope for all of us geezers when he admitted that he did not know what a spirit animal was and had to look it up online. He had to take a quiz to find out. I don’t recall what that quiz determined him to be. Perhaps he was a hawk. Or an elephant. I wish I took better notes or had a decent attention span.

I’m pretty certain my spirit animal is a sloth. I think I need a nap. 

One NextGen designee came all the way from down under to participate in the panel. Jillian Hamilton, Managing Director of Manage Damage flew from Brisbane, Australia just for this event. I was really hoping she would say that her spirit animal was a dingo, mostly because I really like hearing people with an Australian accent say the word dingo. Otherwise that is not really fair, as she in no way came off as a feral dog. She seemed quite the opposite, really. 

If I run into her later, I’ll see if I can get her to utter the phrase “shrimp on the barbie.”

Other NextGen recipients were: 

  • Dineika Jefferson – Office Manager, Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation
  • Bri Lake – Research Analyst, Montana Department of Labor and Industry
  • Jennifer Norleen-Beitel – Director of Employer Services, Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board  
  • Stephanie Pauley – Legal Manager, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

It was interesting to hear these people speak about what their interests are, and what type of workplace motivates them. A couple common themes were, 1) they want to be heard and appreciated, and 2) they are not motivated by a rigid and inflexible schedule. That is not to say they are not hard workers, but they want the flexibility to work in places other than a cubicle, and at times more conducive for their lifestyles. 

Another thing I noted, which I consider a good omen, was a desire to separate work from life; a task that is ever more difficult to do in today’s world of work. One of the panelists (Hamilton) spoke of her 12-hour workdays during the week but made clear her weekends were her own. She even “goes offline” for those days, committing the time to herself and her private life. Chigwada also showed himself to be a bit of an outlier, saying he was not a real fan of social media, and that he thought people today fail to live in the moment. He noted all of the people at concerts or events constantly recording on their phones and ultimately missing the enjoyment of the moment. It was a sentiment I could identify with, as both my wife and I have felt the same way about such trends.

Even though this generation views some things differently, there is much we still have in common. 

There were good lessons in this session, and the NextGen program is an important vehicle to help our industry learn what it will take to attract and retain tomorrow’s top talent. We will need them sooner than most of us care to admit.

Plus, knowledge of my spirit animal has to be a plus. If I can learn to channel my inner sloth, it will be a game changer.



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