Column: Roger's Soapbox

Perspective | May I Please Skip the Group Hug?

By: | September 14, 2018 • 2 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

I was grocery shopping when the public ding-dong sounded. “Would senior management please proceed to the conference room,” a metallic voice said, “for the afternoon group hug.”

Stunned by the imbecility, I paused to regroup. A fellow passing by said: “It’s alright. He really did say that.”

A broker pal is, as I write, preparing for a week-long ‘teamcation.’ All 22 members of his office are going on a company-sponsored vacation together in an eco-lodge in a down-market Spanish resort — all to encourage bonding. Had I been forced to attend such an abomination, it may have encouraged something less positive.

Advertisement




Some Wall Street finance companies now reportedly encourage (a.k.a. require) employees to join in company-sponsored marathons, ironmans and arctic treks. Those not fit enough to compete, goes the mantra, aren’t ready to take on the competition. How this fits in with diversity in hiring, I’m not sure.

How did all this unconscionable idiocy start? A consultant, I’d wager, a baby boomer, probably in New York City, delivered a paper to one of his clients on corporate culture. He probably proposed that, to make them better workers, employees should be pampered a little. Why not bring teams together in informal settings and let them bond?

Memo to employers: Some people thrive outside the team regime. Some are lone wolves, eating only what they kill. Some burn in the sun. For all these and more, a week spent struggling to maintain one’s office face and demeanor could cause psychological problems.

It must have worked. It needs only one company in the world to do something that works before everyone has to do it. Sooner or later, even the most conservative among us, actuaries, say, are using words like ‘silo’ or ‘execution metrics’ and embracing change management and disruption. From there, it’s apparently a short hop to the whole company spending a week together in hell.

Memo to employers: Some people thrive outside the team regime. Some are lone wolves, eating only what they kill. Some burn in the sun. For all these and more, a week spent struggling to maintain one’s office face and demeanor could cause psychological problems. You may want to weed out these non-conformists, but they’re probably the ones driving your company forward.

Too cynical? How long, I wonder, before it’s all ’round to the local tattoo parlor to have the company logo emblazoned on everyone’s forehead?

Apropos the consultant, The New Yorker ran a cartoon of two detectives looking at a corpse lying on the floor. “From the severity and quantity of the wounds,” one detective says, “I’d say he was a management consultant.”

Since late last year, I have been looking for a way to work the following into a column. Now is the hour. Since insurance people are all, at heart, mathematicians, you might enjoy this: In January, we went from 2017 (a prime number) to 2018 (two times a prime number, 1009). Next year will be 2019, three times a prime number, 673. This has happened only three other times in the past 1,129 years.

Try making conversation at the next bonding session with that information. You won’t be asked back. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

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.

Advertisement




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.

Advertisement




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]