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Employers must adapt to emerging risk management challenges

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An employee's suicide might have been avoided had a co-worker promptly reported comments the employee made, a risk manager says.

Kathy L. Schroeder, senior director of global risk management at Boca Raton, Florida-based Office Depot Inc., said an employee at an undisclosed store told another worker near the end of day on a Friday that he would like to go home and return with a gun.

The other worker did not report the conversation that took place about six months ago to anyone. That weekend, the employee committed suicide.

“Could we have prevented it?” Mr. Schroeder asked. “If we would have known, we would at least have had a conversation with him. Maybe we could have gotten him some help and saved his life.”

She discussed the incident during a session on emerging risks during the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s annual conference in New Orleans.

Other emerging risk management issues discussed during the session included the challenges created by mergers and acquisitions, the aging workforce and changing employee demographics.

To deal with workplace violence, Ms. Schroeder strongly recommended the short video “Run. Hide. Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” which was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and produced by the Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Ms. Schroeder also discussed the challenges involved in M&As.

Office Depot, which agreed to be acquired by Framingham, Massachusetts-based Staples Inc. in February, completed its own acquisition of Naperville, Illinois-based OfficeMax Inc. in 2013.

M&A challenges include combining insurance programs and risk management information systems, among other issues, Ms. Schroeder said.

In addition, “It's hard to keep people motivated right now. People are scared” about losing their jobs, she said.

Baby boomer bust

Another issue facing companies is the aging work force. Baby boomers have been turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 a day for the past four years, and this will continue for the next 15 years, she said.

“What kind of impact is that going to have on the workforce?” she asked.

The workforce will be much smaller but more technology-savvy. These workers also are going to be demanding in that they will want to telecommute and have flexible work hours. “They're going to want integration” of their personal and work lives, she said.

This means instead of working a 40-hour week and then going home, they will seek to take time off during the workday to attend a child's soccer game, then put in more hours later that night, Ms. Schroeder said.

Some corporations are slow to address this trend, she said.

A few companies are agreeing to provide unlimited paid time off, with the idea that “as long as you get the job done, it doesn't matter” how much vacation time is taken, Ms. Schroeder said. “It's going to be interesting” to watch this trend evolve, she added.

James Ryan, Marlton, New Jersey-based executive vice president of casualty operations at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., cited dramatic demographic changes in the workforce with the influx of some 1.5 million immigrants every year.

“It's something we frankly as an industry haven't done a lot about,” but “we need as an industry to get in front of now,” he said.

Mr. Ryan said this trend raises the issue of the poorer quality of health care available in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods. In addition, pharmacies in such neighborhoods are less adequately supplied, and injured workers are much less likely to travel far to see a physician. “We need to do something about that if we want to improve outcomes,” he said.

Businesses also need to acknowledge cultural differences, including how nonwhites perceive pain and how they react to treatment, Mr. Ryan said. “We need to do something different,” such as providing access to multilingual physicians.