The workers’ compensation industry has taken an interesting shift as we move into the post-pandemic and now more than ever, we need compassion. While working with injured workers can be stressful depending on the situation, add in the additional layer of stress on all sides, and we have a whole new ballgame to shine, helping those who are injured in our arena.
Looking at things from a humanitarian approach is critical, especially now. It is important to find those small wins to move the ball forward and, in our space, it can be challenging; but it does not have to be. No matter what seat you fill within the workers’ compensation space, you have the opportunity to create a better experience for the people with whom you work. If we all took an empathic approach to customer centricity, the progress we can make could be huge. This is where Four C’s of Workers’ Compensation come into play.
When working with an injured worker, it is important to understand exactly the needs, wants, and goals. Establishing this type of connection takes patience, strong communication skills, and the desire to help someone going through a challenging time. Communication is not simply dumping challenging information at someone without checking for understanding, it means taking time to help someone comprehend what is happening, how this works, and why it occurs in small bite size pieces.
Not everyone absorbs information the same. Having a multitude of communication avenues can increase the transparency and clarity for the injured worker. For example, if you have a conversation on the phone with an injured worker, follow it up with an email reiterating what you’ve discussed. This can help ensure the messaging is clear and if something did not come across clear, you now have another method of communication. Follow up communication is an opportunity to provide additional transparent care through tone in verbiage. It is worth taking the time to create a positive tone when following up in communication for wage calculations, next medical appointment, when providing additional resources, and discussing return-to-work.
Knowing you are supported and have the backing of someone is such a great feeling. There is trust and accountability on both sides of the equation. Working with injured workers should stay the same. During this pandemic, receiving a paycheck, timely, is critical. It was before we encountered this time; but the stress has been heightened increasing the need for consistency in knowing that when a check is issued, an appointment is scheduled, the process is moving forward, it truly is. What makes this work? Increased communication.
When working with injured workers, lay out expectations. Here is what you can expect of me during this process and in turn, here is what I expect from you. This should be done by every party on the injured workers’ recovery team. By establishing guidelines for each involved party, accountability parameters are laid out in a clear and concise manner. This helps alleviate communication issues and who is doing what to continue the process moving forward. It also provides a designated person of contact for the issues that could potentially arise.
Easy ways to show commitment through the workers’ compensation process include: communicating when an injured worker’s check is released, for how much, and when they can expect arrival; checking in before medical appointments to prepare the injured worker for what may transpire; following up post medical appointment to see how things went and what is coming next; simply calling to check in and see how the injured worker is doing (adjuster, employer, nurse case manager) with no agenda but care; and following up after the process is complete to see what went well, what could have gone better, and any suggestions to help those in the future. This is a big step many people in our industry miss. How are we to get better in what we do if we do not ask those going through the process? Take the information and do something with it. We can all improve, grow, develop, and make this space better!!
Time to think outside the box! Let’s get creative. While workers’ compensation is mandated by statues which can create the black and white approach to how matters are handled, there is a lot of grey area that can be enhanced to assist in making good things happen for the injured worker… and if you cannot think of it yourself at the employer or adjuster level, there are vendors who can help!
Re-thinking return-to-work has been increasing with importance as we look at the impact on the mental health side of things as it relates to an injured workers’ recovery. From the employer standpoint, this is becoming heightened with impacting organizational culture and employee morale. Working together as a transparent team makes a huge difference. Place the WHY at the beginning of the importance of return-to-work and it will change how the messaging is received.
Example: If you’re an injured worker who has been placed on restrictions and the adjuster calls to tell you they are returning you to transitional employment because it is cheaper for your employer in the long run… how do you think that is going to go over? Where is the care, compassion, or concern for the injured party? Create a new story that is encompassing of all the avenues. There are a ton of reasons to return an injured worker to any type of transitional duty. Starting with cost and employer benefit is not going to go over well. Explaining the why in terms of recovery and sense of purpose, meaning, and community? Much better. Take the time to create a meaningful approach when working with an injured worker in this space. It will be received much better and the experience is more likely to yield a positive outcome.
What helps make people successful in life? Cultivating a support system around you. While we cannot pick and choose who an injured worker surrounds themselves with, we can help provide support through care and communication to aid through this process. The employer can as well by making sure to involve the direct supervisor in the communication process. This assists in transparency, helps alleviate perception issues, and reiterates concern from those an injured worker reports to during a challenging time.
Connection is imperative. If you have been under orders to shelter in place or quarantined at any point over the past three months, you understand. Now put yourself in an injured workers’ shoes and add an injury into this dynamic. Connection means taking the time to build a relationship and establish community with an injured worker, helping them understand there is a team to support and encourage on the road to recovery. We have no idea what is going on at home, but we can build a supportive team within our scope of control to set an injured worker up for success. This team can include, and is not limited to the injured worker, the adjuster, the employer, the physical therapist, the nurse case manager, and the medical provider. If everyone has open lines of communication throughout this process with the same goal (back to work, back to life), a positive outcome can occur with a positive experience.
When people have a bad experience in this industry (on either side), the neuropathway is formed, creating a story that continues to linger in the person’s subconscious. If Aunt Sally’s cousin’s brother had a bad surgical outcome with no communication from the adjuster, this can be a seed planted in the injured worker’s mind and it is up to each one of us to help change that story. Build community in working together as a team so we are all on the same side. Follow up when you say you are going to and do so with compassion. “I am so sorry to hear Aunt Sally’s cousin’s brother had a bad experience. Let’s talk about what we are going to do to make sure you do not have the same experience.” Then build a plan, include the employer, and make something good happen through accountability and follow through to change the script.
One comment continuously heard throughout this space: “I do not have time to do this.” Let us play devil’s advocate for a moment. The time taken to establish meaningful purpose, accountability, and transparency during the first phone call with an injured worker is setting the tone for the claim. The more information provided in a consumable way where the injured worker understands what is going on and can ask clarifying questions, the less likely the jaded feelings are going to begin. Add in a follow up communication through email or a letter (or both) to reiterate the information communicated, and then follow up when you say you will, and you are setting the tone for ongoing success. Be honest. If you do not have an answer, communicate it. If you are set to follow up on Thursday but did not receive the medical records until late Wednesday afternoon, still follow up on Thursday because it is your reputation and trust that is broken when you do not follow up. No answer, avoided telephone calls, unanswered emails… this is where people get ‘too busy’. Take the time on the forefront. Work smarter, not harder, and do what you say you are going to do. Keep the team advised for the community to present a united front to assist in the bath to recovery.
The bad experiences must stop. There are a lot of good people who simply get injured at work and it is up to us to change the story of a dark space to one of hope and healing. Look in the mirror. What is one thing you can do today, right now, that will make someone’s day a little better, a little brighter, and the industry improve? It all starts with YOU.