It was one of the most compelling observations at the recent Comp Laude® Awards program held in California last week. Part of the event involves recognizing people who have been severely injured on the job but have managed to overcome these challenges to regain control and momentum in their lives. You may have some familiarity with this, as we’ve written this week about the Injured Workers Panel and other recovering workers who were honored at the event.
It was while observing them at the awards ceremony and the dinner that followed that the concept crept into my mind. These workers, who previously had not met, were spending a great deal of time talking to one another, sharing their injury stories as well as experiences within the workers’ compensation system. They were exchanging contact information and making acquaintances that will last long after the experiences of this year’s program have faded into memory. They were networking, and true to the nature that brought them to Comp Laude® in the first place, offering support to people they easily identified with.
And it hit me like a brick; the workers’ compensation industry should establish and support a Recovering Workers Mentorship Program.
It would be a simple idea, and the execution should be manageable if designed correctly. At a high level, an all-volunteer Recovering Workers Panel would be established that consists of people who have experienced significant injury or illness on the job. These would be workers who have successfully restored function in their lives and returned to a productive role in society. Injured workers looking for basic answers and moral support could request assistance; and a panel member would be assigned as a mentor for that worker. Using Skype and other communication technology, they could be available to answer questions, share understandings and provide emotional support for people in situations similar to their own experiences. In the right hands, it could be a tremendous emotional support tool for injured workers often isolated and left wanting for the most basic of answers.
Panel members would need to be properly vetted, and it must be made clear to all that any information they provide cannot be considered legal advice; but my Comp Laude® experience, combined with years of experience with our own discussion forums, tells me that there are responsible and knowledgeable injured workers out there who are willing to help others in need.
The vetting would be the most important part. There are injured workers today who are informed and intelligent, and who can give sage advice based on their own experiences and subsequent research. There are also injured workers who, while claiming to be advocates for others, are too engrossed in their own anger and personal issues to effectively guide others. Those workers, who tend to be emotionally destructive, have most often not moved back into any semblance of a normal contributory role in society. Proper review would be required to make sure that inspirational people with a record of post-accident success (bearing in mind that success does not specifically equate to full time function in the workplace) are available in the program.
This is not to suggest we create a panel of pom-pom shaking cheerleaders for the workers’ compensation industry, but rather that the people volunteering must understand the process and can offer guidance that is realistic within those parameters. One of the biggest challenges for the recovery of newly injured workers is for them to understand that things may have changed, and to move forward they must be willing to work with “what is,” rather than “what was.” Nowhere will that lesson be better displayed than by another person who has already successfully traveled that road.
The biggest challenges from this type of program would exist for those in our industry who currently do not play by the rules, or who fail to meet basic standards of timeliness and decency when dealing with injured workers. While some in workers’ comp might fear the input of injured workers, the lack of that participation currently works to our detriment. Improving the lines of communication with the use of real-life experiences could have a very positive effect on attitudes and outcomes.
This mentorship program could be a not for profit operation, funded by key players in the workers’ compensation industry. It would not be expensive to facilitate. Establish a board, a vetting and onboarding process as well as a few volunteers; throw in a toll-free number and a database, and you’re in business.
That would be the business of taking injured people, and turning them into recovering workers.