Gone are the days when workers’ compensation fit into a relatively small box. Granted, there were always challenges when addressing both employee and employer concerns, but problems were more identifiable and communication was simpler, according to Steve Gladstone, a retired HR director who worked for IBM and the University of Illinois-Chicago, among others, who now consults on personnel issues with Chicago-based startups. “It’s important to be prepared for what could come next but employers should be looking at solutions that have worked in the past as well as new options that are based on new research and advances in technology.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance surveyed industry executives on the top challenges they expected in 2018. Prominent concerns included the changing workplace, a changing workforce, and the future of the workers’ compensation.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
While national trends may impact costs and practices, it’s important to address internal challenges by continuing efforts to improve communication between employers and employees. For example, workers who seek medical information no longer have to wait for a phone call or face-to-face conversation, thanks to major advances in technology. Employees can use chatbots, automated responses, and other self-service apps to receive answers to questions about their health, their benefits, and more. “Employers see the potential for the use of these tools as virtual health coaches for workers’ compensation, disability, and wellness programs,” wrote Kathryn Tazic, managing director of Client Services National at Sedgwick, in Property Casualty 360.
Still, employers should be careful not to rush into all electronic forms of communication before considering potential problems. “The key question before employers is what are the possible advantages, limitations, and liability risks of these cutting-edge virtual assistants,” Tazic wrote.
KEEP IT FRESH
If you’re tasked with risk management, don’t look to technology for all your answers. In fact, some of the simplest solutions are right in front of you. For example, it may be a challenge to keep employees focused on safety, especially if the only reminders they see are the same posters in the break room that were stapled into place six years ago. “Frequently, the posters stay up way too long, almost becoming part of the wallpaper so they are no longer seen by staff,” wrote W. Kent Jessee, Ed.D. in Property Casualty 360. “Visual support materials designed specifically for the particular employees and work environment being targeted are much more effective. These materials are relevant, so people pay attention and everyone benefits from a healthier, safer workplace.”
A COHESIVE APPROACH
Technology’s expansion into our everyday lives shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Once-complex workers’ compensation issues can now be addressed with a few clicks on a mouse or swipes on a screen. The true value of specific programs, though, won’t be measured in bytes and keystrokes. Instead, both workers and employers will need to go a little retro—in intent, at least—to communicate effectively if their post-injury relationships are to be successful.