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Aetna to Invest Big in Better Customer Engagement

In a move that struck many industry observers as surprising, Aetna reported this month its intention to raise the wages of its lowest-paid workers by as much as a third “in a bid to draw top prospects and reduce turnover,” according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. The decision, announced by Aetna Chief Executive Mark T. Bertolini, is being seen as an encouraging sign of economic opportunity for both companies and workers.

In particular, Bertolini cited the need for better human relations skills as the driver behind the decision:

Aetna Chief Executive Mark T. Bertolini said the company’s shift reflects changes in the insurance industry, which is increasingly selling coverage to individuals. “We’re preparing our company for a future where we’re going to have a much more consumer-oriented business,” he said, and Aetna wants “a better and more informed work force.”

Mr. Bertolini said Aetna hopes to reduce its turnover costs of around $120 million a year and improve the quality of job prospects and the engagement of workers who interact with consumers and health-care providers.

Although it may not be so rare for a chief executive to express the value of people skills for customer-facing employees, acknowledging monetary worth and commensurate compensation for those who are apt to bring such skills to an organization – and stay – is a somewhat unusual endorsement of market value for the engagement skill set.