Why the Status Quo in Workers’ Comp Will Not Succeed in Attracting the Next Generation

By: | October 19, 2020

Claire Muselman is the Director of Workers’ Compensation at Continental Western Group, a Berkley Company, and focused her doctoral research around generational difference of employee engagement within the insurance industry. Claire believes the industry can focus on a better experience through emotional intelligence, empathy, and customer centricity, ultimately, making good things happen for people. She is the brainchild behind the first Workers’ Recovery Unit and is an Adjunct Professor at Drake University in Des Moines where she lives with her daughter and dog, Theodore. She can be reached at [email protected]

Relationships are the most important factor in the workers’ compensation industry.

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Humor me for a moment and reflect on how you came into this space or why you stayed.

How each of us got here stems from a relationship of some kind, and how we interface with injured workers comes from how well we can relate to one another. This space became my family and is why the Workers’ Recovery Unit was formed in 2017.  

I skipped gleefully into the workers’ compensation space, leaving a trail of glitter and sparkles after graduating from the University of Iowa and touring Europe for a summer post-graduation in 2005. I ran into my tennis doubles partner’s father, who had known me since I was old enough to hold a racket, immediately upon my arrival back to the United States.

He asked what I was doing now that I had finished undergrad, and I explained my terrible LSAT score. (I guess that is what happens when the LSAT is scheduled during Homecoming week in Hawkeye country…).

He asked if I truly wanted to go into law and offered me an internship to explore this space at his practice that primarily focused on workers’ compensation. Thank you, Chris Scheldrup. You helped get my foot into an industry I would have never thought to consider prior to that day in Shueyville, Iowa.  

While my LSAT score did not help me further my educational background in the legal capacity, I did continue down the road of post-secondary education and am completing my final term at Grand Canyon University, where my doctoral research has been focused on the generational differences of employee engagement within the insurance industry.

This topic has been fascinating for me to research and explore because of the vast and dire need to figure out what the industry is going to do to pass the torch along to those who are coming up in the Millennial and Generation Z cohorts.

As my co-panelist for National Comp Barry Bloom mentioned in his September 27 article, we are facing an existential threat of talent risk in workers’ compensation.

This was again reiterated by NWCDC co-panelists Drew Cortese on October 6 and Marques Torbert on October 12.

The research I conducted on my doctoral journey completely supports this threat as the generational cohorts available for participation were heavy in Baby Boomers and Generation X while Millennials were few and far between, and Generation Z obsolete. 

Generational Breakdown — Literally

Mark Pew set the stage in his April 20 article for this conversation surrounding the knowledge transfer crisis facing the workers’ compensation space. The oldest of approximately 73 million Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2011, and since then approximately 10,000 people each day reach this milestone.

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The Millennial generation will make up to 75% of the workforce population by 2025, yet in the insurance industry only 28% fit into this generational cohort. An insurance employee’s average age is 59 years old, illuminating an age gap and an industry-wide failure to attract younger talent as the youngest of the Baby Boomers turn 65 in the year 2030.

The insurance industry needs to attract younger talent and identify ways to keep these younger employees engaged and challenged through coaching and development. 

The 2019 Rising Medical Solutions’ Benchmarking Study reported 72% of frontline claims professionals do not know what an advocacy-based claims model is. It’s astonishing that taking the time to focus on an injured worker to get the very best outcome is not the normal business operation.

Looking at the training models currently in place to onboard new adjusters, there is an incredibly heavy focus on statutes and regulatory compliance, yet little to no time about being a good human or the importance of empathy, emotional intelligence and customer centricity.

Drew shared in his article the experience of being given a binder with program service instructions as a significant part of his formal training on the workers’ compensation system. 

We are missing the impact and the meaning behind these positions! Where is the human element? Where is the importance of being a human connector? Our goal is to restore the livelihood of humans who have been injured on the job and yet there is little to no education on the frontend of onboarding adjusters into this space.  

While we are gradually moving to values such as care, compassion and communication, is it any wonder that younger generations aren’t compelled to join when current front-line adjusters do not understand an advocacy-based claims model? While correlations do not mean causation, the numbers do spark some food for thought surrounding this topic.  

Why Does This Matter?  

In my opinion, the lack of incoming talent coincides with how we have approached the positions themselves. What have we done to attract, retain, and develop our younger generations? I took the time to ask some of my students their opinions on how they view the workers’ compensation space.

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While many have no idea what I am talking about, others referenced the insurance space as boring, process oriented, and many mentioned paper. Cue any scene from The Office or Office Space… and that is the feedback I received. These students explained to me they see our industry as being chained to a desk in a very dreary, gray setting. Yikes!!  

How we are approaching positions within the workers’ compensation space is concerning. Current job descriptions for a workers’ compensation adjuster will not cut it moving forward. The ‘check-box’ mentality does not work any longer and the younger generations are showing they do not wish to be a part of this mundane mentality.

With artificial intelligence heading to this space at lightning speed, we have to figure out a way to separate the processing from the art of working with an injured human being. I have heard the phrase countless times, “but I’m just an adjuster…” Oh goodness, do you understand how much impact and influence you have on injured human beings? You single-handedly can change the trajectory of someone’s life. Every day, you have the ability to make things better for someone else… MULTIPLE times per day.  

This industry is awesome! We have the ability to change and impact people’s lives each and every time we interact, for better or worse. There is so much helping power we possess in this space, it is far overdue for us to market ourselves in this capacity.

There are a lot of preconceived notions people have surrounding the workers’ compensation space and we have the ability to change this by simply walking the talk. It is time to change the script and focus on the vision of recovery to create an attraction for younger generations to enter. After all, as Marques said, the younger generations want to spend time with organizations that share their values and ideas.  

So What Do We Do? 

From my research, A Causal-Comparative Study of Generational Differences in Employee Engagement,” meaningfulness and purpose are the key factors for employee engagement, regardless of generational cohort.

My study showed there was little to no difference on the significance of an employee feeling their position is meaningful and purposeful between generations. This means we need to be focused on highlighting the human elements of meaning and purpose for all jobs in this industry to demonstrate their daily impact on the world.

People want to contribute to a greater good, regardless of their age!

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Whatever position you hold within the workers’ compensation industry, the focus should be centered on achieving optimal outcomes for injured workers with a back to work / back to LIFE mentality. The explicitly stated goal should be in returning these human beings to functional, contributing members of society.

The way we have done things for the past 60-70 years will not support where we need to go, and the younger generations have decided with their feet to not willingly participate in that stale approach.

We need to stop supporting the status quo and look at enhancing the manner in which we operate, with a heavy emphasis in communication. Words matter. Let us all come together to be life enhancers and change the perspective (and reality) of what we do for a living.  

It is time to care, it is time to embrace change, and it is time to rise. &


Want to hear more about how workers’ comp can change to appeal to younger generations?

The panel discussion “Passing the Torch Without a Stumble: The Coming Decade of Transition from Old to Young” at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference, including live Q&A, will be held on October 21st from 3:30-4:30PM EST.

The panel, comprised of Baby Boomers and Millennials alike, will speak to the challenges we face with generational transitions and how we can create a successful roadmap for recruitment, mentorship, advancement, and retention of talent along with retention of clients.

This session will be led by Mark Pew – Senior VP, Product Development & Marketing, Preferred Medical.

Panelists include:
Barry Bloom – Managing Principal at The bdb Group
Marques Torbert – CEO of Ametros
Claire Muselman – Director of Workers’ Compensation, Continental Western Group
Drew Cortese – Senior Manager, United Airlines

You can view the session here.

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