At RISKWORLD 2023: Is Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging a Bottom-Line Issue for Workers’ Comp?
Many factors affect an injured person’s recovery — and some of these factors have been traditionally ignored in a typical course of treatment. But good health and recovery from injury are complex and involve every aspect of an individual.
We know that injured or ill individuals with family and friends nearby to offer support recover more quickly than those without these social supports in place. And it follows that injured workers who remain socially connected to their employers recover and return-to-work more quickly than those who do not have these social connections.
The value of human connection in recovery has been established, but what about the impact of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) in the course of an injured worker’s treatment?
At RISKWORLD 2023, one session tackled this emerging topic. Titled “The Missing Link in Workers’ Compensation: How Inclusion and Belonging Affect Recovery From Injury,” the panel was made up of Elise White, claims strategy & innovation consultant at Zurich North America and Daniel Maxson, corporate safety director at New South Construction.
Here’s what they had to share.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Initiatives Affect Worker Wellbeing
“Psychological safety really means, do you feel comfortable speaking up, making a mistake, or sharing a concern without fear of punishment? How can employers create a culture of trust and increased engagement to show support?” White questioned.
“Empathy is one of the key components of the fabric of making a successful claim happen,” Maxson said. “We have to put ourselves in that position as a worker. Imagine talking with that injured worker and the people around them, understanding the concerns the worker has, and how they are affected by the claim.”
“Empathy is everything in the claim handling process,” White confirmed.
The panelists agreed the mental aspect of the claim is as important as the physical aspect. While the injured worker can be overwhelmed handling their physical injury, their employer can focus on helping with other issues that affect recovery.
And that work begins before injuries even occur.
Employers can build a culture of trust where employees are empowered to raise safety issues — and celebrated when they do. The panelists suggested some ways employers can begin to develop a culture of trust to reduce accidents:
- Create an environment where safety is the expectation. This starts with senior leaders.
- Break down barriers to remind people mistakes happen. Communicate often about safety.
- Focus on the psychological aspects before an accident happens.
- Celebrate when a safety concern is raised as this increases the likelihood that more issues will be raised (an environment of “see something, say something”).
- Talk about the near-misses and lessons learned from these almost-accidents with workers and brainstorm how to avoid these types of accidents in the future.
- Focus on fact-finding, not fault-finding, when investigating incidents and near-misses.
- Include the worker in the safety process end-to-end.
Workers Expect More From Their Employers
Employees have more options than ever before and expect more from their employers.
This includes the expectation that employers will create and foster an environment where diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are the norm. The old saying, “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers” is still true today. Without an atmosphere where individuals can be themselves and thrive, employers risk losing talent.
This risk is amplified after a workers’ compensation injury occurs. The injured worker is removed from their usual support system during their recovery period, an unintended consequence that can have severe effects.
But employers can counter these challenges by investing in their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives to promote worker wellbeing. Consider how an employee who feels a true sense of belonging and inclusion at work may feel excited and committed to returning to work, contrasted with an employee who doesn’t feel engaged or valued at work.
Employer support and engagement with the injured worker could reduce the severity of the claim. Imagine a worker who is released back to work with light-duty restrictions. This employee could return to work, feel engaged and involved, and contribute to their team — if the work restrictions can be met.
An employer who has maintained communication and a positive relationship with the injured worker throughout their disability stands a better chance of collaborating with the injured worker to meet restrictions and create a successful return to work. “The lifeline is encouraging employer engagement both before and after the injury,” White explained.
Employers need to ensure workers feel engaged and included in their treatment process. The circle of support includes the employer, employee, medical staff, adjusters, friends, family, and coworkers.
Maxson commented, “The best thing for a worker is to be at work where they can feel supported and included.”
But an employee who feels alienated from their employer may worry about returning with light-duty restrictions, and they may not know how to ask their employer to accommodate this. These constraints cause some workers to miss return-to-work dates or to push themselves to return without restrictions before they are ready, risking re-injury.
Communication is a critical part of the return-to-work process. “It’s very important to effectively communicate with the worker. And it doesn’t stop with the injured worker. You have to talk with the job foreman and the job stakeholders so they understand the worker’s restrictions,” Maxson said.
DEI&B Ideas for Better Outcomes
The panelists suggested ideas for ways employers can promote DEI&B to create an environment where workers are empowered to work safely, report concerns freely, and heal holistically.
- Establish employee resource groups based on shared identities, common interests, faith, ally-ship, or other commonalities and encourage participation.
- Prioritize leadership engagement with workers, including recognition, rewards, awards, mentorship, sponsorship, and one-to-one time with the executive team.
- Pursue external community investment opportunities for workers, like volunteer projects with local charities.
- Invest in initiatives to grow existing talent, such as training, data and metric analysis, internal infrastructure, and external relations. &