An injured worker with a positive attitude is much easier to deal with than a Negative Nelly. Someone who has an optimistic outlook is more likely to engage in his own recovery and do what it takes to get back to work. It makes the whole process easier and typically results in better outcomes for the worker and the organization.
The reality is that not all injured workers have a rosy view of their situations or their companies. Working with them is more difficult, may take longer, and very well may have poorer outcomes. But organizations can take steps that improve the attitudes of their workers. By creating a culture of safety and sending a message of genuine concern for their employees, organizations can set a better tone for workers who subsequently become injured.
Tony Robbins believes he can get nearly anyone to do anything, based on how he frames a situation. The motivational speaker/life coach/multi-billion dollar entrepreneur explains that a person’s frame of reference is key to how they feel and how they will behave. Pre-framing is about creating expectations and the state of mind someone has going into a certain environment.
Employees who become injured have a set of beliefs and expectations in terms of how their situations will be handled. Here’s how this might play out among injured workers with the same injury:
- Negative Nelly. This employee has been given no reason to trust her employer, and doesn’t. While she is fine with her job, she has no illusions that her company cares about her one way or the other. Added to that is the fact that she has no idea how the workers’ compensation system is supposed to work. Since she doesn’t believe her employer has her best interests at heart, she relies on family and friends for advice. In all likelihood, she will “lawyer up”.
- Positive Pete. His company stresses the value of its employees, clearly demonstrating they are the top priority. There is a culture of safety that is practiced from the C-suite down to the lowest level employee. In addition to avoiding injuries, Pete and his coworkers truly believe their employer wants to protect them from harm. Additionally, the company provides information about the workers’ compensation process, including a return to work program. Pete knows what to expect and believes his employer wants him to recover and get back to making a difference at the company. He readily cooperates with all involved in his claim, and goes back to work in a light duty capacity fairly quickly.
Nelly and Pete were on a level playing field when they had their injuries; that is, they both had a shoulder injury. But after a few weeks Pete has had physical therapy, is doing specific exercises at home, and is back at the company and looking forward to being able to resume his full-duty work. Nelly, however, is awaiting an MRI, has been advised she will probably need surgery and, in the meantime, has borrowed pain meds from a friend to get her through.
After just a short time, it’s obvious Nelly’s claim will continue for some time and could cost substantially more than Pete’s. There may be psychosocial risk factors and/or comorbidities present with Nelly; however the main difference between the two was their attitudes.
What to Do
Improving expectations and attitudes among employees involves a variety of steps. At its core, it must be real; that is, top executives must be committed to caring for their employees, not just paying lip service.
For example, simply putting up posters that advocate safety should not be the only step. There must also be actions throughout the organization in order to create a culture of safety and well-being.
- Eyewash stations should be present where workers may be exposed to chemicals.
- Personal protective equipment should be easily available when needed, and workers should be trained in advance on using it.
- Repairs to broken equipment need to be made as soon as possible, and the equipment should be taken out of service in the meantime.
- Safety meetings should be conducted on an ongoing basis and employees at all levels should be involved in the work of a safety committee.
Several additional steps can increase employees’ trust in an organization
- Messaging. Consistent, clear, positive messages can show the company is concerned about its employees.
– The safety and workers’ compensation programs should have similar branding. Both should stress that employees are the number one asset, and protecting employees is the top goal.
– Messages about safety should emphasize the importance of keeping employees injury-free because it is in their own best interests, not just the company’s.
- Communicate. Supervisors and others who work with an injured employee should contact him early and often. That sends the message to all employees that the employer cares about them. It also keeps the injured worker from feeling isolated and abandoned by the company.
- Wellness program. Programs that seek to improve employees’ health send the message that the employer is concerned. It demonstrates the company is committed to its workers.
- Outline injury management program. Employees who are injured at work should know what to do and what to expect. Along with safety messages, the employer should provide information on the workers’ compensation system. This too sends the message that employees are the company’s top priority.
- Incentivize the right behaviors. Organizations that reward their workers for having zero accidents do a disservice. The message being sent is that workers should not report injuries. Instead, you want to encourage and reward safe behaviors. Offering incentives for employees that follow agreed upon safe behaviors encourages them to behave in ways that will avoid injuries. However, when injuries do happen, you want to use that as an opportunity to develop safer behaviors.
Injured workers enter the workers’ compensation system with all sorts of preconceived notions and expectations. Showing genuine concern for employees can ensure more injured workers will have positive rather than negative attitudes.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center. .
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