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Are employees prioritising work or wellbeing?

Shifting workforce attitudes call for a change in Workers Compensation schemes

Published on
November 14, 2023
Cindy Chang

According to NAB’s 2022/23 health insights report, 40% of Australians were striving to prioritise their overall health and wellbeing over the past 12 months. In the age of wellbeing, the modern work mindset is undergoing a significant shift. People are reevaluating their priorities and making decisions that prioritise their overall health, happiness and fulfilment over societal expectations of constant productivity throughout their careers – a period that can span up to a third of their lives. 

Various factors contribute to the growing emphasis on wellbeing in the workplace, and greater general awareness and focus on mental health is one of them. Anxiety and depression have become increasingly prevalent in our fast-paced, high-pressure society. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 4.2 million Australians have experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months (AIHW 2022), two of the most common forms being anxiety and depression (ABS 2022).

The challenge

The latest national return to work survey from Safe Work Australia shows the rate of Australians returning to work post-injury has declined by ~1% each year since 2016. In the same period, the overall time off work required increased significantly from 15.9% in 2016 to 25.2% in 2021. Of the many factors behind these statistics, mental illness is a significant contributor; 30% of those with a mental illness require additional time off compared to other injury types.

This is a complex problem exacerbated by many system levers. However, our research with injured workers across state and federal workers compensation schemes points to a pattern of thinking and behaviour that is beginning to shift scheme expectations. In the past, injured workers might have felt pressure to return to work immediately, fearing their absence was a sign of weakness or lack of dedication. The stigma associated with mental illness adds further complexity, with injured employees fearful or unwilling to raise and seek support. 

With the rise of the wellbeing mindset, injured workers who have the capability and means to do so are questioning the return-to-work guilt. Instead, they are focusing on ‘returning to a new normal’, and demanding that the levers that impact their ability and capacity to sustain work and engage in healthy, meaningful lives after an injury are adequately addressed as part of the injury management and return to work experience.

Across Australian workers compensation schemes, we are seeing greater acknowledgement of how an individual’s mental health, in combination with social, personal, and environmental factors, can influence an injured person’s recovery and timeframe for return to work. 

However, education, communication, prevention tactics, early identification and options for ongoing support are not well designed nor integrated into this legislation-led experience. How can schemes and the ecosystem of parties that deliver its services, address the social, emotional and psychological aspects of recovery alongside the physical injury?

Moments that Matter along the ‘Return to Health’ journey

Designing for Return to Health (as opposed to a singular focus on work) fundamentally changes how we look at the customer journey, and therefore the Moments That Matter most to the injured worker. These are not steps along the workers compensation process such as ‘making a claim’ and ‘submitting certificate of capacity ’, but a series of critical moments that impact people’s sense of connection, confidence and contribution to work, life and society.

Based on CEC's extensive experience researching the lived experience of injured workers and claimants, there are five key moments around which workers compensation schemes must augment their value proposition if they are to truly deliver sustainable quality of life and economic outcomes:

1. Getting immediate help

“When I'm unexpectedly injured, my first instinct is to get medical attention, fast. I want the reassurance that I can access this without any unnecessary complications and dealing with an unknown process.”

Design challenges: 

  • How can schemes and their service providers ensure easy immediate and ongoing access to medical support, without placing undue pressure on injured workers and employers to navigate an unfamiliar and legislation-oriented process?
  • How can versatile digital platforms help automate or augment the requirements around this experience, without resulting in technical debt, mounting backlogs, and cost pressures?

2. Focusing on my recovery, not admin

“As I work towards recovering, my main priority is to restore my overall physical and mental wellbeing. I'm not in my usual frame of mind or physical condition, so why should I be expected to shoulder the mental burden of administrative tasks? It can be overwhelming to manage things like meeting various providers, recounting my story repeatedly, reporting, providing ongoing evidence, and submitting receipts.”

Design challenges: 

  • How can injured workers of all capacities and means, be empowered to concentrate on their holistic recovery and wellbeing? 
  • How can information be redesigned to prioritise transparency, clarity and accessibility, empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their recovery path and its implications for their life and work?
  • What opportunities do AI and automation present to reduce these administrative burdens?

3. Acknowledging my family and network

“It's not just about my personal recovery, but also what it means for my family, friends, and social circle. Who can help me in navigate this?”

Design challenges: 

  • How can schemes and their service providers extend care beyond the individual, and provide comprehensive support that acknowledges, assists and connects the individual’s broader support network during these challenging times?
  • How might extending services and support beyond the individual reduce time on claim, prevent or offset further issues and deliver a more caring experience?

4. Supporting me as a human, not a case number

“In my interactions with the insurer and the health providers I feel that I’m treated suspiciously. I feel intimidated and disapproved of if I miss [something], like submitting my medical certificates on time, or speaking to who I'm meant to. Everyone is focussed on compliance and risk, but they forget that I'm also a person with hope, fears, and frustrations for my life.”

Design challenge: 

  • How can the individual, and their formal and informal support network be prompted to proactively identify risks to disengagement and recovery?
  • How can technology equip claim managers with timely, behavioural-based tools and training to proactively and appropriately engage with injured workers more empathetically?

5. Crafting my new normal

“I often think about what 'normal' means for me, personally and professionally, now. Depending on the nature of my injury, my life and identity might undergo significant changes. I'm searching for someone who can help me navigate this transition without any feelings of shame or guilt. It's perplexing that the support seems to drop off suddenly, just because the doctor has given the go-ahead for me to physically return to work.”

Design challenges: 

  • What support is required for injured workers to transition into their new normal (work and life), and how can this be integrated into the Return to Health experience?
  • How can injured workers and employers be better supported to navigate return-to-work plans, including nuances around reduced duties or hours?

To thrive in this new age of wellbeing and successfully adapt to the changing needs of injured workers, workers compensation schemes must embrace a human-centred approach that helps people return to health, alongside their return to work.

At CEC we are champions of this shift to focusing on the entire individual, and we have over 20+ years of experience helping organisations apply HCD principles to design and deliver better customer experiences.

Speak with us below to discuss how you can:

  • Integrate HCD principles to deliver experiences that meet the needs of injured workers, employers and legislation, and can be continually monitored and optimised.
  • Create a comprehensive support ecosystem that considers the emotional, psychological, and physical aspects of recovery for injured workers.
  • Combine HCD with composable technology like Low-code/No-code to support the delivery of Moments That Matter while reducing the time, cost and risk associated with traditional development.

Speak with an expert

Cindy Chang
Head of Customer Experience Strategy
Email me

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