The Road to Resilience: Helping injured workers take charge of their healing process.

When people sustain injuries in a work environment, the physical body sustains an injury, and the emotional psyche does as well. There is an added strain from the incident occurring during work time or within the work-family. How do we in the workers’ compensation community assist injured workers in taking charge, increasing confidence, and helping with whatever comes their way?

Many conversation topics can help injured workers develop skillsets needed to take ownership and establish accountability for their healing process. Each person comes into the system with their psychosocial issues that can help or hinder their process. Taking the extra step to discuss skillsets to aid in the healing process’s mental aspects with injured workers can lead to better outcomes and happier injured workers. Advising skillsets can be done at the adjuster, employer, or nurse case manager level.

Each injured worker comes into our space with their background, from co-morbidities to family dynamics, to educational experience… and we take them as they are.  Being able to assess our injured workers where they are and help communicate an understanding of the skills needed to develop resilience is something we can all improve upon if we want to take the time to do so.

The biggest advocate for an injured worker… should be themselves.

Have you ever heard you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink? The most prominent advocate and responsible party for an injured person’s healing are themselves. The injured person is responsible for following and abiding by their medical treatment plan. They are the person in charge of monitoring their work restrictions. They will be the person in charge of what food they choose to consume, when to take medications, and how much water to drink daily.

Where we in the industry can improve this self-advocacy begins with providing consumable information for the injured worker. There are times an injured worker may feel powerless in this system. We need to do a better job of showing them how much control they have and how they should be advocating for themselves. Many times during an injury, injured parties can forget about the basics of self-care. Self-care is a topic where we can create an opportunity to bridge the gap during the beginning of an injury and remind an injured worker during the process, of how they can advocate for themselves to be the greatest supporter on their road to recovery.

So how do we do this? We start by having these conversations on the front end of our involvement with the injured worker. We ask them to tell us how they have been sleeping. We ask how they are eating if they are walking and getting outside. By correctly asking questions, one can plant thought seeds to trigger an injured worker to promote ideas of how they can practice taking care of themselves. Asking an injured worker to tell us three things they can do this week that they could not do last week is another avenue. By asking for good news developed by the injured worker, this creates an opportunity to prompt the conversation around gratitude and the mind shift into starting a gratitude journal. Sharing wins can evolve into accomplishments for the day, completion lists for the week, and successes accumulated over time. If started correctly on the front end, this will create a skillset playbook for an injured worker to recall on the more you can communicate these topics. We need to get better at the art of conversation.

Talking in this manner, focusing on these topics, and creating an environment or culture that thrives on focusing on the whole person is where our industry needs to go. And this can happen at any level, with any participant in the workers’ compensation industry. You have to decide you want to be the person who begins the change. Shift your focus to customer-centricity, emotional intelligence, and empathy. It is that simple.

It is okay to feel all the emotions on the road to recovery.

Injured bodies hurt, but that is not the only emotion felt during a work injury. We need to create a space where it is okay for an injured worker to vocalize if they are scared, sad, unsure, angry, in pain, feeling challenges, and unsteady. These are feelings of another person, which are all valid. Recognizing and acknowledging these emotions in an injured worker can help build trust, assist with an injured worker being heard and seen, and assist in the moving forward from these feelings. Thoughts tend to come and go where feelings last longer. Providing an injured worker with an opportunity to vocalize their truth versus pushing it away can reap benefits through the healing process.

There may be times where an injured worker will not want to talk with you. Help suggest other avenues; maybe there is a co-worker, a family member, a friend, or write it out in a journal. While many of us do not have a therapist’s background, we do all have the experience of being human. Humans want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. Start there, start today, and start with the next injured worker you come in contact with to help move forward.

You will need to exit your comfort zone… nothing grows there.

When working through an injury, getting comfortable does not mean growth. Comfort can lead to a plateau, which can hinder progress in significant ways. Progress hindrance due to comfort can be real in all aspects of life; however, comfort while in the injury space does not mean getting back to life. Pushing through the comfort zone can mean pain and uncomfortableness. Reasonable uncomfortableness is where an opportunity presents itself to coach an injured worker through the growth and development process.

