Hand squeezing smiling face yellow stress ball, isolated on white background

Take Action During April’s Stress Awareness Month

Reduce stress for a happier and healthier workplace.

April is “Stress Awareness Month,” making it the perfect moment to explore how stress affects both individuals and organizations. While stress is a normal process, it can take a toll when left unchecked. Alliant National HR Director Stacy Stolen discusses the consequences of runaway stress and shares strategies for creating healthier workplaces.

Stress 101

Everyone experiences stress, but have you ever wondered what exactly it is? Stolen says that while stress typically carries negative connotations, on a basic level, it is simply the body’s response to a demand. Any change in a person’s day-to-day life can be stressful.

Here are a few more important things to know about stress:

  • Stress affects everyone.
  • Not all stress is bad.
  • Long-term stress can harm your health.
  • There are ways to manage stress.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by stress, it’s important to reach out to a health professional.

Where does stress often show up?

Stress can be anywhere, but it frequently pops up in workplaces, where it can do sizable harm. “Workplace stress has adverse effects on workers’ mental health, with an increased risk of anxiety, burnout, depression and substance use disorders,” Stolen said. “Stressed workers are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drug abuse or poor dietary patterns.”

The negative consequences of stress affect businesses as well. “It decreases employee productivity,” said Stolen. “Interactions with co-workers may also become strained, causing conflict, complaints and grievances; health concerns; and higher absenteeism.”

Reducing stress begins with awareness

Given how serious stress can be, it must be elevated as a topic of concern for businesses. Employees must also feel comfortable talking about their stress levels and seeking help when stress becomes unmanageable. According to Stolen, recent years have brought increased cultural awareness of the consequences of stress – which is a welcome change. “It has become more acceptable to ‘talk’ about stress,” said Stolen. Yet there is still more work to do. “Companies are still struggling to manage workplace stress,” said Stolen, “and perks like onsite gyms and nap rooms are not the answer to our problem. We must go deeper.”

How can workplaces better address stress?

Addressing the root causes of stress meansdigging into the psyches of stressed-out employees. “If your employees perceive your workplace as a threat, then you cannot build the trust your team needs to collaborate and innovate effectively,” Stolen said. “Employers need to shift from individual-level to organization-level approaches for reducing stress, which can foster employee well-being while simultaneously improving business performance.”

How does Alliant National reduce stress?

Alliant National has developed a plan to reduce workplace stress. Part of this includes the Alliant National Employee Engagement Team (EET), which helps employees “feel engaged, fairly compensated, rewarded, and personally committed to and inspired by their work.”

The underwriter also tries to let all employees know that it is not only acceptable to take time off to rest and recharge – but encouraged. Additionally, Stolen is working on a mental health “challenge,” where she reaches out to managers to determine if their direct reports have large PTO balances. The intention is to determine whether team members are using the time that they have earned, and if not, to understand why.

Alliant National also runs several internal challenges driven by its EET. These focus on stress reduction, fitness and kindness, and mix in other fun challenges such as. Examples include a baby pics challenge, trivia games; and virtual holiday celebrations.

Stolen notes that many of Alliant National’s initiatives revolve around encouraging laughter throughout the day. Now, humor can’t cure all ailments, but data has proven that a good laugh can have short- and long-term benefits, including:

  • Short-term benefits – Laughing doesn’t just lighten your mental load, it induces physical changes in your body:

    • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
    • A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
    • Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.

  • Long-term benefits – Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, it’s also good for you over the long term:

    • Positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
    • Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
    • Laughter makes it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.

There is no magic bullet against stress, but progress is possible!

“I have no secret sauce or silver bullet,” Stolen said when asked about how she manages her own stress. “But what I have learned is that I need to unplug and be able to tell my boss when I am stressed and need help – not so I feel weak, but so I can be good to myself.” This is an effective summation of how we can all better manage stress in our lives and particularly in the workplace. Through a combination of honesty and proactivity, individuals can ensure that they keep their stress levels at a reasonable level. Businesses can also follow this approach during Stress Awareness Month and year-round to create happier, healthier and more sustainable workplaces for all.

