BY CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor
The scenario is all too familiar to veteran workers' comp and disability managers: often, the stumbling block to returning an employee to work doesn't lie with the injured worker. It lies with the workers' comp manager's supervisor.
Like it or not, the "super" is the big gorilla in the return-to-work jungle. Here's how best to stroke the supervisor when comp and disability managers hear distant growls of reluctance.
1. "Sorry, no can do. I'm afraid this worker's headed for reinjury on the job."
This objection's as old as the Old Testament. Managers ought to deal with it like so: "Boss, that's exactly why I want to take them back. I want to keep these workers moving, keep their muscles limber and flexible." Find duties for them that are low-impact and low-risk, and keep them doing something, said workers' comp consultant Richard Pimentel.
2. "Sorry, no can do. If I put this worker on light duty the other workers are going to be jealous."
The morale killer his is not light duty, said Pimentel. It's light duty done poorly. "If you want to kill morale, leave workers in light-duty positions long after they're ready to go back," he said. The trick is to get returning workers out of light duty as soon as they are ready, so that other workers don't have the opportunity to go bananas stewing over their colleague's perceived advantages.
3. "Sorry, no can do. I hate this worker's guts, and I'm going to make sure the only place he ever stays is at home."
Now the vitriol's personal and things can get really nasty, about as nasty as a teen popularity contest which is where playing favorites is likely to lead--the workers' comp equivalent of "American Idol," said Pimentel, a senior partner at Milt Wright & Associates.
Your answer? Stick your supervisor on a team of experts responsible for deciding who goes back to work. The team should include a nurse, a claims expert, a lawyer, and the return-to-work supervisor. Remove the decision from the supervisor and turn over the responsibility to a team, on which the supervisor serves.
4. "Sorry, no can do. The economy's in the tank and there's no work available for you."
When it comes to slotting transitional workers, supervisors often think and act at cross-purposes. Supervisors, told workers can't do a job, are asked to then identify jobs workers are capable of. In the soft economy, there are fewer jobs to go around in the first place.
Supervisors need to think less narrowly about jobs and more broadly about tasks. "Start having supervisors figure out what jobs to do and think about what they would have them do to help a department, an organization or their team," said Pimentel, speaking at the 17th annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo.
The idea here is to alter the process and get supervisors to think about what workers can do instead of slotting them into jobs based on criteria that they can't do.
Now, even a gorilla can understand that.
November 24, 2008
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