Workers’ compensation claimants who have drawn-out cases recover more slowly than those whose experiences are less stressful, according to new research.
The study, conducted by Monash University in collaboration with Stanford and Melbourne University, suggests businesses will directly benefit if the claims of injured workers are dealt with quickly and effectively.
Researchers investigated the impact of stress on workers’ compensation claims as well as those involved in transport accidents. It found those with a less stressful compensation case had more positive outcomes, including a speedier recovery and fewer instances of anxiety or depression.
Lead author of the research, Dr Genevieve Grant from Monash University says there are strong associations between experiencing a stressful compensation claim and a poor recovery.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
“Some of the main sources of stress for claimants were understanding what they needed to do for their claim,” she told SmartCompany. “In addition, the amount the time taken to process claims is another source of stress. The number of medical assessments was another factor.”
While Grant says reducing stress for workers’ compensation claimants should be a priority, she also acknowledges that the due processes still need to be followed.
“Employers and insurers have a job to do,” she says. “So the key thing to think about is what we can do to improve these processes but at the same time ensure the necessary information is collected.”
The study followed the experiences of 332 people who were hospitalised in Victoria, New South Wales and Australia between 2004 and 2006. The most frequently reported source of stress for patients was in understanding what they needed to do for their compensation claim.
Grant says the solution to this is clear communication between all parties.
“We need to provide clear expectations of what is involved and what the claimants’ rights are,” she says. “We need to make sure people have the information they need and some clarity around the steps when it comes to paperwork.”
Grant says it’s also important to think about how we deal with people undergoing a workers’ compensation claim not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because there are direct impacts on business.
“If people are able to be dealt with in a way that reduces stress, there is the potential that it will deliver concrete benefits for enterprises. If we are able to facilitate better outcomes for injured workers, then they will be able to return to work sooner.”
Rachel Drew, partner at TressCox Lawyers, told SmartCompany the research is consistent with other reports.
“Workers’ compensation statistics consistently show that a claim with a stress injury component will be open longer, require more treatment and will cost more,” she says. “It would not be surprising if the trend was the same in other types of claims.”
Drew also points that there is generally no recourse for a claimant if their stress arises from the claim process.
“While some may hypothetically consider a negligence claim against the insurer, the standard of care required of an insurer will not be particularly high,” she says. “There would also have to be consideration of what the contribution of the original injury had to the person’s level of stress.”