Yesterday I posted an article that defined the language that actuaries use. I really just posted a couple paragraphs, and then stole the rest from someone else, but who’s counting? It was humorous in nature, but timely for me, as I will be conducting a presentation next week in Montana discussing how the words we use can hurt our efforts. It turns out that language is a pretty serious business after all.

Workers’ Compensation is an industry rich in acronyms and specific terms, and the words we use may make sense to us, but are literally Greek to people outside the industry. But beyond all the “compbabble,” even common words take on different meanings when presented to different people. I won’t review my full list here – for that you need to register for the Montana Governor’s Conference on Workers’ Compensation, buy a plane ticket, fly to Missoula, and sit dutifully in the front row during my presentation, “When Words Don’t Help.” And bring a pencil. I wouldn’t want you to miss anything.

Unless, of course, projected Hurricane Newton, whose long term forecast says will be passing through my house next Wednesday, interrupts my travel. If that happens, you can forget the pencil.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the words we use can hurt us. Some of my favorites on this list are:

Pay Benefits Timely

And the list goes on. But l want to discuss a couple of those here.

Disability – I’ve been candid on how I have grown to detest this word. Disability is a legal construct that we layer over a condition of impairment. With the way it is used, it often has no correlation to the actual ability of the individual as it relates to performance on the job. It can, but the relation is often not considered in the rating. If you take the letters “dis” and attach them to the front of any word, with very few exceptions you will have a word resulting in a negative connotation. “Dis” ability is the exact opposite of ability. We are telling recovering workers that they can no longer function as a normal human being – and in many cases that disability becomes part of the workers personal narrative. I would much prefer we develop a method that recognizes real impairment and works to establish ability around that condition.

Success – What is success, really? For a claims professional it may be the closing of a file. For a medical provider it may be finding a person has reached MMI (another term we freely use that people may not understand). But what about the injured employee? Was the closing of the file a success for them? Was the quality of outcome considered a success by those who experience it? Just food for thought, but one person’s success may be another’s complete fail. We should be cognizant of that.

Pay Benefits Timely – I love to rail against this phrase. When I hear professionals say “we pay benefits timely” I wonder why we just can’t say, “We’ll send your checks on time” or “We will send them on the schedule the state requires.” An injured employee can probably understand the latter, but may scratch their forehead on the former.

Remember, not everyone has your education level, and they don’t immerse themselves in comp speak every day. The words we use can hurt our efforts, and we need to be cognizant of the perceptions of the recipient of our verbiage.

For the rest, you’ll have to fly to Montana – or perhaps come to Florida and help hold down my patio furniture if weather requires it. Either way, I’ll be happy to discuss this further, and I promise to use words you will understand.

I may not understand them, but that is my problem, not yours.

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