Far be it for me to be disagreeable, however, as so often is the case, disagree I must. I attended the annual conference for the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network a week ago in Atlanta. One of the sessions, designed to talk about the transition from claim management to litigation, accidentally meandered on to the topic of staffing needs for our industry. This was a good panel, and even the inadvertent diversion to a different topic was a positive moment, as it is one of the most critical issues facing our industry. And it was within this area where one of the panelists made a statement with which I absolutely do not concur. 

He was discussing staffing practices within his own company. He told the audience that they really did not have any issues, as they simply “paid more than anyone else in the area”, and that solved the problem. He summarized that point by saying, “after all, it is all about the money. That’s it.” While he later walked that statement back slightly, the assertion that money would continue to keep them awash with talent, in my opinion, could not be more incorrect. After all, if money alone motivated people, returning injured workers to the job simply to “count paper clips” would be a stunning success. 

Mr. Aging Baby Boomer, meet Ms. Millennial.

While older generations were driven to a greater degree by status and achievement of wealth, that is not necessarily the case for the generations we need to attract in order to keep our industry functioning. The workers’ compensation industry is facing an enormous loss of skill and talent over the next decade. We must figure out how to attract quality people to train in our place. That will be a problem, because the industry is not currently geared or engineered in any way that will interest many of them. 

Millennials, and the generation that has now followed them into college, don’t look at jobs the way we did at their age. A major focus of their age group is “having impact”, and making a difference with what they do. They are not and will not be attracted to working in a cubicle, managing 200 claims, and grinding away with our current “process and close” mentality. They will have no patience for technological obsolescence. And work-life balance is an absolute must for this group. The structured 60 or 70-hour work week will be a complete non-starter for them; but a flexible work week will be an attraction. After all, they will happily answer a text at any hour of the day….

No, while money will always be important, it is several notches down the list for these entry level folks. Unlike generations before them, if they do not like the work, most of them simply won’t do it.

That means that the workers’ compensation industry has a problem. To attract top talent to manage the next generation of claims, we need to undergo a major makeover.

For one thing, we need to stop “managing claims”. Our industry must become one focused on restoring function and quality of life. We need to be an industry known for providing assistance, instead of one labeled for throwing up roadblocks. We need to act and be seen as an industry that makes a critical difference in the lives of people who need it the most.

I’ve previously described my effort to rename the workers’ compensation industry as a “one man campaign.” I really cannot say that any longer. Other speakers and industry professionals have started to talk about the “Workers’ Recovery” concept, and its use would be no more appropriate than for this topic. Change Workers’ Compensation to “Workers’ Recovery”. Rename the position of claims adjustor to “Recovery Specialist”. And start referring to the claimant as a “Recovering Worker.” Do those three things and you would go a long way to changing the attitude of the industry (and the people it serves). That revised attitude could be the foundation for rebranding and refocusing our efforts on a path that would attract young people to our fold.

Of course, simply rebranding an industry won’t change the shape of our octagon wheel. We have a lot of work to do beyond that. Regulatory oversight should be streamlined. Improving technology platforms and accommodating a more mobile workforce will help us in this area. Fostering collaborative efforts that empower individuals and departments will go a long way to help meet these objectives. And by “fostering collaborative efforts”, I mean more than paying lip service to the concept. The era of intense micromanagement from above will soon be coming to a close.

The generations that are following us are not motivated by the same things that motivated us, and we would be foolish to believe that offering the same rewards that we sought will somehow continue to work. It ain’t all about the money. It will be about respecting your workforce and the people they serve, and earning their reciprocal respect in that process. It will be about creating jobs that make a difference, and that have impact on others.

And it will be about making sure that the industry is geared for success during its second one hundred years. 

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