How Elon Property Management Cut Its Costs Per Claim by 71 Percent

This property management company struggled with low employee morale and high injury rates. Mentoring and a return to work program turned things around.
By: | November 14, 2018 • 4 min read

The way Rivka Yablonsky tells it, 2012 to 2014 were tough years. Many of the employees who decided to stick with Elon Property Management after its acquisition of their previous employer’s portfolio “were down in the dumps,” said the company’s senior VP of human resources.

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“The economy wasn’t doing well. The property wasn’t doing well.” And as so often happens when employee morale plummets, a corresponding increase in injury and health-related workers’ compensation claims occurred.

“Most of the risk is on the maintenance side,” said Yablonsky.

“The jobs are physically demanding, and the most common high risk injuries are associated with lifting; shoulder and back strain; slips, trips and falls. Before 2014, we had a very, very high level of accidents.”

Not surprisingly, with return-to-work periods up five months in length, the average cost per claim was also high: $13,718 in 2013-2014. But then something stunning occurred. That rate was cut a whopping 35 percent the following year and declined steadily to just under $4,000 this past year.*

“Now they’re typically back the next day or not long thereafter,” said Yablonsky.

She credits the implementation of a light duty program for the dramatic turnaround. When an injury is reported, staff  get on the phone immediately with their broker Prism Insurance Group** and medical staff.  Elon’s light duty description, said Yablonsky, “can accommodate any and all job restrictions including sedentary duty, because we think that’s key to getting them back on the job.”

Reap What You Sow

So much for the back end of workers’ compensation gains. What about that moment when a new hire is seated across from you? Is it a potential accident waiting to happen, or an employee fully equipped with the tools needed to stay safe and accident free on the job? That first half year on the job is typically a high-risk period across most industries, Yablonsky said.

Rivka Yablonsky, SVP, human resources, Elon Property Management

“The vast majority of our properties are cardinal or garden style apartments, which have a very unique set of guidelines. Even if a new employee has a lot of experience at other property management companies it takes time to master our maintenance programs each month.”

That’s why Yablonsky is especially proud of Elon’s Successful Employees through Enrichment and Development (SEED) program, developed three years ago. Since its creation, the program has enrolled approximately 200 new property managers and 100 new maintenance managers. It’s also disarmingly simple: A new employee is partnered with a seasoned employee or “Growth Coach” for six months to provide that new hire with the needed information on how to perform their job duties correctly and safely.

This is more than your typical shadowing program, added Yablonsky. SEED places responsibility on growth coaches themselves to “feel invested in the new employee’s success,” providing not just training but “being there for them,” she said.

“The new hire can call on their fellow maintenance worker or property manager to say ‘How do I do this? What’s the policy on that?’ and that makes it a lot more comfortable for them.”

Yablonsky stresses that the growth coach does more than guide the new hire through the initial on-board term; they follow up for 30 days, for 60 days  whatever it takes to ensure the new hire has nailed down safety procedures without having to turn to their immediate supervisor for guidance.

“They can point out ‘Hey remember when we talked about that?’ And they do remember specific policies, because they’ve had that hands-on training from a seasoned employee instead of relying on general construction or maintenance knowledge.”

Everyone Gains

What’s in it for growth coaches? Well, $50 for participating. But more importantly, as the new hire’s knowledge grows, so grows the growth coach and the company.

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“We definitely like to promote from within. So being part of that growth culture program gives coaches the opportunity to show us what they can do. And many of them have been promoted to bigger properties, giving them an added sense of pride and ownership in the company,” Yablonsky said. &

Elon Property Management was an entrant in this year’s edition of the Risk & Insurance Teddy Awards, which honor the very best workers’ compensation programs. Although, in a very competitive field, the company did not win a Teddy, the magazine’s editors thought its program was so strong that featuring it would benefit our risk management audience.


* The average cost per claim for Elon Property Management over the last 5 years declined by more than 71 percent.

  • 2013-2014:         $13,718
  • 2014-2015:         $8,859
  • 2015-2016:         $7,593
  • 2016-2017:         $5,179
  • 2017-2018:         $3,956

** Prism Insurance Group president Ettie Schoor is a multiple-time winner and finalist designee of the Risk & Insurance® Power Broker award in the workers’ compensation category

David Godkin is a freelance magazine writer based in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]