We have always done it this way.
This is the epitome of workers’ compensation and the claims handling process. It is the death of creativity, innovation, and organizational development. It crushes souls, smothers hope, and needs to be a phrase of the past.
In a rapidly changing world, the workers’ compensation industry has escaped the movement necessary to be exciting. I know this space can be better, the experience, the positions within the space, the organizations as a whole… we simply need more people who can dare to be brave.
What if we took the claims handling process and structured it around the foundational components of leadership? Each adjuster is the leader to an injured worker. The imperative nature of communication, empathy, and vulnerability take on a new context when we look at the adjuster: injured worker relationship in this context.
If great leadership is structured around embracing vulnerability, trust, and honesty, we have a long way to go in the workers’ compensation industry to get there. I think we need to take this leap, this jump, and dive into something more through the exploration of emotional agility and how our key values as well as interpersonal relationships can make all the difference in how injured human beings feel seen, heard, acknowledged, and valued.
When I created the Workers’ Recovery Unit back in 2017, I knew it needed to be founded on three imperative principles: vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency. Vulnerability was not a concept being utilized in the full context it is now. The team understood the nature and the importance of leaning into the uncomfortableness behind vulnerability to create something more meaningful and purpose-driven to drive positive relationships between adjuster and injured worker as well as adjuster and their leadership team.
How was vulnerability used? We coupled it with empathy. If we look at vulnerability as a universal human emotion, it sets a foundational tone for trust to be built and relationships to bond. Staring out a conversation with an injured worker and expressing care, compassion, concern through communication helps break down barriers to healing. Having an adjuster who can empathize and understand the scared emotions of someone who has never experienced the workers’ compensation system approaches an injured worker with different tone, verbiage, speech cadence, and informational consumption than someone who is jaded throughout their years on the desk. This transformation into a more vulnerable stance created an opportunity for our adjusters to formulate bonds and relationships with human beings who were scared, fearful, and uncertain of what came next.
And that is where the beauty lies. When an injured worker is scared along the way, there is a great deal of power in expressing empathy, understanding, and relating to the process. A simple “this must be scary for you” or an “I understand” or “I have also had this happen” can change the walls being built up by fear and uncertainty. The words we use matter so much more than we can conceptualize in a basic claims training program. The tone of the adjuster sets the stage for how the injured worker will respond. The timing of words, how quickly the speech cadence, and checking for understanding… all elements of communication we should be focusing on day one when someone enters the claims adjusting world.
Words, tone, cadence… it matters, as well as authenticity. One of the greatest things about the Workers’ Recovery Unit, everyone there had the same purpose individually as well as collectively… we were here to make good things happen for injured workers. We wanted to make good things happen for the people we were working with, helping them along their way to recovery and because it was our purpose, our passion came through immensely. The authenticity of the written cards to injured workers shined through like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds on a grey and stormy day. It was different, it was real, and the emotions could be felt because it was authentic. Why are you here? What brings you to the workers’ compensation industry? Purpose, meaning, drive, and passion… hopefully they all align for you or maybe it is time to look in the mirror and determine if working with injured human beings is the best path. It was, for us, and I would not change any moment of it. We impacted lives for the better. We changed the trajectory to be better. We showed up. And we were better.
We were also as transparent as possible. Workers’ compensation is formulized by statues and regulations. Each state has their own laws and rules which an adjuster must abide by, as well as an employer, and therefore, accountability should be easy on this front. With such a foundation as the legal statues for workers’ compensation in their various states, we chose to take a transparent front by explaining the steps in the process in a clear manner, not citing acronyms or code, but in plain human language.
One of the first avenues we changed involved the written language in our packets of information sent to employers and injured workers. Look at what your letters say. Do they read like an eighth grader could easily understand the context? If not, it is time to revise and reword the letters you use to explain what is transpiring along the workers’ compensation claims process. Add in some doses of empathy, proactive words, and caring language. This is how a human being treats another human being. Clarity is kindness in its most raw form.
Not only was this idea utilized in the written communication, but the philosophy was also applied across the board. If a claim scenario looked like it may be denied, this was told immediately with a “why” to the injured worker, so they were aware. Being up front about these issues versus the shady nature the industry prefers to operate did well for us. There were times we could collaborate with an employer to make sure if the workers’ compensation claim was going to be denied, personal health could kick in to pick up the claim. Even further, our adjusting team showed up by writing a letter to the personal health carrier about the denial of the workers’ compensation claim with a carbon copy to the injured worker so they could have a greater peace of mind.
If we all started focusing on the pillars of vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency, think of where we could be and what could change. The sunray coming through the dark and cloudy sky could become a rainbow of color filled with hope. There is a strong possibility that adjusters may like their jobs more or feel they are more rewarding because of the lives that have been impacted and the good that has taken place. Focusing on these three principles personally, as team, and as an organization can make all the difference to the injured humans you interact with and the ripple effect that can transpire.