CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
Safety/return-to-work programs are all the rage these days, particularly in a soft economy when the ascendant penny pinchers back at corporate headquarters have both ears of the C-suite.
Backers of return-to-work and safety programs believe it makes more sense to get workers back to work than to sink thousands of dollars worth of workers' compensation payments into a seemingly endless pit. Who can argue with that? I can.
The question isn't so as to whether these programs have value. They do. The real question is at what opportunity cost? The cost of implementing and managing these programs means time, capital and corporate resources siphoned away from other projects.
Implementing return-to-work programs may sound good, or appear politically or corporately correct, but these programs often cost far more than they are worth.
After nearly a decade of attending workers' compensation conferences, the tales of woe that many bright, educated and motivated disability and claims managers recount in having to implement these programs simply to get unmotivated workers back on the job is simply stunning.
I'm more sympathetic to safety programs, as they are designed to prevent injury and for every $1 that doesn't go to a liability claim is a $1 that is reinvested into the company.
... but return-to-work programs? I just don't get it. Why are companies spending so much money into coaxing back to work employees who are marginally interested in going to work--much less coming back to work--in the first place?
If unmotivated employees are content sitting on a couch watching TV or surfing the Internet on YouTube, what business is it of employers to bring them back at all?
Injured employees who prefer to watch the world go by in a haze of Oxycontin can hire their own babysitters, thank you very much. Employers certainly don't need to supply an army of return-to-work managers to lord over them.
Returning mediocre employees to work is tantamount to a return on a bad investment--in other words a negative return. Negative returns, as we all know, are bad for business. Not all injured employees in return-to-work programs are couch potatoes, of course. Many are well-qualified, gifted employees, and happy to come back to work as soon as they are able to.
Employees with initiative don't need babysitters. Those are exactly the employees companies need and want: workers who don't need redundant return-to-work programs in the first place.
(Read the other side of this argument, "Safety/Return to Work Program: A Boon to Profit.")
November 1, 2010
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