Humanity in Claims
Small gestures can have big impacts in workers compensation claims
You wouldn’t think that a single bunch of store-bought flowers could make a significant difference in a workers compensation claim outcome, but the value of such a simple, kind gesture cannot be overstated. For a worker named Javier, it was a profound, life-changing experience. It reduced and alleviated his distrust of the workers compensation system, made him more proactive in his recovery, and ultimately led to a better outcome.
Sending flowers to this injured worker as he recovered from surgery addressed what many now believe is essential to motivating people: the feeling of being respected and appreciated by others, and believing in the ability to control our own destinies. Incorporating this concept into an injury management program can reap significant benefits for everyone involved.
Javier had no family and lived alone in a rough neighborhood of Chicago. Shortly after receiving his settlement, he was robbed. Nevertheless, he went through surgery several weeks later and seemed to be recovering well in the hospital—at least physically.
At the time of his surgery, Javier had settled his claim and was working with our team for professional administration, which helps injured workers manage their post-settlement funds by navigating their health care and, when applicable, Medicare Secondary Payer compliance.
But the attention and gifts given to other patients left him feeling alone and underappreciated. He called and asked our team if somehow he could receive flowers while hospitalized. Despite the unorthodox nature of the request, we sent him a bouquet and then watched the dramatic change it made. Javier was suddenly excited, enthusiastic, and happy. He became more communicative with those involved. He collaborated with his caregivers and became a proactive and eager participant in his recovery. Any resentment that he felt toward the system dissipated.
The change in Javier’s attitude prompted a pilot program. We began sending flowers to other injured workers in seemingly devastating conditions, like those undergoing complex surgeries or other medical procedures, and people who had lost their homes or their families. The results were similar—the injured worker’s outlook changed, radically in many cases. In each case, the worker became an eager participant in the recovery efforts. A small act of kindness was the key to turning things around for them.
The science behind motivation like this may sound counterintuitive to many workers compensation claims professionals. It turns out that money and other financial incentives are not necessarily the best ways to motivate people, except for the most basic of tasks. World-renowned economists and researchers have conducted studies that prove this.
Several theories explain human needs and motivation. In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow published his hierarchy of needs, describing what he claims are internal factors that motivate a person’s behavior. The now widely accepted theory holds that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, with some needs taking precedence over others.
Maslow says motivation results from attempting to fulfill internal pressures caused by five basic needs:
1. Physiological - This carnal biological driver refers to those needs required for survival, such as air, food, water, shelter, and clothing.
2. Safety - These needs address the sense of security and well-being, including personal security, financial security, and protection from ill health and harm.
3. Social - Halfway up Maslow’s pyramid of needs is the desire for love, belonging, and acceptance. It addresses feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression.
4. Esteem - Once the lower needs have been met, there is the need for self-esteem and self-respect. In other words, the need to feel valued.
5. Self-Actualization - The highest level of needs is the desire to reach one’s full potential; to achieve all that we are capable of doing. This desire is an individualized need. It can be the need to be a good parent or even a corporate executive.
More recently, Daniel Pink addressed needs and motivation in business. In his best-selling 2009 book Drive, Pink described two basic incentives: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic incentives are what we typically think of as attempts to motivate workers to be more productive, which includes things like money, praise, and financial incentives—in other words, rewards and punishment. The idea is that people will work harder to receive rewards and avoid punishment. We see this often in the workers compensation system. An employer/payer might conclude, “I’ll offer the injured worker a financial bonus to come back to work within two days,” or “I’ll punish my employees for being injured on the job to discourage other injuries.”
Intrinsic incentives refer to internal drivers, such as the sheer joy of doing something well. These are closely related to those described in the top part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the need for belonging, acceptance, and to feel valued.
It’s important to meet the basic, physiological needs before addressing the higher-level desires. But once those basic needs are met, the intrinsic needs can truly motivate people. That does not mean that money and financial incentives are not important—workers need to be paid enough to meet their basic needs. But, as Pink said, pay workers enough so you take the issue of money off the table, then focus on their intrinsic needs.
The Grand Bargain
Workers compensation was developed on the premise of a win-win for all involved in a workers compensation claim. Employers would gain the ability to have predictability on a fully insured claim and have immunity from the tort and liability system. Injured workers would have guaranteed lifetime benefits. Insurance carriers would have access to an entire market where they could make profits.
The grand bargain, however, has changed in recent years. The discussion now centers mainly around economic aspects of the system, such as economic incentives and the adequacy of benefits. These conversations cannot be ignored, but we also need to include the human element in the dialogue. Helping injured workers feel accepted, connected, respected, and valued is just as important as ensuring they get appropriate medical care and have enough money to pay bills.
Businesses that have started to replace the traditional reward/punishment model of motivating employees with addressing intrinsic needs are finding unimaginable benefits. Google, for example, now allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on anything they want. About half of the company’s new products announced annually in recent years have come from that initiative.
As Javier’s story shows, this model can be translated to what we do in workers compensation. It is based on the principles of treating people with respect, giving them a sense of belonging, and making them feel valued.
The next time an injured worker contacts you because he is frustrated or having a bad day, consider sending flowers or a card with a nice note. Think of ways that you can make that worker feel human again. It’s not only the right thing to do, but you also might just get a better result.