Graphic welcoming Rebecca Wood and Theresa Kane-Mackenzie

New Hires Rebecca Wood And Theresa Kane-Mckenzie Represent Our Commitment To You

Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are known as the “Sunshine,” “Keystone” and the “Garden” states respectively. They are each aptly named due to Florida’s perpetual rays, Pennsylvania’s colonial history and New Jersey’s lush orchards and farms. Within Alliant National, however, these states are known for something else: Each region offers incredible opportunities to empower the independent agent. Read how the underwriter is investing resources in both areas through two strategic hires, which will enhance its operations overall up and down America’s east coast.

Florida – A Rich Past and a Strong Future

Florida is one of those states that everyone knows even if you’ve never been there. Sprawling beaches. Delicious oranges. Disneyworld. The Everglades. At Alliant National, Florida is also well known, as it is one of the organization’s largest and oldest markets.

Alliant National started operating in Florida in 2009 and has seen stunning success over the last 15 years. Headed by SVP, Florida Regional Manager, Debra Coffie, and featuring underwriting leadership from Jeff Stein and Brenda Cannon, the company’s presence in the state has grown from a small shop to a sprawling network encompassing hundreds of agents. Despite these achievements, Alliant National is not resting on its laurels. “While we have experienced significant year-over-year growth,” said Coffie, “there is still ample potential to further impact in the market.”

Alliant National has seized this potential by continuing to invest in Florida, an important move given the state’s ever-increasing population and bustling real estate market. According to experts, Florida is one of the nation’s top relocation destinations. In late 2023, 4 of the top 10 cities for incoming residents were in Florida – including Orlando, Sarasota, Cape Coral and Tampa.[i]

Alliant National recently hired Rebecca Wood as Assistant Regional Counsel and VP to keep up with this demand and ensure that agents have adequate support. A long-time Floridian, legal professional and title insurance expert, few people are better equipped to take on this newly created role. Armed with three decades of experience, Wood is an industry authority and consummate professional. She is comfortable managing everything from analyzing legal details and risk assessments to interfacing directly with agents and claims professionals.

Alliant National Florida-based agents are undoubtedly in good hands with Wood joining the team.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey – High Growth and a New Frontier  

From one perspective, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are the opposite of Florida. One area is often cool, while the other is hot. One is in Canada’s orbit, and the other borders the Gulf of Mexico. Yet at Alliant National, these seemingly unrelated regions share a common characteristic: thriving title communities with which to build partnerships and drive shared success.  

Overseen by SVP, Central-West Regional Manager, Manoj Purohit, Alliant National has been active in Pennsylvania since 2022 and is aiming to expand due to encouraging market signs. While housing inventory and affordability remain low in much of the state, significant urban areas near its western border offer competitive price points that have attracted sizable numbers of aspiring home buyers. Pittsburgh and Erie in particular reported median listing prices in late 2023 far lower than the national average of $412,000 from that same period[ii] – making both metros major domestic migration destinations.

New Jersey is an entirely new market for Alliant National, although its decision to establish operations is fueled by a similarly optimistic market picture. The Federal Reserve announced in recent months, for example, that further interest rate increases are unlikely in the year ahead, causing mortgage costs to trend downward. On top of this, aspiring home buyers are flooding into the state from neighboring big cities like New York, increasing the potential for robust real estate demand.

Alliant National’s New Jersey operations will also be overseen by Purohit, who commented that both states area great opportunity waiting to be realized. “As it has across the country, Alliant National’s ‘agent only’ business model resonates deeply with independent agents in this region,” he said.

