Insights on Work Comp's Investment in Talent

08 Feb, 2021 Mark Pew


The Transitions – a movement to help the workers’ compensation industry, collectively and individually, think strategically about how to handle the influx and outflux of talent over the coming decade – held their second webinar on January 26. The panel of experts on “Workers' Compensation Benchmarking Study: Change Your Organization's Talent Crisis Trajectory” represented 170 total years of experience in work comp. The session’s moderator, Rachel Fikes, CXO for Rising Medical Solutions, outlined the trends from her firm’s Work Comp Benchmarking Study and solicited not just a grade but also some ideas from her panel:

  • Bill Zachry, Board Member, California State Compensation Insurance Fund
  • Jeanette Ward, COO, Texas Mutual Insurance Company
  • Thomas Wiese, VP of Claims, MEMIC
  • Victoria Kennedy, Assistant Director of Insurance Services, Washington Department of Labor and Industries

The full video recording, the PowerPoint presentation with all of the details, and a handout with detailed notes from the panelists (and a place for the audience to take their own notes) are available online. Those are the details. These are the highlights.

Collegiate collaboration & recruiting:

  • Jeanette (C/D): Attend Job Fairs but also sit on Boards/Advisory Committees at schools. Texas Mutual creates and teaches curriculum in Risk Management, reaches out to HBCUs to setup risk management programs, and offers onsite tours and presentations.
  • Vickie (C): The industry often doesn’t look for the right kind of people at college – social sciences, soft skills to help workers. And college isn’t the only place to look. Washington has adopted an apprenticeship model (earn while you learn two-year program). Some of her best managers do not have a college degree.
  • Tom (C): Utilize predictive analytics in recruiting and pre-hire assessment. It’s not just about technical skills but also softer skills and competencies – customer service, problem solving, decision making – and considering whether they are a good fit for the role and accountabilities for which they’re interviewing. MEMIC has evaluated and incorporated a number of tools.

New hire training:

  • Jeanette (B): They have a structured (important) three-month classroom/hands-on onboarding process. They also learned not to assign too many claims too soon.
  • Tom (B): Supplement classroom training with technology, at-will training for additional understanding of the job responsibilities and the company.

Ongoing training, career pathing, knowledge transfer:

  • Jeanette (C): They had all of the pieces in place but needed a deliberate, formalized, transparent, well-communicated process and so they developed a program with a consultant. It is focused on self-service with formal touchpoints and conversations so people can understand what is available to them.
  • Tom (C): Incorporate seasoned professionals not in leadership roles (“super technicians”) as dedicated resources in training (content development and/or trainers) to share the knowledge.
  • Bill (C+): Claims adjusters being promoted to managers are accustomed to micro-managing all of the details so they must be shown how to “let go.” Create a separate high-level claims track for the “super technicians” that are not interested in management.
  • Vickie (B-): Every two weeks they have a stand-up meeting in each unit. Leadership attends and advertises it as a ”safe space” to identify barriers, learn from others in how they’ve addressed problems and quickly create solutions as a team.


  • Bill (B): Claims adjusters must stay current with market rate. The longer they stay with 1-2-3% annual increases the less they keep up with the market rate which “penalizes them for their loyalty to the company.” Human Resources needs to do regular salary surveys to keep individual pay rates current or else continued high turnover can be expected.

Benefits & how COVID changed everything:

  • Vickie (B+): COVID forced everyone to do something quickly that was already on the horizon. With lots of other things going on during the pandemic (school kids, older parents) everybody – not just the younger generation – wants flexibility and a work/life balance. They allow customized schedule (four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon, trade some hours on Friday or Monday for work on Saturday). They have created private lactation rooms in the office and even introduced an infants-at-work program for up to three days per week.
  • Tom (B+): Take advantage of virtual platforms that make meetings easier to schedule, fosters more engagement (people on video aren’t ignored by people in the office’s conference room), and are easier to share resources/references. It also allows guest speakers that ordinarily wouldn’t be available in-person. Focus on inexpensive virtual team activities (happy hour, game night).

