Do We Work For, With, or On Behalf of Injured Workers?

21 Dec, 2021 Bob Wilson


A session at the recently concluded WCI Conference in Orlando, focused on the “significant need to provide better behavioral health support for injured workers who suffer from injuries with compounding behavioral health challenges,” presented many good ideas, as well as generated provocative questions worth our consideration. One of those questions was, essentially, how do we view our positions in the industry as they relate to the people we serve? Do we work for, with or on behalf of injured workers?

The presentation was titled “Advocacy-Based Claims Handling: Practical Application For Frontline Staff.” The presenters were Dr. Claire Muselman, Gregory Hamlin, and David Vittoria. It was moderated by Dr. Alana Letourneau. 

Most of us, when asked who we work for, would tell people the name of the company that employs us. But for those on the front line of recovery management (a much-preferred designation over “claims adjusting), the question should run deeper. What is the relationship between your position and the injured worker? Are they merely part of the workflow, a mandatory cog in a bigger and more robust machine? Are they more of a client for whom you perform your job on their behalf? Or are they the ones you work for as you provide the services related to their needs?

I suspect there are many in our industry for which the first scenario holds true. Staffing, heavy caseloads, and a developed focus on “process and close’ thinking means that some injured workers simply become a required part of an operation that has lost optimal focus regarding their needs. Certainly, some claims professionals take a more personal view of their position and make earnest efforts to view their work as on behalf of, and even for, the injured workers under their charge. While those viewpoints are admirable and certainly healthier than the latter scenario, they are still not likely to produce the best outcomes. No, there is one more way to view the relationship that the industry would be wise to consider.

There is growing evidence that claims professionals who work “with” injured workers, rather than “for” them, developing partnerships focused on defined goals, are more likely to gain the positive outcome that will restore a worker’s ability to be a productive member of society. Working “with” them in such a manner gives ownership to the injured worker, and with ownership comes the commitment and faith needed to advance.

The concept of an injured worker “owning their injury” has resonated strongly with me for many years. Back in 2012, I wrote an article in this blog entitled “Owning Your Disability” that asked many more questions on the topic but ultimately concluded that an injured worker who owns their situation is far more likely to succeed at recovery than one who is mired in anger and blame. In reality, if I penned that missive today, I likely would have called it “Owning Your Impairment,” as my views on man-made disability have evolved. 

To clarify, “owning your disability” (or impairment) has nothing to do with assigning blame for an injury. It has everything to do with recognizing what the current reality is and working to improve from there. We won’t rehash that article here – I would suggest you read it for the full gist.

The point is the claims professional who can work with an injured worker to gain understanding, trust, and acceptance will be able to achieve far more than any adjustor who just has another “file on their desk.” Making them a partner in the process, making them just as accountable for the desired outcome can produce far better results than simply managing a file. Working with the people in your care, as opposed to for or even on behalf of, will ultimately win the day for all involved. 

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