How It’s Going: Workers’ Compensation, Perspective and Resilience

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

We humans are made of strong stuff. We can adapt, change, address a new situation, do the right thing, and sometimes even admit we’re wrong.

Though it’s hard to admit it, some of the challenges and stresses of the workers’ compensation system are that the system is made up of humans who lack perspective, lose perspective or refuse to see others’ perspectives.

One of the important and impressive things about humans is that we continue to adapt and gain perspective in situations that make us uncomfortable, doing the right thing even when facing big problems and challenges.

In Adjuster Does Right from David DePaolo, this amazing blog post helped me to step back and gain perspective.

Do you do the right thing when it might not be popular or profitable?

In his blog post, DePaolo writes the following, encouraging people to realize that those humans involved in the system might not have all the information but will be making a decision anyway, and stubbornly dig in because their way is the right one for their “side.”

“It’s easy to denigrate and criticize ‘the insurance company’ because of the monolithic facade of the establishment, and the cold, dehumanizing character of the process.

“But behind that steel and glass are real human beings entrenched in conflict as soon as they walk through the doors to do their jobs. Every day the professional at the claims desk has decisions to make that affect, deeply, others,” DePaolo writes.

In this case, DePaolo celebrates the result as a success story, because “Adjuster X did the right thing. Not without considerable anxiety, stress and internal conflict …”

The “sides” are not necessarily evil, and the people taking the sides are generally good people who have friends and loved ones.

James Fallows wrote an article that is linked to at the end of the DePaolo story, How America Is Putting Itself Back Together. It has so many good thoughts and ideas in it, and I strongly encourage you to read it and think about how you are involved in whatever community, tribe, or cause outside of yourself in which you believe.

“What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see,” Fallows writes.

For different people, “home” can mean different things. What is your community? Who are your people? Where do you belong, contribute, and make someone think and be challenged and/or feel good and be appreciated?

It doesn’t have to look the way your parents’ community looked – it can be online – uniting people in different states, or it can be via CB radios, to use a couple of examples that occur today.

Thinking about workers’ compensation makes me realize that the system can definitely be improved, but it does, generally speaking, work, as do a lot of other activities in American life, which Fallows demonstrates in his article in The Atlantic.

Sometimes people in workers’ compensation get so focused on their way or the highway – what Fallows likens to people on an Interstate who can only see the road ahead, because they’re driving on the ground.

But Fallows encourages people to get a different perspective – like he does – by flying low across the nation in a small plane. I think that idea can be applied to an individual’s situation, the workers’ compensation system, or a community, which was Fallows’ focus.

“I would love for more people to know how this country looks from above. I would love for America’s sense of itself to include more of what we’ve seen on the ground,” he writes.

There are smart, thoughtful people in every community. The workers’ compensation system is no exception. The quote below, though Fallon was referencing creativity in tech start-ups, applies to people who choose to be nice, make the best of hard and challenging situations, and strive to be kind.

“… Nearly everywhere we went we were surprised by evidence of a different flow: of people with first-rate talents and ambitions who decided that someplace other than the biggest cities offered the best overall opportunities. We saw and documented examples in South Carolina, and South Dakota, and Vermont, and the central valley of California, and central Oregon.” …

 “Where you wouldn’t expect, that is, except we have seen so much of this nearly every place we’ve gone,” Fallows writes.

What Fallows is describing but doesn’t specifically name is resilience – recovering, adapting, developing coping tools, and figuring out the new normal. It is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing.

It is possible to be content – and even happy, or at least satisfied – with your personal situation, while still taking part in fighting injustice and inequity.

One way of doing that is by helping others – even working with people with whom you don’t agree philosophically – but who you can work with to improve a system or achieve a goal, anyway.

That’s one of the motivations of the Kids’ Chance of Nebraska organization. It offers scholarships to college students whose parents have been affected by workplace injury or even death. It is a wonderful, powerful cause, and I look forward to many more scholarships helping children of injured workers continue and ultimately reach their educational goals.

Though there is a lot of divisiveness and taking sides in the nation right now, after reading DePaolo and Fallows, it is reassuring to think that just like a bunch of small fragmented communities showing economic resilience, maybe our small gestures like a bunch of people within a workers’ compensation system giving Kids’ Chance scholarships, can and do make a difference to the greater whole.

Yes, there is always room for improvement. But I would like to think that just like that adjuster who did the right thing and those who give back to their communities are helping, that maybe we, as a nation, are doing OK after all.