Yesterday David North, president and CEO of Sedgwick, provided the keynote address at the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN) Fall Seminar in Hartford. North covered a broad range of challenges facing our industry today. 

It was encouraging to hear him speak of the need to focus on fast, effective medical treatment, and the importance of using positive outcome objectives over cost in getting treatment to injured workers. He spoke of the challenges of dealing with 4 working generations; from people like myself, who remember what a telephone is for and still use it in that manner, to new workplace entrants who are not even aware their phone has a voice function. But he also mentioned something that does not get much attention in our “usual discussion of issues”. He spoke of the challenges of diversity and ethnic differences in relation to claims management. 

His points are worth considering. 

North took this discussion beyond the typical “language barrier dialogue” that we are all too aware of. He spoke to core cultural values and beliefs, and how those variances can impact the claims management process. As an example, North said, that “a person from an asian family may have a different focus and drive regarding return to work” than a person who is caucasian or other ethnicity. “Not better or worse”, he said, “just different”. His point was that it is important to try and align support for these workers through people who either share or understand the culture from which they come.  

I think that is a valid point. I also think that represents a challenge for us to actually accomplish. The United States is a vast and diverse land, and we have people of many ethnic backgrounds in a multitude of places. Still, this is not an impossible idea, and certainly should be employed when possible. In some cases, it is just a matter of thinking things through, and deploying limited resources in an intelligent manner.

The issues of race, ethnicity and diversity are potential “third rail” topics in the business world. Normally they are given cursory platitudes that offer no real depth. People are just afraid to touch those topics, as comments and intent can be easily misconstrued. I applaud North for recognizing and commenting on this concept. Don’t get me wrong, his public comments were in no way controversial; it is just that many people prefer to avoid the topic altogether, as it requires a requisite dance around often sensitive feelings. 

Empathy and understanding are critical in the recovery process, and yet are sometimes the ingredients most difficult to find in the world of centralized and faceless claims management. Understanding where the injured worker is coming from is crucial if we are to be successful in guiding them to the proper destination. Assigning them people with common ethnic traditions and beliefs could provide a foundation of understanding on which we could build a successful result.

It is a thought worth pondering.

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