I love the workers’ compensation space. I feel like I was born into it. I grew up watching my father beat his body up as he worked manual labor (and continues to do so well into his 70s). I had an emergency door handle pierce the skin of my upper thigh while I was working at one of my very first jobs which required a plethora of sutures. I began working with injured workers right out of college, and through it all, the kindness, care, and compassion of those involved has made the greatest difference.
Through the years, I have been granted the opportunity to see the workers’ compensation industry from multiple sides. I have been the daughter of an injured worker, I have been an employer of an injured worker, I have assisted in the legal representation of injured workers, I have been an injured worker – twice, I have advocated for injured workers, and I have held one of the most amazing jobs one could have, that of an adjuster.
Being graced with the multiple facets and perspective of the different lenses involved with the workers’ compensation industry has given me a chance to understand. Some of these perspectives have been good and some of these perspectives have not been so good. It has helped me understand why people feel the industry is unfair, why people do not feel heard, why people feel taken advantage of on both sides of the equation, and it has helped me comprehend how we communicate as well as what makes information consumable.
Human beings are complex because human behavior is multifaceted, multifunctional, multidimensional, and multiemotional. Add injury to the vessel in which we exist makes things much more complicated. Add in the world surrounding this person and the layers continue. Looking into the psychosocial issues, the social determinants of health, and the perception that exists within the people involved in a workers’ compensation matter… it makes sense why people do not hear what is going on nor succeed from the communication front.
However, while complexities exist within us, working with people is not complicated. We want a lot of the same things: to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. People want to feel valued and appreciated. People want to know someone cares about them. People want to be trusted and they need to trust you! Trust develops through authentic and meaningful relationships with PEOPLE.
We know why people do not learn and why they are unable to consume information. It does not matter if we are looking at children, teenagers, or adults, similarities exist. It relates to the value and the importance of human connection. Relationships. James Comer, Associate Dean at the Yale School of Medicine, says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships.
Why do we fail to address this with our injured workers in the workers’ compensation system?
Look at the training offered to adjusters and you will see black and white, statute driven training. Training of new adjusters stems around process, procedure, and systems, rather than any education on how to communicate consumable information, emotional intelligence, and the art of relationships. But take a step back… how does one communicate process, procedure, and systems to someone with whom they have zero relationship or rapport?
It is not shocking the workers’ compensation industry has a poor reputation. Injured workers are treated as transactions rather than being looked at as human beings who have suffered a loss. People do not learn from people they do not like. It is very simple. How each of us come to the table every day matters because ever interaction you have with an injured worker is going to be positive and trust building or negative and trust depleting.
How do you want people to leave you? Worse off than they came to you? Please exist the industry and find a new profession. We should all want to make good things happen to restore people to their very best after they have encountered any of us in the workers’ compensation space. We are here to help. The attorney commercials say otherwise, but I can tell you, I’ve managed a plethora of workers’ compensation claims professionals over my years and I have yet to find one who does not want to have influence to make an injured worker’s life better.
Let us revisit the comment on people do not learn from people they do not like. This can be examined through a couple of lenses. Think about good leaders you have worked with and poor leaders you have worked with throughout your career. Who did you take guidance and feedback from? Was one greater than the other? For the leaders you felt had an investment in you, did you grow? What about the leaders who created a management transaction?
Step back even further and think about the people you have learned from throughout life. What about the teachers when you were younger or mentors throughout your career? The more meaningful knowledge transfer occurs once a relationship has been built.
Steven Covey points out how important it is to seek first to understand as opposed to being understood. How many times have we interrogated injured workers versus checked for their understanding of what happened, what will happen, and how we can get there together? Mr. Covey also points out how important it is in life to apologize. What a simple concept!
Not every encounter is going to be a treat but to create meaningful influence, we should be trying as hard as we can. There will be days that are low and situations that are heart-wrenching. During those days, you have two options. You can be sad about it or you can do something about it. How can you help an injured worker get from where they are to where they need to be? It may be hard and it may be difficult; however, YOU can be the champion that assists this injured worker feel seen, heard, acknowledged, and help raise their self-esteem during an incredibly vulnerable point in their life. They will remember it. Do your best to make sure the influence you have is meaningful, positive, and moves the needle in the right direction.
What if we started talking to injured workers in the workers compensation system with optimism? “You were chosen to have your claim handled by me because I am the best adjuster to help you through this and we can do it together. They put us together so we can achieve the best outcomes possible.” Why not level set the bar here and then move forward? Seed plant greatness as an expectation.
We fail to see injured workers in the true fashion they come to us, as injured (pause) workers. They are PEOPLE. People who were working. They are people who are involved in their communities, their churches. They are people who are part of a family and play a role other people’s lives. There is a ripple effect that goes into this and one many times is not acknowledged the way it should be in this system. They deserve to have the best treatment by all people involved to get them on the road to recovery and back to work, back to life. Injured workers have a life! They have things to do and people to impress and places to go. We should be making a difference as an influence and an advocate, and being a champion.
In a system and an industry that makes people feel like numbers or transactional, we should be taking the time to make sure our injured workers feel like someone important because they are. The job title of adjuster is not simply that of an adjuster. It is a game-changing impactor who can influence a ridiculous amount of people and leave a legacy of relationships. We can all stand to have more relationships.
Will you like every injured worker you encounter? Probably not, but keep this in mind. YOU matter because of the connection. It’s the relationships. You come to work when you don’t feel like it, you wear a multitude of hats on a regular basis, and you listen to outdated policy that does not always make sense, and you do it anyway because that is what adjusters do.
Every day and every interaction is an opportunity to influence an injured workers’ life for the better. You can bring joy and receive joy by making good things happen. How powerful would the workers’ compensation industry be if we had adjusters who were empowered to make decisions and try new courses of thought, who were not afraid to take appropriate risks to help those in need, and who were not afraid to think. TO THINK. And to be a champion for their injured workers.
Every injured worker deserves a champion, an adjuster who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that the injured worker become the best that they can possibly be on this road to recovery. Show up. Call. Communicate. Is the adjusting desk tough? You bet! But it is not impossible. We can rise. Each person, every interaction. We can do this. We’re born to make a difference. You can be that champion.