The Winnipeg Chamber: What is "Return to Work" and why is it important?
Chris Poot: Return to Work, simply put, is when a worker goes back to work (or stays at work) following a workplace injury or illness.
The more complex answer is all of the effort and work behind the scenes by workers, employers, medical providers, unions and the Workers Compensation Board to ensure that Return to Work is safe, respectful and effective.
A workplace injury can have a significant impact to a worker - physical, financial, social and psychological. And that extends outwards to the worker's family, friends, co-workers and the employer. So it's critically important to do our best to keep that impact to a minimum and to help make the transition back to work as seamless and predictable as possible.
WC: The Return to Work Program Services Team is a relatively new department at the WCB. What are you offering to employers?
CP: While we've always supported Return to Work, our department was formed to create a focus on the Return to Work needs of large and medium-sized employers.
We offer employers training (Return to Work Basics and WCB Basics) designed to teach how the WCB claims system works, how their premium is calculated and, most importantly, how to build or improve their Return to Work Program. For larger companies with complex Return to Work issues, we also provide customized consulting services where we help develop or improve a company's Return to Work program. This includes a comprehensive assessment of current practices and processes as well as implementation assistance and on-site training. Both training and consulting services are offered at no charge. You can find more information on our website at www.wcb.mb.ca.
WC: What's surprised you the most in talking to businesses about Return to Work?
CP: I was surprised (and pleased) to learn that for the majority of employers, this isn't just about the money. I think it's safe to say that most employers just want to run a productive and profitable business and at the same time "do right" for their employees. And while most business owners have some basic understanding that Return to Work is good for business, they are surprised and happy to learn that Return to Work is also good for recovery. It's interesting to watch a company's HR person exchange looks with the Finance person when they realize a "win-win solution" is within reach - the kind of solution that management teams can support because it includes each of their areas of focus.
WC: What's the biggest misconception about Return to Work?
CP: There are still people out there who think that Return to Work is somehow punitive to injured workers, or that it is better to rest at home until they're fully recovered. But we know that Return to Work results in a faster and better recovery, helps avoid isolation, reconnects social networks and helps ease financial worries. I spend a lot of time speaking to employers, unions and other groups about how Return to Work is good for recovery AND it's good for business AND it's good for unions AND it's good for workers and their families. Medical professionals believe that Return to Work is a healthy and invaluable part of an injured worker's recovery as there is substantial evidence to support the positive link between work and physical, mental and social health - as you'll see in our upcoming awareness campaign.
WC: What one thing should a company do to get started with Return to Work?
CP: Take the WCB Basics and Return to Work Basics one day courses. Not only will you learn "Why" you should have a Return to Work program in your business, you also learn "How, Where and When". Class participants consistently rate their satisfaction level at about 95% with regard to the information provided, the class discussions, the quality of the instructors and the opportunity to ask real world questions. It's the kind of useful continuing education that you can (and many do) recommend to colleagues and others in their work network. There are elements in the training that you can take back to work and start using right away. It's important to talk to staff about the value of Return to Work before an injury occurs and build that trust so that the worker is confident that a Return to Work program is created with their best interests in mind.
WC: Can you tell us about some of the early results you've seen with some of the companies that your team has worked with?
CP: I attended a conference in March 2017 that we arranged in partnership with the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce on Return to Work. I was thrilled to listen and watch as Shawn MacLellan of Federated Co-op Limited talked about the recent Return to Work consultation session he had with our Return to Work Program team. He explained that in the year after implementing recommended changes to the Return to Work program at their warehouse, they had a drop in their days lost by almost 90%, and a drop in direct costs of more than 78%. Days lost and direct costs are two of the major influences on your premium for the next year.
In another example, I started working with a medium-sized company a couple of years ago. I gave them three simple things to implement to help with their Return to Work program. Today they are paying 41% of the premium they paid five years ago.
I'm enough of a realist to know that a 90% drop is an unreasonable expectation in all cases, but improvements by more than 50% are regular occurrences. And this does not even factor in the faster and better recovery by workers, the reduced productivity loss and the potential improvement in employee retention.