By: Mark Debus, Clinical Behavioral Health Specialist, Sedgwick
Caring counts. In fact, when it comes to showing empathy and compassion for injured workers, a personal approach can have a marked impact on outcomes – for the individual, for their family and for the employer. When claims are managed with the injured workers’ needs in mind, the outcome can be positive for all involved.
For this reason, some claims professionals are adopting an empathy-based approach to managing claims. But what does this really mean? Rather than focusing solely on costs and compliance issues, the approach focuses on the injured worker as an individual human being.
Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and relate to the emotions or experiences of others.” For claim professionals, this means being able to put themselves in the shoes of the injured worker. Compassion, on the other hand, is taking empathy one-step further. A compassionate approach is not simply understanding someone else’s feelings but also wanting to help them.
It’s important to remember that when employees are injured at work, it can be an unsettling and stressful time for them. They may be feeling uncertain about their ability to pay bills and take care of their family in the future. Long-term health and recovery are also concerns. They may be experiencing pain, anger, anxiety or even depression. They are often confused, scared and don’t know where to turn.
From the very first interaction with an injured worker, it’s important that a claim professional set the proper tone for their ongoing interaction and the process. An empathetic voice and active listening will go a long way to help the injured worker feel that the claims professional is here to help and is not simply looking to manage the claim, hold down costs, and meet compliance standards.
An Empathy-Based Approach
Empathy and compassion are important components in today’s advocacy approach. Claim professionals can benefit by developing relationship skills and showing the following characteristics:
- Active listeners – From the very first interaction with an injured worker, it’s important to listen to that individual and learn from their story. The employee is often suffering and may be dealing with the worst setback of their lifetime. Let them tell their story and gather the facts. It’s important to listen for non-verbal cues such as the emotion, pain or anger in their voice. Background noise such as a baby crying, dog barking, or other people arguing may provide more clues about their situation and needs.
- Empathetic communicators – An empathetic response to an injured worker may be “Wow -that must have really hurt.” “I get that you’re frustrated.” Or, “I hear that you are upset.” It’s important to let the individual know you hear what they are going through. You can reassure them of this by mirroring back their words in your response. Showing empathy will encourage the person to be more open and honest with their discussion.
- Compassionate advocates – A compassionate advocate will let the worker know you are here to help. For example, one might say “I see that this is a stressful situation and I want to help you with putting this behind you.” Again, this approach can build further trust and create buy-in from the injured person. It is important that the injured worker wants to work with the claims professional to find an acceptable solution.
While acting with empathy and compassion can be more challenging for some people than others, we all have the ability to learn new skills and become more effective communicators, listeners, and advocates. We find that when we can establish a good rapport with an injured worker from the first point of contact, it leads to better outcomes for all. Yes, when it comes to managing workers’ compensation claims, producing more positive outcomes, and truly assisting injured employees, caring counts.
About Mark Debus
As clinical behavioral health specialist since 2015, Mark has a dual role at Sedgwick. He works as a consultant to claims examiners on challenging or psychiatric claims. He is also an advocate for employees who’ve experienced a work-related injury and may be struggling with the aftereffects of a workplace trauma or who are experiencing other types of psychosocial stressors in their lives. Through careful assessment, coaching and advocacy, Mark helps injured workers overcome barriers to treatment and improve motivation for a successful return to work.
Mark started working with Sedgwick in 2006. Prior to his current role, he managed short- and long-term disability mental health claims. Before coming to Sedgwick, he worked as an employee assistance program (EAP) counselor, a trauma specialist, and as a care consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).
Mark graduated with a bachelor of arts in psychology and communications (BA) from Marquette University and received a master of social work (MSW) from the University of California at Berkeley.
Sedgwick is a leading global provider of technology-enabled risk, benefits and integrated business solutions. We provide a broad range of resources tailored to our clients’ specific needs in casualty, property, marine, benefits and other lines. At Sedgwick, caring counts®; through the dedication and expertise of more than 21,000 colleagues across 65 countries, the company takes care of people and organizations by mitigating and reducing risks and losses, promoting health and productivity, protecting brand reputations, and containing costs that can impact the bottom line. Sedgwick’s majority shareholder is The Carlyle Group; Stone Point Capital LLC, La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and other management investors are minority shareholders. For more, see www.sedgwick.com.