Kimberly Bowen was working for an insurance company in Cleveland, Ohio, when she became interested in a vice president's post at Unum in Chattanooga in early 2019.
"Working in downtown Cleveland, we experienced the city coming back. It almost felt like a renaissance period," she says. "Chattanooga had the same feeling."
Bowen joined the Chattanooga-based disability and volunteer benefits insurer as VP of global talent management in June 2019, just nine months before the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down.
The pandemic set in motion for many people a reassessment of their priorities and relationships, including with employers, she says in a recent interview at Unum's downtown headquarters.
"People wanted a reset as to how their working world and personal work collaborated," says Bowen, who heads a group of about 160 people overseeing talent acquisition, learning and development and employee relations in the business.
At Unum, the company moved away from a traditional view of work-life balance, says Bowen, 49, a married mother of three children.
"We started to think of a work-life integration," she says. "Instead of people creating an equal balance, how did they fit these together like a puzzle piece? That caused us to evaluate how we work, where we work and the benefits and perks we offer."
The company moved to a hybrid model, where employees work some portion of the jobs at home, the Unum official says. Surveys indicated that workers "really wanted hybrid" along with the opportunity to come in the office a portion of the time when right for them, she said.
"We have that now," Bowen says, noting current surveys indicate employees are happy with the hybrid model. "We haven't found any challenges when when we hire."
Employees come into the office a number of days each month, and each worker picks when they do so, she says.
"We don't micromanage those schedules," Bowen says. "We trust our employees."
Ultimately, she says, Unum made changes in a short period of time that otherwise would have taken years.
"Flexible working is here to stay," Bowen says. "We'll never go back to a pre-pandemic labor market."
She says that one of the things that attracted her to Unum, which employs nearly 3,000 in Chattanooga, was its desire to innovate and change the way insurers have operated for years even before the pandemic.
"They wanted to be a pioneer, offer new services, products," Bowen says. "That was very attractive."
Bowen, a self-proclaimed "Air Force brat," moved around when she was younger, attending the University of South Carolina, Ohio Dominican University and ultimately gaining her business administration degree from Indiana Wesleyan University.
She spent the first decade after graduation in retail management for several companies before realizing that human resources was her passion.
Before coming to Chattanooga, she worked for AmTrust Financial Services, a property, casualty and workers compensation business.
* Originally from Oberlin, Ohio
* Vice president of global talent management for Unum
* Business administration degree from Indiana Wesleyan University; studying for a master’s in organizational leadership
* 49 years old
* Married with three children
Because the pandemic hit not long after arriving in Chattanooga, she and her family didn't get an immediate chance to see what the city has to offer, she says.
"I still feel new," Bowen says, adding that, "We do love it here."
Looking ahead at the job market, she sees challenges for the remainder of 2022.
"We're not fully out of the pandemic yet," she says. "As people started to settle into new roles and new jobs, they're off the labor market. We still have a supply and demand issue."
Bowen said that while the tide is turning, it's happening slowly.
"My advice to peers in this industry is to ensure you're looking at your service offerings as HR and talent organizations, benefits, compensation, flexibility and how you're creating the right experience," she says. "Employers who can do that will maintain a competitive advantage in this labor market and that will get them through to the other side."
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