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Let’s Make a Change

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I was honored to be invited to participate in the Deconstructing Comp podcast in April 2023. Yvonne Guibert and Rafael Gonzalez engaged me in a conversation about Worker’s Compensation, perceptions, concerns, and our future. Several thoughts flowed from that interaction, illustrating again the benefits of collaboration and communication.

Four many months, Worker’s Compensation pundit. Bob Wilson has been relating an interaction regarding perceptions of this community. As I recall the story, he was speaking with a claims professional, and their adult offspring. Bob inquired about the offspring's willingness or motivation to work in this community and was met with rejection. Asked why, he was told that this industry is all about pushing paper, filing reports, and gathering statistics. The young person apparently felt it all seems rather tedious and boring. 

Bob reportedly suggested a different viewpoint. He questioned whether the person would feel differently if they were told that this community is about “rebuilding shattered lives.” That is perhaps an oversell, we deal with many who are not "shattered," but nonetheless need expertise, patience, and compassion. When I recounted that quote on Deconstructing Comp, Yvonne suggested that this reinforces a persistent complaint of "branding.” I had not thought of that term in many months, but it is most apropos here. What first impression are we leaving with people when we discuss Worker’s Compensation? In our first encounter, what is the lasting message?

The second point I raise is one upon which there is little dissent. Persistently, consistently, and perniciously, I hear discussions of the challenges of hiring and retaining young talent. As I have discussed here, repeatedly, I am acutely aware of the fact that my day grows nigh. Fortunately, my shoes will be easy to fill. That said, there are many critical positions throughout the Worker’s Compensation community that will be much harder. We hear complaints from medicine, case, management, actuarial sciences, legal, and on, and on, and on.

Not so long ago, I touched on this in The Time is Now (April 2022). But I have been on this topic for a decade: The Things You Think Are Precious (August 2014). I am participating in producing a program aimed as this challenge in the legal profession, Work Comp Academy (February 2023). That Academy is almost upon us, with the first rendition May 19, 2023, in Orlando. That is very exciting and we have Judge Kerr and Mediator Gonzalez-Fajardo to thank for the inspiration and so much effort and organization. We are not changing the whole world, but perhaps starting on a small corner. 

Today’s professionals are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit fresh talent interested in this market. This may have something to do with branding. However, it is as large an issue in the secondary consideration of retention. The fact is it does us no good to recruit the best and brightest to this community if we frustrate their progress and discourage retention. These two, recruiting and retention, must be viewed in tandem, one the yin to the other's yang.

I get it. “These kids today.“ I get it. Find me a generation that looked to pass the torch and uttered the phrase “these kids today really get it." Anyone who thinks that the Greatest Generation believed in the Silent Generation is mistaken. If you think that the Silent Generation was tickled to see us Boomers take over, you’ve really missed the boat. Certainly, the Boomers have been hard on the Millennials. And if anything, there’s been a bit of a frontal assault on GenZ.

What is the distrust of “these young people today?“ Well, no human likes change. Change is uncomfortable. Beyond change, there’s likely some jealousy. The next generation, from my biased perspective, seems clearer about their wants and desires. They are empowered to find their own goals. They are, in many ways, stronger than I ever was at their age. Jealous? I had not considered that, but as I sit back and ponder, maybe I am. Are you?

Let’s be real. The generational opportunity to parent these people is passed. The values and predilections that defined them are now set. The future, whether you’re willing to admit it or not, is theirs, not ours. We may, as the biggest brontosaur in the swamp, wander in circles, chewing on leaves and lamenting “these kids today.” But they will be hunting, thriving, and succeeding long after we have passed on to other forms of carbon.

Like it or don’t, there’s one conclusion: we will have to come to the next generation. They have aptly demonstrated that they are not coming to us. Somebody once said, “it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” It is so old, I can’t find the origin. With every day that passes I kind of identify with that sentiment more. Why not light a candle? In your branding, your enthusiasm, and your involvement?

So, it’s time for the Boomers to take a long, hard look in the mirror, and ask the difficult question: what have you done for me lately? We’ve all spent a career listening to that question. Often in business, it’s the entreaty from our customers. That customer has been justified at times, petulant at others. What will you do at your stage of life to light a candle? Millenials, don't get too comfortable. Your day is not that far off. 

How far do you live from the nearest Florida college? Did you know there are about 74 of them? How about contacting the leadership there to see if you can’t find some classroom opportunities to talk to young people about your profession and its benefits? Maybe take the time to share some of your frustrations, misperceptions, and challenges. Go honestly convey that here lies both challenge and opportunity in your chosen occupation. It's worthy of consideration.

When you are in the public and afforded an opportunity to discuss your profession, do you demean, discount, or distract? I heard someone just last week admit her profession is "only comp." She did not mean a constraint or a specialty, she was self-deprecating and demeaning. That detracts when we could build instead. And worse, that was her demeaning herself. I am certain it is unwarranted. Sure, she did not get to be an astronaut, but then none of us did. 

Too often, we hear discussions from people about how they "fell into Worker’s Compensation." This makes it sound like a mistake, an accident, or an unfortunate outcome. And yet, so many of you reading, this blog have so much to be grateful for as a result of this fantastic little corner of the world. When you get the opportunity to speak to others, why not seek to find joy and convey your personal satisfaction and gratitude for the many benefits that have been bestowed upon you?

There is a disturbing lack of appreciation in this environment. This one is perhaps the easiest one to change. At the conclusion of the podcast, Rafael was so gracious and complimentary. If you don’t know, Rafael, your loss. Actually, if you don’t know, Rafael, I’m curious what bunker you’ve been hiding in. but I digress, I likewise expressed my gratitude to Yvonne and Rafael for being included on the Deconstructing Comp podcast. 

Certainly, in season three of the podcast, it does seem as if they’re “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” but I guess inevitably they were going to work their way down to the likes of me eventually. But I was grateful. And I expressed that to each. Do you thank those around you? Do you take the time to build up or are you tearing down? Are you Pooh or Eeyore? 

One of my favorite professionals in the space, who will remain nameless out of my genuine respect, habitually closes conversations, emails, and other communications with a very simple tagline “thank you for all you do.“ It is compelling. It is appreciative. It is genuine. 

He says this to me often, despite the fact that he toils in a profession utterly unrelated to my day-to-day, hundreds of miles from Florida. Yet he appreciates the little bit that I manage to contribute. When is the last time you simply told someone thank you? How does it feel when someone says it to you? Are you able to accept that it may be even more important to the next generation?

This post is long, and the day is short. Our professions and this community are worthy, and similarly, time is short. We must recruit, retain, and respect those who will take our place in not so many years. How, when, and where you pass that torch is perhaps uncertain, but the day is coming. Are you preparing for it?

By Judge David Langham

Courtesy of Florida Workers' Comp

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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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