Friday, October 4, 2013

The Theme Is Support

There was a recurring theme at the Dana Point California Workers' Compensation and Risk Conference this week.

It wasn't the beach, surfboards or aloha.

And while SB 863 was a topic of most sessions, another theme overrode the subject matter and professional surfer Bethany Hamilton's inspirational keynote presentation kept going back to it.

The theme centered on the one thing that technical application of the law, regulations and claims management can not provide: support.

Or more accurately, a rock solid support network.

It came together for me when I was listening to Hamilton talk about the shark attack, the loss of her arm, growing up in a surfing family, her dedication to the goal of becoming a professional surfer and overcoming her disability - she had the unwavering and constant support of her family.

She kept coming back to this central theme - and the support of her sponsor/employer - Rip Curl.

There were many sessions about application of the technical details of SB 863. Interestingly, in many of these presentations speakers went back to the support network - how important it is that the injured worker feel and understand that the people behind the system were there to ensure success after the event that resulted in a claim.

Hamilton had an element that many injured workers lack, and which is paramount over everything - family support. It seemed every other sentence in her presentation was about the support of her mom, dad, brothers, and other family members.

This support and positive communications not only allowed her to deal with the loss of her arm, but to get back in the water one month afterwards and then go on to success in the professional ranks.

Many injured workers don't have that advantage. The best they can have is the support of the people that become engaged in the recovery process: the claims examiner, the doctors, and the employer.

Hamilton praised her employer, Rip Curl, for standing behind her through the ordeal, and thereafter.

Granted, Hamilton has a unique drive and the winning attitude that many don't have. That personal attribute makes a big difference in how one overcomes the adversity of trauma.

Some people are going to need more support than others. Some just need another person who will listen. Others need more material support.

Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson, founder of the Work Injured Resource Connection and the Bags of Love programs in Australia gets that. Her success in helping injured workers overcome their adversity and return to gainful employment isn't about money, treatment or programs.

It is all about support - being there; providing the positive environment and emotional foundation that so many don't otherwise have.

Employers are critical in this equation. For many, employment is not just a means to a living, but IS the living. Work defines who we are, whether you're a professional surfer or a line worker sewing the product.

It takes a huge commitment in time, energy and emotion to provide this support. Sometimes that's not enough - but most of the time it's what makes the difference between successfully returning someone to work or relegating them to the disability polls.

Many employers and claims agencies have support programs and networks - and these are a great starting point. But we need to remember that workers' compensation claims are uniquely individual. Every single claim is as different as the person is behind the claim.

I think that for most of us in the workers' compensation industry the appeal comes down to making someone's life better after an adverse event. Providing support is exhausting and difficult.

When it works though, the reward can't be measured adequately.


  1. I wish I had a dollar for every time an injured worker told me that nobody from work even called to see how he was doing. On top of that, injured workers face ludicrous insinuations, extreme pressure not to file a claim, outright intimidation and plain old fear of what the future will bring. In my experience few employers provide any support and adjusters even less. The treatment received by those injured on the job often create as much of the problem as the injuries themselves. Sad but true. I agree with you David that a little support goes a long way.

  2. David, You participated in a very interesting "Blogger's Panel" at the conference that touched on this issue. Moderated by Mark Walls, you were joined by Bob Wilson and Roberto Cineceros to discuss, among other things, the production atmosphere of an adjuster's job. That an apparent industry-wide lack of training, but more so, adjusters who not empowered to make adjusting decisions except which internal procedure to follow, has made the kind of caring and involvement you mention in today's article largely impossible anymore. You may recall that the Employer's Fraud Task Force produced a video that attempted to show the difference in results that can be obtained when a caring and empowered adjuster is involved versus a careless adjuster that acted like every aspect of the job was a bother. The video was idealized, but the point is absolutely true. Some employers get it, but unfortunately many do not. I wonder when the "Billy Beane" of claims management will emerge to create different metrics by which to measure the results of adjusting claims. That is, when will the traditional "batting average" and "on base percentage" type thinking that has spawned today's pressured production atmosphere might be tempered by "new" thinking that really isn't that new. There may yet be a way found to save money in the system and care at the same time. BTW, it's not solely the regulator's fault.

  3. There's no need to be pejorative. I could say for example that I wish I had a dollar for every legal client who said their attorney never returns their calls, keeps their clients in the dark, is arrogant, condescending, only seems interested in getting paid (a lot).

    Having said that, I would say that actually, a lot of support goes a long way. I agree that better support for injured workers provides better outcomes. However employers, TPAs and individual adjusters cannot replace families or personal support networks and it's not only unrealistic but unfair to think they can.

    I do think there is a gap in support for many injured workers. Because the gap is so big to fill it requires dedicated resources either by the Employer in house or via an independent company.

    The outside company will come in and provide the kind of time--and sometimes all consuming--support that many injured workers need, but that but employers and adjusters with large caseloads simply do not have the time to provide.

  4. The most under utilized provider in most Employer Benefit Plans is their Employee Assistance Program. Too often, the EAP isn't properly presented to senior management as the 'ringer' in their midst. By this reference, I'm talking about the primary underlying reason injured workers don't come back to work in a timely manner. Poor inter-personal communication skills - a pervasive problem which exists throughout the organization but the true cost(s) CAN be measured on the bottom-line. The lack of rapport between senior/middle/first line managers and their direct reports is a prime driver of whatever morale problems exist and they also comport with feedback from injured workers feeling disenfranchised when they don't hear from their bosses (especially!). Anyone who doesn't subscribe to the notion that we (the people) perform better when we receive positive reinforcement from our immediate bosses is sadly mistaken. The number one cause of workplace violence incidents can be found at the nexus of the supervisor/employee cross road. Senior management needs to be proactive in establishing the culture of frequent communication up and down the chain of command. The most important communication skill anyone must possess, particularly first-line supervisors with their team members - is rapport building. Knowing what's going on in the lives of their people.

    Information is power - unless it isn't used, then it's worthless. When performance reviews are due, the anxiety level goes up exponentially for the ill-prepared supervisor or manager. One metric often missed during overall organizational performance reviews are the number of lost work days, regardless of the employee's reason. The LWD number is/can be an indicator of a communication problem between the worker and their boss.

    If your company has an EAP, they should be an integral asset deployed regularly BEFORE a performance problem shows up. Proper EAP use should include quarterly interpersonal communications in services up and down the chain of command. Every manager should know what's going on in the lives of their people. When everyone is actively engaged in the communication process, productivity will dramatically increase and morale issues will fall off. Ongoing communication skills training is just that - ongoing. Use your EAP as a proactive, social-interaction insurance prevention management tool and your return-on-investment will be off the charts.

    One last thing, if you haven't addressed the problem of Presenteeism - the employee shows up and is on-the-clock but not performing their job duties due to a distraction off the job, usually a chronic situation involving either their children or an elder-care issue with an out-of-state parent or in-law. These are mission critical challenges which will result in catastrophic consequences for the organization ... and no company is immune from this problem. As intuitive managers, you need to be ahead of the curve and address problems before they become insurmountable. This is a stress management issue and everybody responds to stress differently - most responses are counter-productive to the individual and the underlying problem causing it.