Kimberly George and Mark Walls, moderating panel on the future of the workers comp industry. Kimberly George, senior vice president of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare for Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., and Mark Walls, vice president of Communications & Strategic Analysis at Safety National, moderated a panel discussion on the future of the workers’ compensation industry at the 2018 Workers’ Comp Education Conference, held in August in Orlando, Fla.

The workers’ compensation industry will look and feel dramatically different in 10 years. Changes in the evolving workforce, along with rapid advancements in technology, are forcing us to ask pivotal questions about our future:

  • How will we attract the next generation of stakeholders?
  • What will the workers’ compensation “office” of the future look like?
  • How will we communicate with injured workers?
  • What impact will technology have on the way we do our jobs?

Those are among the questions we posed to our distinguished panelists during the most recent Out Front Ideas webinar, which was recorded at WCI’s 2018 Annual Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference this past August. Our guests were:

  • Chris Watson, chief operations officer, One Call
  • Susan Emerson, general manager, Claims Management, Disability, Leave and Workers’ Compensation, Delta Airlines
  • Thomas W. Warsop, III, chairman and CEO, York Risk Services Group
  • Wesley Hyatt, senior vice president & manager, Workers’ Compensation Commercial Insurance, Liberty Mutual

People

Attracting and retaining talent to the insurance industry, and to workers’ compensation in particular, has been a persistent challenge. With estimates that half of our workforce will retire in the next 10 years, the need to attract younger employees becomes even more urgent. At the same time, we also need to preserve the knowledge base held by the aging baby boomers who will be leaving.

Losing a claims examiner on an account is challenging because it can take six to nine months for the new examiner to learn the employer’s culture, processes and expectations. That means we have to focus not only on finding new employees but also on making sure we can retain the talent we recruit into our industry.

Millennials are the next large group coming into the workforce, and they’re the key to the future of workers’ compensation. This generation comprises people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Their numbers are staggering. This age group is expected to exceed that of baby boomers by 2019!

Communications, media and digital technology are hallmarks of these younger workers. They’ve grown up using smartphones, tablets, computers and apps in their social and educational lives. That means we need to focus on providing top technological resources in our organizations to attract and keep them.

We also need to understand who they are so we can design jobs around their core values and interests. Through research and experience, we know they are highly focused on making a difference in society — some even more than making money. They want to work in a company that shares that ideal.

Retaining millennials is another challenge. Research shows the trend for recent college graduates is to stay in their first jobs for no more than two years. Working as a claims examiner or claims adjuster, for example, can be frustrating. Holding onto these younger workers for any length of time requires having the right culture within an organization and finding ways to make their jobs meaningful.

Related: Cosentino’s Food Stores: Improving workers’ comp outcomes by focusing on employees

Caring culture

Fortunately, there has been a shift in recent years that coincides with the goals of these younger workers. Some organizations are becoming increasingly concerned with improving the experience of customers, including employees and injured workers. These companies want their employees, clients and vendors to focus on preventing injuries and truly care for employees who do become injured.

Within these companies, soft skills are crucial. Empathy and concern as well as positive, effective communication with injured workers, is almost more important than the technical aspects of processing the claim.

Creating a positive culture is key to holding on to good workers. Organizations that demonstrate a commitment to caring for their workers are attractive to employees who want to make a difference in the world. Companies can do this by highlighting safety efforts to prevent injuries and focusing their efforts on delivering quality service to injured workers to help them quickly heal and return to work.

It’s important that your claims-handling process reflects the service culture of the employer. Treat injured workers with the same respect you would your customers.

You should also look to eliminate negative terminology being used in claims handling, such as the word, “denial.” Instead, injured workers can be told their claims were “not approved.” Then, they can be introduced to the other group benefits they have available to cover the medical condition in question. The tone used from the first conversation with the injured worker sets the course for the entire claim process.

Related: How a Dallas school district slashed workers’ comp costs

Keep it simple

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” That quote from Albert Einstein explains one company’s approach to employees and injured workers. Part of their training focuses on providing better customer service by explaining things simply and easily.

The company also uses direct deposit for injured workers. Since the company began that process, they no longer get phone calls saying a check was not issued. The insurer requires the money to be deposited three days before it is actually due.

Making employees’ jobs easier is also a key goal of evolved organizations. Our speakers said they constantly assess the tasks within jobs to find those that don’t matter at the end of the day. This allows workers to spend their time on the things that are most important.

The entire claims process should be constructed in a manner that makes it as easy as possible for the injured worker and those processing their claims. Organizations can see how well they’re doing this by surveying both groups.

One way to measure the experience of injured workers is through the use of Net Promoter Scores, a management tool that gauges the loyalty of an organization’s customer relationships. Much of the health industry, as well as consumers, are measured this way already.

Technology

A big part of the change occurring in workers’ compensation is the use of technology. Automation, for example, could potentially process thousands of routine claims. But a key point to understand is that technology should not be a way to eliminate people. The human element is vital to effective claims handling.

Instead, robotics, artificial intelligence and other types of technology can be used to handle the more mundane aspects of a claim, allowing the claims examiners to spend more time on areas of a claim in which they can add value and make a difference. Technology should enhance or augment the human expectations.

Ultimately, the use of technology should be determined through a collaborative effort among the various stakeholders involved. The overall goal is to ensure the best outcomes possible by using automated intelligence to get the right cases to the right decision makers at the right time.

Places

According to our panelists, office space with few walls and no set locations for specific workers is the wave of the future. Flex-space locations, bright colors, areas for group work, and some sit/stand desks are increasingly being used in the industry. These enhancements encourage employees to work more collaboratively.

In some companies, managers have no offices and employees decide where to sit each day. Some employees report that this set up creates more opportunities to better understand what other department members actually do. One speaker said a worker reported that sitting next to a nurse on occasion gave him more insight into medical aspects of claims.

Telework is also becoming more attractive to both employees and organizations as they struggle to find affordable real estate. Technology allows companies to support people in a variety of locations. Employees who work from home use tools such as video chats to engage with coworkers and others. Many organizations are also switching to cloud-based infrastructures so that data and resources can be accessed from any computer in any location.

Our speakers added that judging by unanswered phone calls and e-mails, it is readily apparent if someone is not suited for working from home. Those who can effectively work remotely, however, have lower turnover rates and higher productivity.

Related: International Paper: Wrangling workers’ comp claims in a notoriously dangerous industry

Things

InsurTech and other industry disruptions have generated hype for the last several years. But how does that occur in an industry such as workers’ compensation with its heavy regulation and legacy claims systems that can’t be changed quickly or easily?

As we heard, it’s more a matter of evolution than disruption, and it can be either intimidating or enlightening. It’s important to remember that the younger employees entering the workers’ compensation industry have grown up surrounded by technology and won’t tolerate working on mainframes for long.

Instead of full-scale, complete changes, organizations can look at various components of their systems and adopt newer technologies to improve their processes. In addition, machines can do some things expertly, but they can never replace the human touch.

One speaker stressed the importance of keeping the human in the loop. At some point in an automated process, there is a need for a live person. Systems should be developed with the built-in ability to allow a person to take over and make decisions at the appropriate time.

It’s important to keep regulators informed of any technological changes that are made to avoid spending time and money on something the organization won’t be able to use. It’s also wise to consider any possible unintended consequences that may arise.

The evolving workforce and changes in technology will change the face of the workers’ compensation system. The question is, will we be ready?

Related: Workers’ comp champions 2018: WCI video interview

Kimberly George is the senior vice president of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare at Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. She can be reached at [email protected].

Mark Walls is vice president of Communications & Strategic Analysis at Safety National. He can be reached at [email protected].