Risk Insider: Tony Boobier

Work Stress as a Risk

By: | February 28, 2018 • 3 min read
Tony Boobier is an experienced independent consultant focusing on insurance analytics. An international speaker, commentator and published author, he lies awake at night thinking about the convergence of insurance and technology. He can be reached at [email protected]

Ever felt bullied at work or been faced with what seems like an impossible target or deadline?

The creation and maintenance of stressful workplace conditions for employees sits front and center in our modern working environment, raises the potential for new and significant liabilities, and is an issue which cannot continue to be ignored.

I posit that workers’ compensation and employment liability insurers better be on the lookout.

The recent publicity into Hollywood (mis) behaviors, tagged as #MeToo, has the potential to open up other proverbial cans of worms for multiple adverse practices in the workplace.

Stress is a big deal. In the workplace, it’s more strongly associated with health complaints than with family or financial issues. People are becoming less shy about work absence through work-related stress.

It’s an all-too-common phenomenon. According to the American Institute of Stress, a charitable organisation dedicated to ‘Transforming stress through awareness, education and collaboration’:

  • 40 percent of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful
  • 25 percent view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives
  • Three-fourths of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago
  • 29 percent of workers felt quite a bit or extremely stressed at work
  • 26 percent of workers said they were “often or very often burned out or stressed by their work”

Stress at work occurs due to:

  • Workload, underpinned by poor job design accompanied by loss of control and management style (46 percent)
  • Lack of job security, reflecting not only an increasingly volatile work environment but also the failure of the individual to meet impossible targets (6 percent)
  • People issues, including the absence of support from (equally stressed) co-workers (28 percent)
  • Work-life balance, surely influenced by the increased impact of rarely being out of contact (20 percent)

I can’t help but wonder how this situation occurred.

Was it an inevitable by-product of the Industrial Age, now with us for over a century, since Ford and Pullman (amongst others) considered humans as being simply a component of the production line? Has the relentless march towards profitability in a volatile business environment increasingly created new mega-stresses?

Stress is a big deal. In the workplace, it’s more strongly associated with health complaints than with family or financial issues. People are becoming less shy about work absence through work-related stress.

Or have matters gotten worse with the increasing impact of advanced performance tools, which give organizations deep insight to worker productivity and behavior? If the latter, then surely it can’t be fair to blame providers of performance management software, can it? After all, performance management technology vendors don’t set the parameters for individual, departmental or company performance any more than gun manufacturers choose their customers or victims.

There’s an obvious potential liability on employers for creating stress in the workplace. Employees invariably will be faced with proving the stress is work-related rather than for any other reason. And as they say, if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.

But doesn’t it increasingly feel a little like employers and businesses are beginning to stand on thinner ice, in terms of their obligation to employees and the inevitable liabilities that might arise from stress in the workplace?

Are insurers simply going to stand back and wait for the first ‘class action’ or be more proactive in some way? And if so, how?

When will the scale of work-related stress come out of the closet and be revealed as being as pervasive in industry as that of sexual harassment? With over half the workforce affected by stress in some way, doesn’t #MeTooTwo also have the potential to hit the headlines?

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.


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.


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]