Can the strength of the 20th century workers compensation framework support the weight of 21st century demands? Wellness programs and the aging workforce are agenda items at most workers compensation conferences, but what about our aging worker compensation system itself – Does it need to enroll in a wellness program? We’ll start the examination with another question.
What if the 20th century WC system did not exist?
What if workers compensation laws were not in place today and you were asked to design an effective and efficient system for the 21st century – what would it look like? In making your decisions, remember there is no past only the possibilities offered by your new process. We know this is a “dream,” but it is a good way to inspire innovation. However, innovation requires a paradigm shift and there is a major barrier to any shift.
The major barrier to creative thought is the inability to see beyond the current models of thinking. This is one of the main reasons a number of the world’s major paradigm shifts originate from the young – they are not yet trapped in the current model that dictates the methods used to problem-solve nor are they blocked by the history of past failures or successes. Their way of thinking about a particular topic is not as ingrained in their minds – they’re not as controlled by the power of the habit.
The power of the habit
Take for example the way people maintain their own person health. Those who have a healthy lifestyle normally maintain it and those who have worn the numbers off their remote and produced a permanent indentation in their couch will continue down that path – it’s a habit and it is extremely hard to break. This habitual way of thinking can be broken for the individual through outside intervention such as a wellness program or the doctor informing them of their departure date from the earth.
But, what about the habitual way of thinking about workers compensation itself? Having been a part of this profession for the past 43 years, I have a feeling our industry has worn the buttons off the remote, and worn the couch cushion down to the foam, which translates to added costs.
An unhealthy person generates additional costs
Just as an unhealthy person generates additional workers compensation costs, an unhealthy workers compensation system generates unproductive frictional costs that do not benefit the injured employee or the employer – the two parties workers compensation laws were originally designed to benefit.
The reality is, the 20th century framework was not designed to handle the demands of today, so major adjustments had to be made. But the question is – do we have the healthiest system in place that delivers the best possible results for the employee and employer? Probably not, but there is hope.
It may be a dream
It may be a dream, but it is the dreamers who inspire innovation—and it does not have to be the young. No, one just needs the ability to generate thought outside the world of influence they have grown to rely on and love over the years. Reframing the entire workers compensation system may not be a realistic goal, but improving your company’s program within the current workers compensation system is.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- What percentage of the money you pay in total workers compensation costs go to the employee? (i.e. has the employee’s name on the check)
- What percentage of the total is for medical care?
- What is the remaining percentage of all other costs?
- What is your employees’ level of satisfaction with the overall program?
- What is your level of satisfaction with the overall program?
- Are you satisfied with the percentages noted in questions 1,2 and 3?
- Are you satisfied with the total amount you pay in workers compensation claim cost?
The answer to those last two questions should be “No” – we should never be satisfied. We should always be striving to improve results focused on the employee and the employer – its purpose.
The underlying purpose and object of the 20th- century system remain unchanged
You probably noticed that the above questions focused on the two parties upon which the foundation of workers compensation is constructed: the injured employee and the employer. They are the only parties who gave up legal rights in order to establish a more equitable and efficient system.
Although only two parties made concessions, multiple parties benefited – and one of them was you. In fact, we are all beneficiaries of the positive impact workers compensation laws have on U.S. commerce. The stability it brings to our way of doing business in the U.S. is powerful – although on occasion it may not seem that way.
The question – can the framework of the 20th century workers compensation system support the demands of the 21st century? I believe the answer to the question is “yes” if we:
- Stay focused on its purpose and objective
- See beyond the current model of thinking
- Are willing to challenge the norm and/or listen to others who will
- Understand it is not perfect, but the benefits are significant
- Are willing to evaluate process changes based upon what is best for the employee and employer
- Remember that the interests of both parties are aligned—and if your workers compensation program resides in a contentious environment, there is something amiss in the process
The second question
Yes, it should be enrolled in a wellness program, just as some of us should be as well. We can all use a little toning, and the same is true for our workers compensation system and our own program.
The good news: we all have the capacity to improve as demands of the 21st century continue to escalate, and we do have the ability to see beyond.