Advocacy model:

  • Vickie (B): They call it a “worker centric” model by identifying who controls return to work (RTW) – the injured worker. Their role is to eliminate delay, provide support and explain the complexity. They train managers in behavioral economics and “nudging.” By connecting claims managers to vocational professionals their RTW outcomes have increased by 200 percent.
  • Jeanette (B-): This perspective is “table stakes” to make the industry more attractive. Companies have created their own brand, e.g. “Mutual Care,” that is the same concept under a different name.
  • Bill (B-): The key to overcoming institutional resistance is to identify success stories (personal, financial, RTW) and share them internally, being sure to recognize claims adjusters involved.

Soft skills:

  • Tom (D): A focus on competencies in the 1990’s (customer service, decision making, negotiation skills) were easier to link to technical skills. Now it should be about personal skills like listening, creativity, collaboration, and empathy. The focus in training has been about What (to do) and How (to do it). That needs to now also include the Why (reasoning behind it) and When (to use it most appropriately) to engage critical thinking by the whole person.
  • Vickie (C+): Diversity, equity, inclusion. Experience with unique perspectives in the workplace that are included in policy and procedures will result in increased respect for the injured worker. The claims team engaging in active listening and goal planning among colleagues makes that same approach more natural with the injured worker.

Addressing psychosocial issues:

  • Bill (C-): Safeway created early identification for an “at risk” injured worker. Early engagement with red flags reduces the fear of creating a “psych” claim and helps educate the staff how it can reduce litigation and increase RTW. When those outcomes are shared with the team, a biopsychosocial approach becomes part of the new culture.
  • Vickie (C+): They are using Masters-level therapists for behavioral interventions, activity coaching, and progressive goal attainment program as soon as they identify a red flag.

Job meaningfulness:

  • Bill (B): The job may need to be redefined for staff – it is to provide benefits and not to say “no,” to resolve conflicts between stakeholders and to take care of people that really need it.
  • Jeanette (B): They strategically reiterate in town halls, marketing materials, and in colleges about how work comp helps people. They share real-life success stories via internal and external video campaigns that includes the injured worker and claims adjuster.
  • Tom (C): Organizations do not create meaningfulness and purposefulness – people bring it for themselves. That means hiring the right people for the right fit is key.
  • Vickie (A-): It is important to collect and tell positive stories because when staff see an improved quality of life for the injured worker and their families (while saving money) as a result, they have their reason for excellence.

Quotes from handout:

  • Rachel: “To address the talent crisis, we’ve got the opportunity to leverage a ‘perfect match’ in marrying young talent with 1.) purpose-driven, socially-conscious work (e.g. advocacy / worker-centric models) and 2.) innovative technologies (e.g. predictive/prescriptive analytics, injured worker communication tools) – both of which are proven to generate better injured worker outcomes in the WC Benchmarking Study findings and other research.”
  • Vickie: “Build a more diverse pool of claim managers and train them in the skills they need. They may ultimately relate well to those they serve who come from a wide array of backgrounds and experiences.“
  • Tom: “Gamification – ‘Make the Job Fun’. Think of your punch cards at Starbucks or Subway, or points/coins within todays video games. They are looking for ways to ‘earn points’ to later ‘turn in’ on rewards that appeal to them.”
  • Bill: “There are still significant pockets of resistance (to advocacy model) due to some examiners not understanding that the injured worker is their customer (as much as the employer is a customer).”
  • Jeanette: “We have also developed leadership-focused programs focused on both Established Leaders and people who want to be leaders in the future (Aspiring Leaders).”

The Transitions has many more webinars planned throughout 2021 on a variety of subjects that will build upon the foundational issues discussed during this webinar.




  • AI california case management case management focus claims cms compensability compliance courts covid do you know the rule exclusive remedy florida FMLA glossary check Healthcare health care iowa leadership maryland medical medicare minnesota NCCI new jersey new york ohio osha pennsylvania Safety state info technology tennessee texas violence virginia WDYT west virginia what do you think women's history month workers' comp 101 workers' recovery workers' compensation contact information Workplace Safety Workplace Violence

  • Read Also

    About The Author

    • Mark Pew

      Mark Pew is a passionate educating and agitating thought leader in workers’ compensation and award-winning international speaker, blogger, author and jurisdictional advisor. He has focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment since 2003. He is the driving force and co-founder of The Transitions and just recently launched The RxProfessor consulting practice at

    Read More

    Request a Demo

    To request a free demo of one of our products, please fill in this form. Our sales team will get back to you shortly.