I was at the CompLaude Awards & Gala last week, listening to the opening speaker, Bill Zachry. Mr. Zachry is the recently retired Group VP of Risk Management for Safeway and Albertsons grocery stores. Still active in the industry, he is currently a board member for the State Fund in California. It was an excellent presentation, and I will probably write a couple articles citing some of his content, but today we will focus on a critical issue he broached; one still ignored by many, if not most employers. He dared to discuss the importance of what we often refer to as psycho-social issues as related to the realm of injury management.

I’ve said it many times before. Employers are scared to death of “psych”. They don’t want to pay for “psych”. Yet they are paying dearly for it every single day. Zachry spoke of questioning, at one point in his career, why some claims seem to go so wrong when the physical injury did not seem commensurate with the negative outcome they were seeing. One of his associates explained to him that “some of our employees have poor coping skills”. While he did not use the phrase “psycho-social”, what he went on to describe, employees who have experienced trauma or negative actions in their past which then affect their ability to deal with current traumatic events, is directly in the psycho-social wheelhouse.  To steal a quote from my friend Mark Pew, “What happens between the ears and at home is important as what is physically wrong with the body”.

As Zachry spoke, I thought of the importance of having proper coping skills in our lives. The reality of life itself is that challenges and negative incidents will routinely occur. It is how we are prepped to cope with them that will make a significant difference in the outcome. That thought lead me to think of the newest group of potential workers entering college or the workforce today. Generation Z, sometimes referred to as the “Snowflake Generation”, is loosely defined as those people born between 1996 and 2010. The oldest of the group are turning 20 this year.

I recognize that stereotypes are unfair, and that broad generalizations do not accurately describe every member of a group. Specifically, if you have a child in this generation I am sure what I am discussing does not apply to them; just to other people in their age category.

We are all familiar with generation Z. They have never won anything. They have never lost anything. They have a closet full of ribbons and certificates attesting to the non-competitive, non-controversial and ultimately fair and equal lives they have lived. Some of them have never been graded on their work, as grading is ultimately degrading to those who wouldn’t make the grade; if there was a grade, that is, but thankfully there is not, since that would be unfair. Today some among the oldest of the group have entered college, where they are offered safe spaces from offensive ideas and language. They are provided counseling for scary Halloween costumes and hateful words, like when someone draws “Trump 2016” in chalk on the sidewalk. Of those who have not entered college, they are entering the workforce, where their first annual performance review may become a truly traumatic experience.

Seriously, with the emphasis we, as a society, have placed on protecting this latest generation from trauma, controversy and failure, how well are they going to be prepared to deal with a life altering injury? After all, we don’t have any “safe spaces” in workers’ comp. What type of support will this generation of workers’ need to cope with such an injury?

As I indicated earlier, we are not currently doing an adequate job of recognizing how past experiences in an individual’s life can affect current events. How they react to a serious injury can easily be influenced by their prior life experience. For Bill Zachry’s part, he described the very effective intervention program his company employed to identify individuals at risk and get them the appropriate care and attention before the claim went off the rails. It is part of the reason his company’s workers’ comp costs declined over 50% during his tenure there. Employers today must recognize this and start to address it in a manner that can both improve outcomes and reduce costs. The matter becomes all the more urgent when you consider newer workers’ entering the fray may not have been adequately prepared for the challenges life may throw at them.

For the world of recovery management, there may be a blizzard coming, and watching snowflakes melt may be more challenging than we can imagine.

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