Attitudes towards Injured Workers Need to change.

The Conversation is always frustrating. “I try every day to help injured workers get back to work, they just don’t want to do it. They are lazy, not all of them but the vast majority are lazy.”

The rehabilitation/insurance clerk or return to work co-ordinator says. Then they give a percentage figure of the “lazy” staring as high as 50% and usually ending at around 10%  (far from the vast majority they argued earlier).

Then I spring it on them. “Wheres’ the proof of that?” The WC professional then says something like “I don’t need proof.. I’ve been doing this for XX, or XXX years. how long have you been doing it?”  as if the number of years they have been doing this identifies that they are only a phone call away from an honorary doctorate. But I answer

“Three, three years.” Three years of intense experience and study from a perspective that the person trying to argue from their own unprofessional position has never attempted to see.

Three years of knowing that injured workers are just as diverse as any other population except that the most important thing, their health, is in the hands of a private bureaucracy rather than their own.

The one thing I know is that the attitude of the professionals involved in the workers compensation system plays a significant role in the outcomes that system achieves. and their attitude is terrible.

The starting assumption is that of failure. The vast majority (and in this case I actually mean it) of people I have spoken to who work for an insurer have this attitude. They truely believe that every injured worker has failed in life, thats why they were injured. The popular myth of the soldier shooting themselves in the foot is not only alive and well in workers comp, it is the default position for insurance workers.

The investigation is conducted under this assumption and if accepted this firs attitude may change but it is more likely to morph into one where the injured worker is still “at fault” in that they could have done something to prevent it. In either case the case worker maintains an attitude that the injured worker is not truely deserving of the services they are receiving.

If they are deserving, the attitude is different in that the injured worker may be viewed as incapable, or at least diminished in their ability to make decisions for themselves. This paternalistic attitude is reinforced throughout the system as well, through the insistence to second test a doctors assessments etc…. Its set up to treat the injured worker as a secondary consideration to the structure of the system itself.

Going back to those conversations. The attitudes displayed are ones associated with Vicarious Trauma in the helping professions. In that light, they are used by the professional as a protective shield against the pain and problems they are taking on from the (in this case) injured worker. We can hold those individual caseworkers or professionals accountable for their attitudes but it is the system itself that is perpetrating them, form the government, the departments, the companies and the employers. There is no systemic support for the professionals in this business, they are forced to display the negative attitudes of their companies and the system as a whole and forced to bear the emotional backlash that happens when capable adults are treated badly. the butter between two pieces of toast.

Because of this, they multiply the problems faced by injured workers. The problem with the bad attitude of the professionals in the workers comp system is that it spirals until someone gets hurt.