Monday, October 26, 2015

Stop Return to Work

Floydell, WorkCompCentral's human resources manager, looked puzzled when she came into my office the other morning for a meeting.


"You're eating a donut," she replied.

"I love donuts." Particularly what I was eating - plain cake, hmmmm.

She was confused.

"But you're so healthy, eating the right things and riding your bicycle for exercise..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I interjected. "I don't ride my bicycle for exercise. I ride my bicycle because I like to ride my bicycle - it has nothing to do with health or exercise other than it keeps me from coming in here and yelling at employees. The health benefits are fortuitous, not intentional."

Floydell understood, but I don't think was quite convinced. The notion that a cyclist would eat, let alone love, donuts didn't seem to correlate. And people ride bicycles for exercise, in her mind, not just because they like to...
I like to ride.

I thought of that conversation yesterday as I was wrapping up an 83 mile ride. I had ridden down to Malibu, up Mulholland Highway near Leo Carrillo State Beach, to the crest over to Kanan Dume Road, up Latigo Canyon Road over the top and down to Pacific Coast Highway then headed back towards Ventura.

I probably should have just headed straight home from there - I was feeling a bit of "anchor syndrome" on the ride and weather was just ... weird.

But I got to Encinal Canyon Road and my obsessive driven trajectory took me back up the mountain, then reverse course down Mulholland, and finally home.

That little diversion, though, cost me time against a change in the wind direction - and sure enough, I was provided a head wind on the worst part of the ride: flat, boring, straight into the wind Hueneme Road for five miles.

I wanted to quit. I contemplated calling my wife for a wussy ride. The ball of my right foot felt hot and irritated from friction. I was dehydrated. My back hurt. And it was hotter than I anticipated.

I kept going though. It's only 5 miles of hell - I just did 78, what's the big deal? So onward I rode.

I averaged only 18 MPH. Ugh. But at least I could brag about the mileage, 7,300 feet of climbing, and 4,344 calories burned.

And I'll do it again. I'll ride this morning when this post is done, and I'll ride tomorrow, and the next day and the next day.

Yep, I like to ride my bicycle. I don't know why, except that I've always liked 2 wheels, either powered by me or an engine. Doesn't matter - give me wheels and I just go.

If my job were just to be on two wheels, there would never be any motivation problem. I can get hurt, and as soon as I am able I'm back on the bike. My recovery times after accidents and injuries are remarkably quick, and I don't think it's that I heal any faster than anyone else - I just am motivated to get back on my bike.

I really do like to ride my bicycle.

But my job isn't to be on two wheels. My job is to run a company.

I have lots of other things I have to do for my job. Fortunately, now that WorkCompCentral is a relatively mature company, I have been able to delegate most of the stuff I don't like to do for my job and can focus mostly on what I do like for work: reading, writing and speaking.

If I were a workers' compensation claimant, assuming all of my regular job duties other than reading, writing and speaking, I'm not so sure I would be that motivated to return to work. I think I would take my time getting back to the job, particularly if I didn't get along with co-workers, or despised my boss or customers.

Which is why I think that this industry's obsession with return to work as an end goal is misguided.

Return to work has nothing to do with workers' compensation or the recovery of the injured worker. Return to work is a nice outcome, but it can not be a goal because the only person who can determine whether there will be a return to work is the injured worker!

The employer has to want the employee back too.

The antonym of return to work is don't return to work.

I recall many, many instances during my defense lawyer days when I was essentially tasked with using the workers' compensation system to make sure that an undesirable employee DIDN'T return to work!

Clauses were inserted into settlement papers, extra money was paid, and other motivation was provided to keep a particular claimant from coming back to the work place.

That was, and still is, wrong. Using workers' compensation as a human resources management tool is a bastardization of the system, and sends the wrong message to the work force.

Workers' compensation is about medical treatment for an injury and indemnity for the infirmity only. It is not designed to motivate an employment decision (and every time legislatures try that, it fails...).

While return to work is nice for the employer because it lowers the experience, and is nice for employees because work is so essential to human being's identity - there has to be something other than just collecting a pay check for return to work to be successful.

And those are things that we have absolutely no control over.

Return to health is a much better, and more realistic, goal. Getting the injured worker healed up as good as we can is what the medical treatment component of workers' compensation is about.

When we can't get someone back to pre-injury health, then the indemnity component kicks in.

But there really isn't any place for return to work as a discipline in workers' compensation, because it is the employee who must have the discipline to do that. What you do, what the carrier does, what the employer does, what the physician does - none of that matters!

If the injured worker doesn't like the job, doesn't like the boss, doesn't like life ... ain't nothing you can do about that.

That's the stark reality of the world we are tasked to work in. Why is it that injured workers can perform all sorts of tasks on surveillance video that they can't do if they're asked to go back to work before they're ready after a work injury? It's not because they can't, it's because they don't want to...

I like to ride my bicycle, so I'm going for a ride as soon as I hit "publish". Then I'm going to go to work, but only because I'm not getting paid to ride my bicycle. And when I get to work I'm going to focus most of my energy on reading, writing and speaking - because those are the things I like to do.

Hopefully someone else in the organization will take care of managing employees, reviewing contracts, make sales, interface with customers, deal with the bank, take care of the accounting chores, do IT trouble shooting, etc.

And if I'm really lucky, there will be donuts in the break room with some fresh ground and brewed coffee.


Post script: Yes, there were donuts today in the break room!

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