Jean McMahon talks to workingwise.co.uk about her career in the insurance industry and how her life experience has proved invaluable in her new voluntary role as the wellbeing contact in her office.
Jean McMahon is a claims handler at Zurich Municipal’s Newcastle office and she loves it. She has spent most of her working life at the company and almost all of it in insurance – and she’s not sure she wants to give any of it up any time soon, even though she is 62. She says she has always had lots of energy and get up and go.
Her first job when she was 16 was at a builder’s merchants where she worked as a typist. From there she moved to the AA in 1977 and she has been in insurance more or less ever since – apart from a year out when she went travelling, selling everything to go around Europe and settle in Tenerife where she had hoped to get a job. Spain was not in the EU at the time so that proved more difficult than anticipated and she felt homesick.
She spent her early career in motor insurance. After the birth of her third child she started working late shifts from 5pm to 8pm four nights of the week at Eagle Star. Her hours changed as the children grew up and she was able to work school hours until they were older and she could work full time.
In 2007, Zurich, which had taken over Eagle Star, decided to close the Newcastle office and Jean was made redundant after 14 years with the firm. She did a course to become a paralegal and worked for a bus company in their in-house legal team. After a year, however, she decided litigation was not for her as she felt she couldn’t ever switch off from the job. She left and worked for a new company and for Tesco as a claims handler, but knew she wanted to return to Zurich because the terms and conditions there were so much better than the other places she had worked.
Ten years ago, she applied successfully for a job at Zurich Municipal which handles public and employer liability claims. The work is very varied and she loves it. She mainly deals with solicitors, but sometimes she works directly with claimants. By next year she will have worked for Zurich for 25 years in total – most of her working life.
Jean now works four days a week so she can have a day off to look after her grandson. She does two days at home and two in the office and says that works well for her. She has Tuesdays at home to organise herself and Wednesdays and Thursdays in the office. On Fridays she likes to work at home. Although employees were able to work from home before Covid, Jean says everything is more flexible now with people able to log in from different locations.
Zurich has made cost of living payments recently which have been directed at the lowest paid members of staff, something Jean appreciates. “They have always been very fair,” she says. She adds that her managers are very approachable and that there is a lot of positive energy in her team of 23 people, eight of whom worked at Zurich before the closure. “It’s like a family,” she states.
Some of her colleagues are coming up for retirement so the company has taken on new people who the experienced members of the team have helped to train up. Jean herself has three years to go until she can claim her state pension, but she is not sure she wants to retire.
Over the last year she has been the wellbeing contact in her office which means people can approach her to chat about personal issues. In turn, she can suggest things that might help and just reassure people that they are not alone. She adds that her experience as a mother has helped in that role.
Jean says people who have not worked anywhere else don’t know how lucky they are to be at Zurich. “Covid made people like me sit up and appreciate what we have. We had a lot more time to spend with family too, to slow down and reflect on what is really important,” she says. She is looking forward to becoming more involved in any work that involves supporting her colleagues.
“I love mixing with people and the energy that gives me. Some people in their 60s are winding down, but I want more. I don’t just want to sit back,” she says.