By John C. Peters, PhD, Chief Science Officer, Gain Life, Inc.
In a previous article, we summarized data from a quantitative survey among frontline Workers Compensation (WC) professionals (adjusters and others). The survey looked into job stress as it affects their physical and mental wellbeing, their sense of meaning and purpose, whether they feel their work is appreciated, and how the pandemic affected their wellbeing.
What Did We Learn?
We confirmed that WC work is stressful, both because of the administrative demands (caseload, deadlines, paperwork) and the emotional demands (working with injured workers (IWs), coworkers and mangers). We learned that the COVID-19 pandemic had negative impacts mostly on mental wellbeing, but also physical wellbeing. Finally, we learned that while most frontline workers felt their work gave them meaning and purpose, almost a third felt their work was either somewhat or very unappreciated by the injured workers they served and their coworkers and managers.
While these findings may not surprise those in the trenches, they are a key factor in the challenge the industry faces in recruiting and retaining skilled WC professionals.
The obvious questions: What can be done to make frontline WC jobs more appealing and give people a reason to build a career in the industry? How can organizations build thriving WC cultures?
1. Reduce administrative stressors.
Embrace automation to streamline the administrative tasks that make high caseloads, deadlines and paperwork such a time consuming burden. This can free up time for more intellectually stimulating work, such as problem solving with injured workers and identifying claims that are going off the rails or are fraudulent. This would make frontline jobs more meaningful and take advantage of the human factor in the business of working with injured workers, and it would go a long way toward bringing empathetic claims management and “advocacy” to life.
2. Make the job more meaningful.
Reinforce and create feedback loops to let WC professionals know they are making a difference. This is important as so much of what they do is “behind the scenes”. Claims organizations could build systems to better quantify the impact (outcomes) the adjuster makes, in detail, where possible, in terms of improving the quality of the injured workers life, reducing unnecessary and sometimes dangerous treatment that would have occurred if the adjuster had not intervened, reducing opioid use due to medical education, returning the injured worker back to work sooner, and facilitating whatever support they needed. Make it easy for injured workers to give feedback on their adjuster. Share stories of injured workers’ positive experiences and outcomes with the claims team and encourage managers to find more ways to recognize the value of the work done by frontline adjusters.
3. Make personal growth and career advancement visible.
Are there are visible career growth opportunities? Respondents to our survey said professional learning and advancement was high on their list of rewarding aspects of their job. This includes having professional development and career advancement options for those who do not want to manage others (e.g., a non-management track). Providing opportunities for individuals to develop new skills and learn to do other jobs within the organization is also a great way to support career growth and satisfaction. These kinds of opportunities can improve employee retention as they see more ways to pursue their personal goals that are not limited by organizational structure (i.e., move up or out).
4. Build a workforce with an eye toward the future.
Hire the right people and train them to become the next generation of adjusters who are advocacy experts, who are good listeners, empathetic, facile with emerging claims technology and creative problem solvers. For example, retired guidance counselors and policemen have many of these skills and may be good models for these roles.
5. Fully leverage the power of teams.
Foster camaraderie and social interaction among people on the frontlines, whether they are in person or remote. Encourage them to share experiences, feelings, emotions and anything that nurtures the bonds that makes teams great, including having teams set performance goals and track progress. This can reinforce that even if they work remotely, they are not alone and they are all working toward common goals.
6. Promote and support self-care.
Given that the future of work beyond the pandemic will likely involve some remote work, foster a more personal connection between workers and their workplace by providing monthly or quarterly “self-care” packages containing things like healthy snacks, stress balls, instructions for breathing exercises and stretching moves at their desk, relaxing music selections, workout music, podcasts, you tube videos to lighten the spirit, coupons for door dash or other food delivery services and more. Consider creating a virtual “gratitude jar” for WC professionals at all levels to post notes expressing gratitude to coworkers or managers for behaviors for which they are thankful. Initiatives such as these would reinforce feelings that the company cares about its employees as people, wherever they choose to work.
There is no question that frontline WC professionals have stressful jobs that can affect their wellbeing. And, their work is largely behind the scenes which means their work can be underappreciated.
These professionals are critical to the successful outcomes of WC claims and every attempt should be made to support both meaningful and rewarding jobs as well as nurturing a thriving culture within which they do their work. If caring for the frontline of WC professionals is a priority, business success and attracting and retaining new talent will follow.
About John Peters
John C. Peters, PhD, is the Co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Gain Life and Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Previously, John spent 26 years at the Procter & Gamble Company in various R&D leadership roles. He has served on two National Academies of Science, Institute of Medicine committees, and has authored over 150 scientific papers and book chapters and published two books.
About Gain Life
Gain Life (www.gainlife.com) is a Boston-based insurtech company, born out of Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, and backed by General Catalyst and Unusual Ventures. We build software to help people and organizations return to health, work, and productivity. Our claims communication automation platform is utilized by carriers, employers, and TPAs to save claim costs and provide a better claimant experience across multiple insurance lines-e.g., workers’ compensation, general liability, commercial auto, and disability.