If an injured worker has a shoulder injury but does not want to complete the at-home wall-walking injuries because it hurts or causes discomfort, we can educate on the why. Focusing on why this is important and how this plays into the getting back to life aspect is what can assist with buy-in on achieving the success of an injured worker taking responsibility to exit their comfort zone. The idea for those working with injured workers is to help them try things that may feel uncomfortable or be uncomfortable but not terrifying. These conversations spark ideas related to physical exercise or having a meaningful conversation with their direct supervisor regarding their work restrictions.

Where we fail to achieve success is in assisting an injured worker with their coping capacity—reminding an injured worker that every success they achieve is building resilience through small steps, day after day. We can help an injured worker develop their resilience by reminding them of their little victories. Having them write their small wins on a post-it note to post on a refrigerator or a bathroom mirror can be a constant reminder of the successes they achieved. These successes can build momentum into something bigger, something more significant, and, ultimately, bring them back to their life. Reminders of small wins can also help when setbacks occur. Posting reminders or remembering little victories can help with the bounce back and recovery, which can occur during the healing process. Taking note of these small successes on an injured workers’ file can help you with touchpoints when communicating. It can also help build the relationship and help you advocate in the team space.

Take control where you can.

While the injured worker may feel like the industry controls the entire system, there is a lot where the injured worker can manage their healing process. While working through the healing process, remind the injured worker of what they can control. The lack of power in a given situation can feel scary and create negative, uneasy feelings. Anyone in the workers’ compensation space should begin a claim with setting reasonable expectations of what the injured worker can expect from your role in their recovery process as well as what the injured worker will be held accountable to during this time.

If you are an adjuster, you can tell the injured worker precisely what you will do to help guide them through their recovery process, and you can then outline for the injured worker what you expect from them. Crystal clear expectations push control into the injured workers’ realm and give them a sense of power to assist within their healing process. The same is true if you are a nurse case manager or employer. Placing expectations with clear parameters on the front end will help communication moving forward as the accountability has been made consumable for all parties involved.

If there is a breakdown during these established expectations, the natural reaction can be unpleasant, creating feelings of frustration. Take ownership and build a new plan to make sure things do not fall through the cracks. No matter how small the established parameters may seem, they play into the bigger picture. Take action and ownership, especially if you are the team member who dropped the ball. Apologize, establish new parameters, and remind the injured worker that you are in this together. We are all human, and things happen. Taking ownership can make a significant difference on the road to recovery through influence and authenticity.

Use your support system.

Keying into an injured worker’s psychosocial components can be strengthened by their support system. Branching out of the traditional ideas of what a support system looks like from nuclear family to friend circles, church affiliation, pets, and organizational involvement can help strengthen an injured worker’s ability to cope. An injured worker’s pure nature reaching out to a friend to talk daily can help with their resilience. The work-family dynamics also play into the support system because the work-family can be an avenue to show care, compassion, and concern for one of their own.

Pets have health benefits, and the psychosocial components to caring for an animal can assist with an injured workers’ recovery process. Aside from pets showing unconditional love, an injured worker must take the time to care for the animal by getting up to let out a dog, feeding a cat, or tending to a fish. While these seem quite small, they add into the bigger picture of recovery through added support.

Whatever that looks like, the support system adds value to the recovery process by validating an injured worker to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. A simple text message check-in can change the trajectory of someone’s day. Acknowledging existence can positively impact mood, especially when that someone is an injured worker feeling vulnerable post-injury. Through an established connection, the doors open for an injured worker to ask for help without the residual feelings of weakness.

As an adjuster, an employer, or a nurse case manager, open the doors of communication. While we cannot control the support system an injured worker has, we can add to their recovery team. Checking in and providing an opportunity for an injured worker to express frustrations, emotions, and feelings when things get tough can better deal with the issues emerging to find solutions. There are times people need to vent. If the people who can make the most significant difference are the ones hearing what is frustrating, the better outcomes that can result, and the better environment we can have in the workers’ compensation space.