Elevating the Standards of Workers’ Recovery: Employer Style

With buzz surrounding the advocacy-based claims model and focus on workers’ recovery, employers are often not sure where to begin. Here are three simple steps to improve your workers’ compensation program starting today.

  1. Acknowledgment. Acknowledge the injury, especially if it is unquestionable. Please pause for a moment before you continue reading and take yourself to the 20,000 foot view. You are not admitting fault… you are acknowledging something transpired…something happened. There was an event that occurred. Now, let us move on together.

    People want to be acknowledged, heard, and know that someone is listening. This is especially true at the employer level. The employer level is the first stop on an injured workers’ journey. How an employer responds during this time is critical. Whether you agree or disagree with the injury, how it transpired, or what the root cause is, this is a critical moment of what comes next. Pausing to let the injured worker tell their story and allowing an area they can be heard starts positive momentum in the process. This is not the time to judge. If you believe there are red flags, tell your employer or TPA so they can take the necessary investigative steps and leave you out of it. Take this time with the injured worker and create a space of non-judgement, and simply allow another human to be heard. Open the conversation by asking “How are you?” and then leave it there.

    Injured workers’ can be fearful in reporting injuries based upon the culture of the organization. What does your culture look like? Do you operate in a fear-based environment? Take a moment to reflect on your perspective and your employee’s perceptions. They may not be the same.

    For injuries that are not questionable, consider changing your work environment and culture you have in place. With an injured worker who sustained a traumatic injury, consider sending dinner home the night of the injury. It acknowledges that the injury occurred and helps establish the caring nature of an employer expressing concern for their employee. “We are sorry you had a tough day. Hoping this will make it easier.” Flowers can also be used post-surgery to let the injured worker know that you are wishing a speedy recovery and care enough to make an effort.

    Cards are the least expensive avenue to acknowledge an employee’s injury and when sent appropriately, help with the relationship building piece during the workers’ compensation process. The simple act of sending the injured worker a note wishing them a speedy recovery can make a big difference from a care, compassion, and concern approach. Notes do not have to be elaborate, simply short, sweet, and to the point. In an era where technology is at the forefront, taking pause to hand write a note to an employee letting them know you care can impact the relationship between the injured worker and the employer. Having this come from the direct leader is even more meaningful.

    While these things seem small, the cost of $20 to send dinner or a bouquet of flowers can really affect the outcome of this injury.
  2. Communication. How often do your organizational leaders get together to discuss workers’ compensation? It should be happening annually if not more frequent. Anyone who is a leader of people should be aware of what to do when one of their team members sustains a workplace injury. What should be discussed with the leadership team? Let’s start with the following:
    • One Touch. Make a personal contact with your injured worker at least once a week. This is found to be most impactful at the direct supervisor level which is why all leaders should be aware of what to do if an employee is injured. Keeping communication open helps avoid the emotional hijacking pitfalls that can come from silence from the direct supervisor. Engagement at the employer and employee level runs on a two-way street. Make the effort.
    • Face to Face. Nothing replaces personal interaction. Asking your injured worker to check in after medical appointments provides an opportunity to check in and bring the injured worker back into their work-life social circle. Having the opportunity to show care, compassion, and empathy in a face-to-face manner is irreplaceable.
    • Establish Connection. It is a team effort to restore injured workers’ heath, getting them back to work and back to life. Connecting with the insurance carrier (or TPA) and the adjuster in an open manner, creating a team approach assists with the building of trust with all parties. Presenting a unified approach with the objective goal of returning the injured worker to their life can improve communication.
    • Text. A simple and easy way to check in…it takes moments and provides a touch point of one human looking out for another. If an injured worker has a social circle at work, team members checking in can help with the sense of belonging and alleviate fears that co-workers are upset, no one cares about the injured employee, and that the employee is not wanted back with the employer. The fear of missing out at work can be concerning for some injured workers. Having their social circle reach out to check in can help resolve these fear-based emotions that can arise during the recovery process of a work injury.
    • Address Concerns. How are things going with the insurance carrier from the employee’s perspective? Do you have any questions you need answered? Does the injured worker? This can be an easy avenue to show a partnership approach with your Insurance Carrier or your Third Party Administrator. If something is not going well, you want to be aware to fix it or remedy the situation.
  3. Rethink Return-to-Work.
    • Stop focusing full-time work. For some reason, if employers are not able to offer at least four to eight hours of work, the idea of return to work is shoved to the side. We need to re-think how we approach return to work. Pull out to the 20,000 foot view and see the bigger picture of what is at stake. We are working with human livelihood. If we took opportunity to look at options surrounding one-to-two hours per week, the impact would be substantial. The injured worker needs to practice self-care to get themselves ready to come back to the work environment. They need to get themselves to work. They would be able to engage with their social circle, seeing their friends, colleagues, co-workers. They could check in with their supervisor, their human resources representative, and objective facts can formulate in the human mind. What just happened? The alleviation of emotional hijacking.
    • Emotional Hijacking. What many of us fail to acknowledge during this process is the impact the human brain has in telling a story of what is going on during the absence of an injured worker. When an injured worker has been removed from their employment, the human mind can play some not-so-fun tricks that determine the perception of others in their workspace. Bringing an injured worker back into their social environment at work can help alleviate these issues by establishing a sense of community and belonging back into the injured workers’ life. The injured worker gains perspective into the reality of belonging to a group, a social environment they have come to miss, and understands their place within the organization. Providing meaningful purpose to an injured worker during the healing process aids in the road to recovery. Challenge your program to start trying this with a couple of hours per week to focus on the bigger scope of human nature. It will make a difference.
    • Focus on Abilities. Many times return-to-work programs are focused on limitations and restrictions. Ask what the injured worker is able to do and what can be done to move forward in this process. Think outside the box, even if only for a couple of hours per day. What are some tasks that can be accomplished? Where does the ownership lie? Make sure there is accountability on both sides… the employer side of not asking the injured worker to perform work outside of their restrictions and on the injured worker side where they agree to not perform work outside of their restrictions.

While three tips can be effective to improve workers’ compensation programs, they are only as effective as they runs deep. It is walking the walk…following up to follow through and make sure employees are taken care of during this time of vulnerability. Most importantly, always do what you say you are going to do. It is that simple. If you are going to call to check in with an injured worker on Tuesday, call them on Tuesday. If something is going south with the carrier or the TPA and you said you would check on it, did you? Doing what you say you are going to do establishes trust through accountability and is the single most important aspect when working with someone with an injury.