What is more important: being happy or having meaning in life and work? On the face of it, it seems like a difficult question to answer, and that answer may surprise many of us.
We all want to be happy — or so we tell ourselves — and according to a survey by business consultancy the Energy Project, just over half of the working population (regardless of industry) lacks meaning in their work. However, those who find meaning, especially at work, tend to be a lot happier in life.
This is something that Linh Nguyen, Customer Service Team Supervisor at Vero Marine in New Zealand, and multiple award winner at the recent Celebrating Success event, agrees with completely.
Interested in statistics, probability and risk, Linh was drawn to the world of insurance after graduating from university and has come to find meaning in the work she does.
Working in a sector of insurance that is not widely talked about(but should be) Linh is fascinated with the role marine insurance plays in New Zealand’s economy. With so many businesses reliant on the import/export trade, marine insurance underpins the local market and it is this aspect that Linh finds incredibly fulfilling.
“Marine insurance is incredibly interesting — there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that you just don’t learn about without being in it. For me, marine insurance is especially important for New Zealand, and without it, it would be impossible for businesses to operate,” explains Linh. “It’s often overlooked, despite being so vital to the economy, and because it’s based on old institutional clauses that everyone uses, it has an international feel to it.”
Business experts around the world agree that an interesting job is vital to both meaning and happiness, and Linh, who has been at Vero Marine for four years, has found that fostering this in others helps not only them, but herself.
Finding meaning in her work is paramount, especially after the Canterbury Earthquake, and insurance connects her job to the rebuilding of an economy and infrastructure that is still coming to terms with that disastrous day in 2010.
“As an international student, I was away from my family and support network when it happened, So I developed an understanding of the importance of insurance,” she explains. “Finding meaning is important to me. With what happened in Christchurch, I enjoy working in an industry that is rebuilding the country and helping businesses get back on their feet.”
The pride she feels for the industry is palpable and providing support and training to colleagues, particularly junior staff, gives Linh a tremendous sense of achievement, taking her role from the realms of ‘ordinary job’ to something much more valued.
“I really enjoy providing training to junior members of my team — explaining wordings, policies, clauses and ensuring they learn about how these things are formulated, rather than simply following a process and doing data entry,” says Linh. “It’s really wonderful being able to give them a sense of context so they have deeper understanding and giving them a more interesting aspect around their job.”
“As a leader, it’s important to be a good role model. You need to be transparent and motivating and give your team something to look forward and help give them meaning in their jobs. That is a key part of my role,” she adds.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Role models are often spoken of but rarely do we meet people who so readily typify what that term actually means. Practicing what you preach is part of what makes someone a role model and Linh says that showing commitment to your profession is a considerable part of that.
Learning and learning how to learn are important to her and she believes that lifelong learning is a cornerstone to a successful career. Winning the ANZIIF highest module of NZ Insurance Law & Regulation, Student of the Year and Regional Student of the year awards highlights the commitment she has made to not only herself, but the industry she loves.
But unlike the days spent nestled in a lecture theatre and scrawling mountains of notes, learning on the job is a far different beast. Since moving from Vietnam, Linh has had to evolve as both a person and a learner, coming to terms with different education philosophies and then the tyranny of distance.
“It has been a massive change for me. In Vietnam everything is taught and essentially, you’ll be a good student if you have a good memory,” says Linh. “But coming to New Zealand was a challenge, not just from a language point of view, but also in how I was taught. I was encouraged to learn more, to ask questions — you’re told the basics and are expected to self-learn and do the rest yourself.”
“I think that’s one of the most important skills I’ve developed since being in New Zealand — that ability to self-learn, to do the research and question things.”
Educators are constantly preaching about “the ability to learn” and Linh has found that her natural inquisitiveness and ability to self-learn has helped her overcome the challenges that come with studying while working fulltime and in another country.
“Finding the time to sit down and actually read the texts and study is one of the biggest challenges. At uni, being a student was my full-time job, whereas now, time is a luxury you just don’t have,” says Linh.
It rarely is, but Linh drew on the advice she received back home in Vietnam and used it as a mantra to drive her forward. “I was always taught that you have to work hard for what you want and that you need to put in the effort to get where you want to go.”
A good work ethic is one thing, but it’ll only get you so far. As leaders in the industry regularly say, people are your greatest resource and Linh took advantage of that as much as she could.
“The people at Vero are very supportive and encouraging. Whenever I had an issue or a question I could discuss it with my senior colleagues, who were always happy to help. Bouncing ideas with them helped build and strengthen my relationship with them and showed the passion I have for the industry,” says Linh.
“For a young person in insurance, working at Vero has been great as they recruit and actively support younger people and encourage them to self-learn, to become adaptable. Each staff member has a tailored development program to help them upskill and make them better equipped to handle any major changes in the industry,” she adds.
Highlighting her commitment to learning and the industry, Linh is now focussed on the challenge of completing her Diploma of General Insurance and ultimately, a Masters in Commerce or Risk Management.
“My manager once told me that there’s always room to improve and more to learn and that you need to enjoy learning — the more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are to combat change. I operate that way — I can always learn more.”