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Workers' Compensation & Return to Work Programs: 3 Reasons for Failure and How to Overcome Them (Part 2)

Posted by Gary Jennings on March 8, 2017 at 10:55 AM

Click HERE for Part 1

In January, we began a series of blogs focusing on Return to Work (RTW) programs.  As we discussed in the previous blog, the people most responsible for the overall success or failure of RTW programs are those in senior management positions.  No RTW program can get off of the ground without the support of these executives. While those in senior management are responsible for setting the tone at the top, the supervisors and managers in charge of daily operations are responsible for the day-to-day success or failure of the RTW program.


I once worked for a large global manufacturing company.  On one occasion while training our operational personnel on workers’ compensation management, one of the regional managers told me something that I will never forget.  He said, “The supervisors make more decisions in a day than I make in a month.  It is hard for them to go from the problems related to day-to-day manufacturing to thinking of successful ways to handle workers’ compensation claims. “

Although he may have been exaggerating when he said the floor supervisors made more decisions in a day than he made in a month, I got his point. The supervisors’ primary responsibility is to manufacture as much product as possible, as cost effectively as possible, on a daily basis. They will deal with absent employees, malfunctioning machines, irregular raw materials, and a host of other problems. The introduction of more responsibilities, including figuring out how to fit injured employees on restricted duties into the daily pandemonium of the workplace, can slow production and result in greater cost of goods sold. Furthermore, these RTW duties will require more dedicated time from the supervisor, so long as the employee is on restricted duty.  

So how do we make RTW programs a priority for supervisors? 

To facilitate a successful RTW program, rewards should be associated with RTW goals when evaluating supervisors’ performances. For example, it would be counterproductive to the RTW program if the supervisor based all rewards and penalties simply on the goal of manufacturing as fast as possible. If the supervisor sets the precedent that workers’ compensation claims costs are too high and reducing employee absences is something that must be addressed, direct workers’ compensation costs and indirect costs will be reduced. As a result, the supervisor should be rewarded for enhancing the RTW program, even if the cost of goods sold increases.

The third blog will address an ongoing problem for RTW programs as well as other leadership programs that are often intended to address short-term goals rather than create a long-term benefit.