Alliant National’s hiring of Theresa Kane-Mackenzie is the most significant step it has taken in the region so far. With Kane-Mackenzie at the helm, the underwriter will develop its agency network and offer the type of uncommonly valuable help on which it has forged its reputation. “We expect to see strong growth and greater market share by bringing a proven industry veteran like Theresa on-board to head up our expansion efforts,” said Purohit.

Kane-Mackenzie’s vast expertise will be incredibly helpful in bringing this goal to fruition. Having built a respected, multi-decade career, Kane-Mackenzie has done it all. She has worked everywhere from national underwriters to title insurance technology providers. Her resume also includes experience in everything from underwriting and title production to marketing and continuing education. She is a one-stop shop that both current and future regional agents can leverage to improve processes and better serve customers.

Wherever you are, Alliant National is committed to you!

Alliant National has long invested in its greatest resource: its people. Recent steps in Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey reveal the depth of that commitment. The story of these two areas shows that Alliant National’s founding principles are alive and well in the present day. If you’re an independent agent, it doesn’t matter where you are or how long you’ve been with us, Alliant National is dedicated to ensuring that you always come first.

[i] Florida Housing Market Predictions: Forecast for the Next 5 Years (themortgagereports.com)

[ii] Median Home Price By State 2024 – Forbes Advisor

3 players reaching for a basketball

How To Team Build Year Round

There is no off-season for building effective teams.

In our working lives, we hear a lot of chatter about team building. Yet, even though it is widely acknowledged that strong teams are the cornerstone of successful businesses, the exact mechanisms for how you build them are less clear-cut.  

For Stacy Stolen, HR Director at Alliant National, creating an environment where staff feel connected, safe and collaborative requires a holistic, year-round approach. She shared insights on how to successfully implement team building in your organization for impactful results.Team building: A critically important conceptWhile incredibly important, team building can sometimes feel cliché and superficial, evoking images of trust falls and three-legged races. Yet when done correctly and with genuine, year-round commitment, few things can be as impactful for creating high- functioning organizations. But why exactly should you prioritize team building? “The lone wolf is becoming an endangered species,” said Stolen, when discussing the subject. “From health care to hospitality, startups to big business, teamwork has become the favored way to get things done.” This view is echoed by those who study team building. “The world is so complex, no one person has the skills or knowledge to accomplish all that we want to accomplish,” says Susan McDaniel, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who is known for her scholarship on team-based work. “Interdisciplinary teams are the way to make that happen.”[i]Here are some of the tangible benefits agencies can realize through investing in team building: ·         Enhanced collaboration: When teams understand and trust one another, it becomes easier to communicate openly and honestly, which reduces silos and promotes alignment.

  • Better employee morale and retention: Meaningful team building promotes safety, camaraderie, and care. This can lead to lower turnover and higher retention. Higher productivity and profitability: Close-knit teams promote the free exchange of ideas and faster, more impactful feedback, which results in higher productivity and profitability.Improved organizational culture: Team building creates a more affirming, positive and compelling culture. When teams like, respect and collaborate well with one another, businesses enjoy easier recruitment and competitive advantage in the market.
  • How to Team Build Year Round Clearly, team building can deliver big benefits, but establishing a year-round team building program can be a tall order, especially at a busy agency. Still, there is no need to feel overwhelmed, says Stolen. “Begin by breaking it down into bite-size steps. Start by defining what teamwork means to your organization and do your research. Also, never take a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to teamwork. Make it your own and ensure it is a good fit for your team.”This last point is a critically important one, particularly when viewed in the context of remote work. “As a new manager, or first-time manager, you now have the unique freedom to choose talent from all over the world,” said Stolen. “But you also face an equally unique challenge: Leading a team who you may have never met in person. This includes building trust and camaraderie between people in different time zones.”But whatever type of team building program you land on, make sure it’s sustainable. Without easily repeatable plays, you won’t be able to continue nurturing a strong team at different points of the year. Keep it simple and do not overthink it. Some strategies aligned with this philosophy include:·         Build “buffer time” into your meetings that leaves time to chat openly and informally. ·         Do ice breakers/team builders at as many meetings as you can. This creates increased cooperation, builds trust and creates a sense of belonging.·         Create “team rituals,” repeated actions or activities unique to your team and help them bond. Rituals can be as simple as “Meme Monday,” where everyone shares an image or GIF that captures how their weekend went. ·         Avoid communication gaps by scheduling a daily stand-up meeting for people to share updates. This process can also be repeated over digital channels like Zoom.·         When it comes to meetings, share the pain. Consider the different time zones your teammates are in and rotate start times so that everyone has a few convenient meetings on their schedule.·         Create an Employee Resource Group.Team building can be difficult but well worth the effort Finding time to develop new initiatives at a busy title agency can be a formidable challenge. Yet the importance of well-executed team building can’t be understated. Sticking to these tips can help you create a well-honed operation that delivers results. Better yet, says Stolen, you’ll create an ideal environment that meets your team’s “individual work preferences and needs.”

