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Employers try a dose of kindness to encourage injured workers

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Workers compensation appears to be having a “Hallmark moment.”

In an effort go from adversary to advocacy, experts see a growing trend for employers to initiate friendly conversation with injured workers who remain off the job. The gesture can prevent workers comp claimants from pursuing litigation and encourage them to return to work by improving morale.

One easy idea? Send a get-well card, experts say.

Michael Stack, Kennebunkport, Mainebased principal for workers comp consulting firm Amaxx L.L.C., calls it a “fundamental best practice” that has been around for years, yet is practiced among few employers. He hopes to see more catch on.

“The communication is so simple to do — and so simple not to do — that employers tend to miss the boat,” he said.

“It is the most basic thing that can have the most impact on a claim.”

Most employers don’t initiate such warm communication with their injured employee outside of the official workers comp letters and forms issued after a comp claim is filed, experts say. By not sending along best wishes, employers might inadvertently launch a lengthier, more expensive claim for injured workers who already are experiencing pain, doctor visits, prescription drugs, missed work and more.

“A lot of people overlook the fact that people, when they are injured, that creates an amount of stress,” said Tim Colli, Nashville, Tennessee-based senior vice president of account management at third-party administrator Gallagher Bassett Services Inc.

Mr. Colli’s team in 2016 looked into the practice of friendly communication, which includes letters, cards, emails and phone calls to injured workers. Their informal analysis found that of 250 Gallagher Bassett clients, fewer than half of them are initiating this sort of friendly contact.

“(Communication) is making sure (the employee) understands that you are in touch, that you are still thinking about them, and that you are available to help … This value of immediate contact is overlooked,” said, Mr. Colli, who advises clients who don’t keep in touch to start implementing a program that keeps the employer in contact with the employee.

Experts say some employers are confused about what to do and when, and what they are legally allowed to do — questions that can be asked of an employer’s own representation, who will know the laws in each state. For the most part, a greeting card is not illegal, experts say.

A lack of friendly communication between employers and injured workers can have tangible effects on workers comp claim outcomes. A white paper released by Lockton Cos. L.L.C. in December found the word “fear” or related words to be found in 84% of notes taken by workers comp claims adjusters for claims with more than $100,000 in costs.

A lack of “empathetic” communication on the part of the employer, including supervisors, “drives the fear factor,” said Mark Moitoso, Kansas City, Missouribased senior vice president and analytics practice leader for Lockton.

“We can see that absolute correlation with the (workers comp claim) costs,” he said.

Christina Bergman, Prescott, Wisconsinbased managing director for Aon Risk Solutions, said employer communications with injured workers often are full of legal jargon and formalities.

“Some of (the letters), if I were an injured worker and I read this, I’d get an attorney,” she said.

A phone call from a supervisor can be “very critical” in allaying an injured worker’s fear and preventing a contentious claims process, Mr. Moitoso said.

That strategy has worked for Restore Rehabilitation L.L.C., a workers comp case management firm in Owings Mills, Maryland. President and founder Pam Anthony used her own knowledge of the workers comp system to create friendly communication policies for her own workforce, 78% of which are mobile, on-the-road case managers.

If someone is in a car accident or slips and falls, their supervisor calls them every day, Ms. Anthony said.

“We have a ‘kill them with kindness’ approach,” she said. “We want them to know your employer cares about you … Being nice and making sure they are OK saves so much money that you couldn’t put a price on it.”

Gallagher Bassett’s Mr. Colli said a famous quote from author Maya Angelou comes to mind when he talks about the value of showing concern for injured workers: “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”