American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said,
“If you just communicate, you can get by; But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.”
While you may not be able to heal an employee’s injury as their employer, communication with them on a regular basis is strong medicine. It can help injured workers through the process of workers’ compensation and set the tone of cooperation between employer and injured worker throughout their recovery. It also shows your staff how they will be treated if they are injured, so it is important to promote a culture of empathy, trust, and communication.
As an employer, it is important to remember that an injured worker is in a position they may have never been in before. They are not experts on workers’ compensation benefits, they are in pain, unsure about their job security, and worried about the financial security of their family. One reason injured workers don’t return to their jobs is that they feel anxious about their work situation. Knowing their employer is concerned about their health and is looking forward to their return can motivate them to return to work as soon as medically possible.
A white paper by Lockton Cos. LLC found that one of the most common cost drivers of workers’ compensation was a lack of communication and the average lost-time claims cost 3.5 times more when words such as “fear” and “afraid” are recorded in adjuster conversation.
By communicating early and often with injured workers, employers have the opportunity to provide information on the return to work process and be a direct supporter of their employee’s recovery. A simple phone call from the employee’s supervisor or direct manager can make an injured worker feel connected to the workplace, valued, respected, and wanted back at work.
In an article for www.propertycasualty360.com, Kathryn Tazic, managing director at Sedgwick said, “We’ve found that explaining the [workers’ compensation] process up-front will help prevent litigation. The number one reason injured workers hire attorneys is that they don’t understand what’s going to happen to them as a person and they don’t understand the workers’ compensation process, which is getting more complicated.”
A 2010 study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute found that by calling the injured employee within a week after an accident to talk about their value to the company reduces the chance of lawsuit by 50%.
This goes to show that sometimes an injured employee will hire an attorney simply because they are afraid they will need them. Injured workers have the same interests as their leadership, to recover and get back on the job as quickly as possible.
Good communication with your injured worker includes active listening. They may ask questions about the process, express concerns about their job security, or air complaints. It’s important to actively listen to what they are saying and be attuned to their feelings, without engaging in a combative discussion.
Some managers are cautious about talking to their injured workers. They may be worried about privacy laws around medical issues or unfamiliar with the details of the company’s workers’ compensation program. By communicating, even if just to show empathy, employers can foster trust in their injured worker and reduce the chance of litigation.
A National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Innovative Research Award-winning research study by Shaw, et al., “Supervisor Training to Optimize Response to Worker Injuries,” showed that just four hours of supervisor training on communication skills and respect of injured workers, along with ergonomic accommodations for injured workers reduced lost time claims by 47 percent. The study also showed an 18 percent reduction in existing claims and an 80 percent reduction in workers’ comp costs.
As you can see, it is important to communicate early and often the value of your modified duty and return-to-work program. Good communication can reduce litigation, lost time claims costs, and workers’ comp costs, and at the end of the day is just the right thing to do for an employee that is injured and anxious. By communicating to employees before they are injured and while they are recovering, your modified duty and return to work program will become a valued and an expected part of returning to work for your employees, and you both will be less anxious about when they will return to full duty work.