    people outside holding 2024 to celebrate the new year

    From Our CEO – A Year Of Change, Challenge, And Growth

    As we begin a New Year, it’s a natural time for reflection and planning. However, in an industry where change is constant, charting a path forward is not always easy. At the outset, we recognize some familiar challenges: the economy, fraud, political polarization, climate change, and disruption from new technologies like AI. At Alliant National, we’re approaching 2024 rooted in our enduring commitment to care and service for our agents, innovating from this foundation to enhance our responsiveness and support in an evolving industry.

    Your growth and success are central to our mission. That’s why our prime focus this year extends to enhancing many of the resources and tools at your disposal. We’re committed to evolving and improving our underwriting practices, providing the responsive support you need to confidently navigate the market’s complexities. Our educational programs are poised for expansion. Moreover, we are engaging in several key initiatives to expand our services, including:

    • SecureMyTransaction: To help our agents combat the growing challenge of real estate fraud, we introduced our robust identity verification system – SecureMyTransaction – last year. In response to your valuable input, we’ve upgraded the system with advanced features like 3D image verification and expanded global reach, now validating ID instruments from 200 countries. To learn more, check out the SecureMyTransaction website.
    • Expanding Title Searches: We’re now offering quicker, more efficient title search services. Integrated with leading platforms such as Qualia and RamQuest, our aim is to streamline your processes, reduce risks, and ultimately, enhance your profitability.
    • Embracing AI and Innovation: We’re not just keeping up with technology; we’re leading the charge. From implementing artificial intelligence in operations to partnering with the University of Colorado on groundbreaking projects, we’re committed to bringing the future of real estate services to you.

    This year, we recognize the uncertainties but also see the immense possibilities. It’s a time to invest and innovate where it makes sense, while continuing to provide the excellent service you’ve come to expect from the Alliant National team.

    As we move forward into the year, your thoughts and feedback are invaluable to us. If there’s anything we can do to help make 2024 more successful for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, your agency manager, or any member of our team. We are all here to support you. Together, we’ll make this year one of growth, success and positive change.

    David Sinclair, President & CEO for Alliant National
    David Sinclair,
    President & CEO for Alliant National
    Inclusion graphic; people holding hand equity logo

    Fostering Inclusivity During the Holidays and Year Round

    Creating an inclusive workplace is a complex task. After all, people are anything but simple. None of us have merely one “self.” Every person is a mixture of intersecting identities that influence how people see us and, conversely, how we see them.

    How, then, can a business foster an inclusive workplace, particularly around the holidays? As Stacy Stolen, HR Manager at Alliant National, explains, it requires being mindful of how our biases shape our perceptions while working toward a culture where everyone can be recognized and respected. I spoke with Stolen on the complexities of this work, what Alliant National is doing to promote inclusivity, and takeaways for agencies looking to build inclusive workplaces during the holidays and year-round.

