The Hartford Financial Services Group endured a massive overhaul in the past year and a half that resulted in a smaller company with far fewer employees.
The remaining employees, however, say they enjoy working for a property-casualty and mutual funds powerhouse that has been around for more than two centuries and offers a wide range of benefits, perks and flexibility. The Hartford also has a corporate culture that embraces community involvement and ethical behavior, employees said in surveys for the Top Workplaces awards.
As a result, The Hartford, with 7,700 local employees, has returned as one of the Courant/FOX CT Top Workplaces for 2013 after also making the grade in 2011. Its comeback this year is all the more extraordinary considering that the Asylum Hill-based business is the only giant local employer on this year's list of winners, and it was the only giant in 2011.
Jessica Gieras works for The Hartford as a small-business ongoing service manager. Her track to a management job was interrupted last fall when she took a four-month leave to have her fourth child. But when she came back to work in the spring, Gieras said, she was able to pick back up right where she left off.
"I've been out on leave and back from having kids, and I've never felt like that's hindered me," said Gieras, who has been with The Hartford for 7 1/2 years.
She feels empowered by starting a team from the ground up in a new management role to serve the insurance needs of small businesses that are existing customers.
Contrary to an outsider's impression of property-casualty insurance as a staid, dry industry, many employees said that their work was exciting and that they have a dynamic work environment.
"There's challenges, which are stimulating, there's a lot of variety," said Rachel George, a manager of commercial information technology who has worked for the company for 16 years. "It keeps me hopping, keeps me excited."
For one thing, the property-casualty industry is dealing with an unprecedented increase in the frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms and hail. It's also in the midst of fierce competition in the auto insurance segment. And insurers are competing to sell coverage to businesses that are more frugal after the economic collapse of 2008-09.
"Our customers are always changing, right?" said Francis Vincent, director of strategy in the middle-market, which is mid-size companies. "And the environment with which they operate is always changing. So, if you're a consumer, and you live in the Northeast, now you're getting accustomed to dealing with the weather patterns that we have in the fall."
In The Hartford's transformation, under CEO Liam E. McGee, the company sold business segments that were a drag on the company's profits or were no longer part of its core focus.
The multiline insurer announced in March 2012 that it would focus on property-casualty, group benefits and mutual funds. The company sold its retirement plans business to MassMutual and sold its individual life insurance business to Prudential Financial. It also sold Woodbury Financial last year to American International Group. The Hartford also stopped selling new annuities and sold parts of that business to other firms.
All told, the shuffle, including some layoffs, left The Hartford a smaller company. Two years ago, even after recession-related declines, it had 26,200 workers, including 10,500 in Connecticut. As of this year, The Hartford has about 20,000 employees, and the 7,700-person local workforce keeps the ratio of local to global employees at its longtime level.
The Hartford was able to ensure that most of the employees of the sold businesses remained employed with their new firms. And despite the changes, The Hartford is still a company that has endured for more than two centuries in its core business since it was founded in 1810.
"There's a big sense of pride with it," said George, the IT manager. "Our clientele over the last 200 years has been impressive. We've been involved in all kinds of businesses. We've helped rebuild major cities, build the Hoover Dam. We've been involved in a lot of historical events. So that there's a big sense of pride there, but, yes, there's also stability in knowing the company's been doing this very well for a long time."
The Hartford also fosters a culture of making the world a better place, said Joe Coray, a vice president in the Commercial Markets division who leads the technology and life science practice and the international practice.
"I have a passion about things like health care and hunger, and The Hartford allows me to take the best of my passions and energize other people at the company and do things that I couldn't do if I was just an individual, and I couldn't do necessarily as an employee of another organization," Coray said.
For example, Coray is a co-captain and company coordinator of The Hartford's walk team for Foodshare, the regional food bank that supports 300 local pantries. Company employees and a matching corporate fund contributed nearly $193,000 this past year.
The Hartford also allows workers a paid day off annually to volunteer and help a community cause. Coray led a team of six employees in a day of cleanup and yard work for a nonprofit group called the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective in Manchester.
"Groups go to the Audubon Society in Glastonbury, and to parks in the city, and there's like 50 or 60 different projects that can either be proposed by employees ... or offered to us by the United Way organization as opportunities for community service," Coray said. "Not only do you just put some money aside for the United Way and then distribute to the organization, but we roll up our sleeves, put on our little Hartford T-shirts and go out and do some stuff with the organizations that may be connected to the United Way as a funding source. And, you know, a lot of people really like the idea that they can go do this, and they do it on a work day."Copyright © 2015, CT Now