By Mark Pew, Co-Founder and Provost, WorkCompCollege.com
COVID had a dramatic impact on how people view work. Some of that was because their employer shut down temporarily or permanently, leaving them unemployed and disillusioned. The “zoom class” moved (relatively) seamlessly to a work-from-home environment, and many now don’t want to go back to the office. Others saw a growing gig economy as a way to be their own boss and now happily switch their phones among multiple apps throughout the day. Many looked inward at their work-life balance, reassessed what was important to them, and participated in the Great Resignation / Great Reshuffle (which has turned into the Great Regret in some cases). Many others decided to ride the wave of the Gray Tsunami and retire.
Two seemingly incompatible statistics demonstrate the tight labor market. As of this writing, the national unemployment rate is 3.5 percent while there are 10.7 million unfilled jobs. Prospective employees have the leverage. But you don’t need statistics if you’ve walked down Main Street and seen “help wanted” signs in almost every storefront or been to a restaurant with a 30-minute wait and empty tables because they don’t have enough staff.
All of this has had a dramatic impact on workers’ compensation stakeholders’ ability to accomplish their business goals. Claims adjusters, nurse case managers, salespeople and all other types of roles have lots of empty seats. LOTS of empty seats. This trend started before COVID with retirements, but it certainly has been exacerbated by what we’ve all endured since March 2020.
Technology is an automating productivity enhancer but there are some jobs in our industry that can only be done by human beings. What happens when there aren’t enough humans to do the job?
You can ask everybody to do more. This can lead to mistakes (and financial penalties), burnout, the “quiet quit” (sometimes the result of good but overwhelmed employees hitting their capacity to give), or their departure … all of which can lead to the death spiral of resource deficiency and subpar customer service. The “Do More” method is not sustainable.
You can poach people from other companies. That seems like a good way to bring in high-caliber people until the poacher becomes the poachee given the finite labor pool. A claims adjuster being lured by an extra $25,000 per year and guarantee of no more than 100 claims is a recent, real example. The bidding war “Poaching” method is not sustainable.
You can recruit new talent to the industry. Whether from high school or college, Starbucks or Chick-fil-A, or other industries / professions (e.g. social workers, Silicon Valley, hospitals), these industry rookies likely have no understanding of the complexity and nuance of facilitating work comp claims. The upside is they can be developed from a clean slate, not bringing any bad habits from prior jobs in the industry. The downside is many companies either cannot or choose not to invest time and resources in properly supporting beginners to thrive in their new roles. That can be due to the urgency of filling an empty seat, budgetary constraints, lack of internal training resources, or a host of other reasons. If you’ve been in work comp for a while, you may remember formal training for new employees. Anywhere from one to eight weeks, these were intensive programs that created a solid foundation of knowledge for claims adjusters that evolved, with experience, into wisdom. Now, more often than not, a new hire is plugged in quickly and expected to learn thru immersion via on-the-job-training, whether they are a claims adjuster, a recent nursing graduate assigned to do case management, or a paralegal.
When “trial by fire” is your “development” method, the new hire is understandably focused on technical proficiency. Because of high productivity expectations, they may just be in survival mode. They might be more focused on checklists and following system prompts than on their craft or the big picture. They certainly do not understand the Grand Bargain or a workers’ recovery claims advocacy model. While “throw them into the deep end and they’ll learn to swim” approach may be most expedient to get the immediate task done, it does not serve the long-term interests of their individual career or the objectives of their employer. Just as importantly, it likely does not best serve the injured employee’s return to work journey.
Put yourself in a rookie’s shoes. Would you want to join an industry that does not invest in their employees? One that can explain the what and how but spends little time on the why? That does not adequately explain our noble purpose in helping an injured employee reclaim their life? That is viewed externally (and sometimes internally) as antagonistic, stuffy and rigid? First impressions are everything, and unfortunately work comp often does not leave a good one.
If we are going to effectively pass the torch to a new generation and fill the empty seats, shouldn’t we properly prepare them? Shouldn’t we also value them as a whole person who deserves to be fulfilled by their career and have pride in their profession? New talent with knowledge IS sustainable.
Tune in next week as my WorkCompCollege.com business partner, Bob Wilson, discusses the way forward.
About Mark Pew
Mark Pew is co-founder and Provost for WorkCompCollege.com. The RxProfessor is an award-winning international speaker, blogger, author and jurisdictional advisor in Workers’ Compensation. He has more than three decades of experience in the industry and since 2012 has been a prolific educator on subjects at the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment. He has worked for medical management organizations along with his own consulting business. Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016, IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers award in 2017 and was named a “Top 100 Healthcare Leader” by IFAH in 2021. He is co-founder of The Transitions and is on the advisory boards for Simple Therapy, Harvard MedTech and Goldfinch Health.
WorkCompCollege is a community-driven effort to improve the workers’ compensation industry through comprehensive education infused with a whole-person recovery management mindset. The Workers’ Recovery Professional (WRP) certification is comprised of meaningful curriculum in nine schools: Claims, General Studies, Humanities, Legal, Medical Management, Regulatory/Legislative, Return to Work, Risk Management and Stakeholders. A diverse, (in)credible team of School Deans and Faculty deliver the courses in an asynchronous virtual campus environment. A service of Workers’ Compensation Educational Services, LLC and the brainchild of Robert H. Wilson, Donald A. Abrams and Mark Pew with advice and support from a distinguished Board of Trustees, this new educational platform is revolutionizing how all stakeholders within the system become more proficient, professional and passionate about their role in an injured employee’s journey to return-to-work. To learn more please go to www.WorkCompCollege.com.