    Inclusivity begins with empathy

    When asked how she defines inclusivity, Stolen said, “Simply put, inclusion and being inclusive is to have empathy,” adding that, “at a company-level, it takes developing a shared understanding that we all have our own unique experiences that occur within a society filled with inequalities.”  

    Once this understanding is established, productive work can begin. “We can then start to relate and learn from others. ​This is important because empathy allows us to humanize one another and feel responsible for everyone’s safety and well-being. We can positively influence our surroundings and ensure everyone feels seen, validated, and heard – even if we don’t directly relate to everyone else’s experience,” Stolen said.

    Easier said than done

    What makes this easier said than done, however, are social constructs and the unconscious biases they produce. Identity composes a wide range of attributes – from race, sexuality and ethnicity to education level, family of origin and belief structures. Some of these identities, said Stolen, carry more power in the world than others. Depending on how someone identifies, they may find themselves unjustly stereotyped by the dominant power structures of society.  

    Building an inclusive workplace, then, necessitates building a culture where people can feel safe and supported enough to interrogate their biases and push back on the inclination to stereotype. A first step involves simply accepting that such biases exist and that typically we have little opportunity to reconsider our ingrained beliefs. As Stolen explained, “Quite often, we interact with folks who look, feel, act like us, or have identities roughly like ours. Therefore, we can’t do anything aside from perpetuate these stereotypical beliefs about folks in other social groups. That’s because we aren’t being exposed to anything different to dismantle these inaccurate ideas. We need to break this cycle and cultivate mindfulness to expand our idea of what collective community looks like.”

    It also involves seeing this work as more of a journey rather than a destination. “This work requires consistent and intentional engagement with yourself and others that you interact with daily,” said Stolen. “Just like anything else you aspire to change in yourself or in your environment, you must commit that same time and effort in showing up as an ally and advocating for necessary change.”

    Taking action

    So, what does this look like in practice? Stolen noted that Alliant National’s commitment to building an inclusive workplace involves investing in culture awareness training and dialogue. Additionally, in the New Year, the company is launching an internal committee dedicated to ensuring that its priorities are considered through an inclusive lens.

    Stolen described how these efforts are not viewed as one-offs by the company. Instead, they are part of a continuous, holistic and ever-evolving move toward a more inclusive culture. This is an important feature of Alliant National’s larger goal of being a workplace where every employee feels comfortable bringing their authentic self to work and can:

    • Remain present even when uncomfortable;
    • Accept that we are all part of the problem and must work to change society for the better;
    • Learn how to empathize with others’ experiences that are different from their own;
    • Make mistakes while striving for a better tomorrow;
    • Educate themselves and those around them; and
    • Not expect those with the least power in society to do the brunt of the work.

    How to promote inclusivity during the holidays and everyday

    Holiday periods are a perfect opportunity to promote an inclusive culture, Stolen noted. For many, holidays are informed by cultural identity. It is important to be mindful around language and emphasize respect for all regardless of individual beliefs. “Just because you don’t celebrate certain holidays doesn’t mean that you are exempt from being aware and educated on holidays and religious practices that others celebrate,” Stolen observed.

    Of course, there are many other ways to build inclusivity year-round, including:   

    • Researching histories of marginalized groups and investing in cultural awareness development.
    • Developing ally programs/affinity groups and creating places for folks to find community and to encourage dialogue around challenging topics.
    • Hosting “Lunch and Learns” that expand cultural humility and awareness. Alliant National, for example, recently hosted one titled, “Challenging Stereotypes and Microaggressions.”
    • Surveying your workplace to better understand understand your company’s culture better and find opportunities for improvement.

    There is no time like today

    Building an inclusive culture takes work; there is no doubt about it. But as the holiday season continues, there is no better time to begin nurturing greater respect, empathy and belonging in the workplace. Stolen noted that when companies commit time and resources to encouraging inclusivity, great things can happen. “Workplaces that commit to inclusivity become more instrumental to their employees, customers and communities.”

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