Mr. Aggressive v. Mr. Assertive: A Classic RTW Bout

By Bob Cogburn, Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist

By Bob Cogburn,
Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist

I’ve been in the vocational rehab world a long time. In my experience, employers approach return-to-work (RTW) one of two ways: aggressively and assertively. I’d love to see these two characters square off in a boxing match.

Tale of the Tape

Mr. Aggressive is the reigning champion. He’s big, strong and tough. He approaches every workers’ comp claim as a problem case, complete with an injured worker who consistently exaggerates his or her condition. Mr. Aggressive’s philosophy is, “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.” Not surprisingly, his relationships with injured workers are typically adversarial.

In the other corner is the challenger, Mr. Assertive. He combines thoughtful planning and specific, consistent actions from the beginning of the claim to promote return-to-work. Mr. Assertive knows he does not have absolute control over the RTW process, and he’s okay with that. He trusts he can influence the outcome of an injury for everyone’s benefit.

And there’s the bell!

Mr. Aggressive is a bruiser in the mold of Rocky Balboa. He knows disability is habit-forming. The longer someone remains off work, the less likely they are to return ever return. Mr. Aggressive comes out swinging, delivering a series of blows that sap Mr. Assertive’s RTW resolve. In spite of its high billing, this match looks destined for an untimely end.

But wait! Mr. Assertive found an opening. Masterfully employing a proactive claim management approach, he’s collaborating with the insurance carrier’s vocational case manager and the injured worker’s doctor. He’s got his eye on identifying a return-to-work opportunity early in the claim.

With Mr. Aggressive on his heels, Mr. Assertive bears down. He’s already got a work release from the doc. Now, he’s jabbing away with a Bona Fide Offer of Employment.

Strong support from the corner

Meanwhile, Mr. Aggressive is playing catch-up, but to no avail. He braced himself for a knock-down, drag-out fight before the bell ever sounded. Now he’s physically and emotionally spent. It’s RTW crunch time, and Mr. Aggressive has no gas in the tank.

Mr. Assertive gets set to finish the battle. He makes sure everyone in his corner – doctors, safety managers, claim administrators, co-workers – understands their role in bringing injured workers back to the team. With an eye toward future matches, he’s even hired a safety manager and claim administrator.

And that is all Mr. Aggressive can handle. He drops to the canvass. The only sound louder than the thump he makes is the chorus of cheers from injured workers who have gone their share of rounds with him.

Meet your new champion!

Mr. Assertive is clearly the “good guy” in this epic battle. Management loves him because he promotes productivity by keeping experienced workers on the job. Employees love him because he works for their best interests. And vocational rehab specialists like me love him because he makes our job a heck of a lot easier.

Mr. Aggressive never wins when it comes to RTW. The process cannot be adversarial. Injured workers, employers, insurance carriers and doctors have to work together to do what is best for all parties: getting the injured worker well and back to productive employment.

This short video explains how employers can expedited the return-to-work process.

About the author

Bob Cogburn has nearly 25 years’ experience in vocational case management. Since 1997, he has been helping injured workers covered by a Texas Mutual policy rehabilitate and return to productive employment. Prior to joining Texas Mutual, Bob served as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Department of Assistive Rehabilitation Services. He also spent time as a job placement counselor for Goodwill Industries and El Centro College. At El Centro, he managed a job club specializing in placing students with disabilities back into the workplace. Bob holds a bachelor’s in rehabilitation science from the University of Texas Health Science Center and a master’s in counseling from Amberton University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: