Case management opportunity alert

Gabrielle Lis

Get to know an untapped resource: Australia’s committed, highly experienced cohort of RTW case managers.

Workers’ compensation case management is widely believed to have a high turnover, with anecdotal reports putting it at 40% per annum in some jurisdictions. Therefore, we were surprised by the results of the 2021 Return to Work Matters Case Management Survey, in which half (52%) of the 62 respondents had been working in the industry for more than ten years. An additional 21% had notched up five to ten years’ experience and another 16% had been in the industry for at least three years. In other words, almost 90% of the people who completed our survey were medium- to long-term case managers, working for insurers, as RTW coordinators or rehabilitation professionals.

Bluntly, we expected to meet a group of inexperienced, overwhelmed and undertrained case managers, struggling with a highly demanding role, one eye on the exit. Instead, we got to know a group of experts, committed to the industry, possessing extensive experience and hard-won – often self-taught – skills.

Overall, the trend we observed was that the longer a case manager had been in the industry, the longer they intended to stay in the industry.

Further, we learned that the skills and knowledge of this valuable cohort are not systematically passed on to junior colleagues, with far too little mentoring and peer-to-peer learning. This missed opportunity is particularly notable because many of these highly experienced case managers say that they’ve done most of their learning on the job, rather than via formal training.

Meet workers’ compensation greatest untapped resource: the career case manager.

These are the people so committed to the role that they actively seek out and sometimes self-fund training opportunities, determined to accrue new skills.

People who are motivated by achieving positive RTW outcomes, driven to help injured workers return to work and life.

People who find satisfaction in building relationships and working collaboratively. (For more on what case managers find rewarding about their role, read our companion article here.)

People who have a clear understanding of the challenges of the field and common barriers to success – and who also have clear ideas about the kinds of support that would make these barriers easier to dismantle.

They may not be the norm in the industry overall, but boy are engaged. Boy, do they have a lot to give.

Unfortunately, 60% of them work at organisations that do not have a mentoring system in place. And 50% work in organisations that do not have collaborative case discussions.

What a fantastic resource, all too often going to waste.

Below are some personal insights from the career case managers who completed our survey. You can read a number-crunching take on our survey results here.

Q: How well do you feel you’ve been trained in case management?

“All my skills have been learned on the job and through self-education and self-development.”

“[One employer]…offer[s] a guarantee of training with its requirement for mentorship of new consultants. The majority of my work is with [a workers’ compensation regulator] though and there is nil training. It seems the occ rehab world is too busy to train consultants. I've been feeling my way through it for a couple of years relying of CA feedback for refinement but even that feedback is inconsistent from CA'S.”

“Employer supported NIDMAR courses.”

“I have only just started so I am expecting to have more in depth training.”

“It’s too much of a download all at once between legislation, process, systems and procedures.”

“Learnt mostly by doing - some training internal at work and from post grad paper on vocational management.”

“Lots of self training and on the job.”

“Most of my learnings have been while doing the role, not what I learnt when I first started.”

“My skills have been learnt on the job and through ongoing self-education to ensure I am as effective as possible within my role.”

“No training, I learned on the job and took it upon myself to get the PIEF diploma and pursue more information.”

“On the job training has been more valuable to me.”

“Only tertiary level training and one job I had in the early days of my career in the public sector in occupational rehabilitation.”

“PIEF courses should be encouraged for all case managers.”

“Self-taught through experience.”

“When I was first trained, a lot was on the job experience.”

“Years of experience assisted with this as it is a learned skill not something that can be taught.”

Q: How well has your training covered the technical aspects of your role (e.g. complying with legislation, scheme rules, decision making processes)?

“Again, all I have learned technically has been driven by my desire to improve myself professionally.”

“I made sure that in my personal development and use of my academic qualifications I am always up-to-date in these areas.”

“I only have knowledge of legislation through external, self-funded study.”

“If successful return to work goals are achieved, I believe technical aspects are not always required.”

“Most of my training around mandates such as FML, ADA, EEOC were self-taught through research and reading.”

“Some courses would go into detail on legislation but the rest is really up to the individual and applying it day to day.”

“Technical has been learned more through curiosity.”

“This has been learnt by attending seminars through my own initiative.”

Q: How well has your training covered ‘soft skills’ such as communication, influence, engaging people?

“Again, I would say a lot of this has been from experience. The only training that addresses this has been for suicide intervention for calls.”

“Again, my skills in communication and establishing relationships come as a result of many years of experience but mostly due to inherent skill.”

“As stated on the job learning over years gave me this.”

“Bare minimum, you’re expected to already have this skill.”

“It is my commitment to personal self-development that has given me these skills.”

“Learnt with experience.”

“Mainly covered consultation.”

“My soft skills are innate and have been developed by me as I have evolved in my skillset and professional abilities. I have self-developed myself across the board professionally”

“My training as an allied health professional covered these skills rather than on the job training.”

“Only at tertiary level studies, not on the job.”

“This can be learned but people need to be happy to work in GREY.”

“This is not an issue for me but some Case Managers I feel do not have the appropriate communication skills and use electronic communication, e.g. email.”

Q: What are the barriers that limit your success?

“Attitudes of the employer my job can be shipped off overseas is a constant worry.”

“Case load.”

“Claims are getting more and more complex and creating more work than before.”

 “Geographical location, I'm regional and have limited client referrals so I contract to several companies.”

“I’d like to be more proactive in my role and potentially expedite better outcomes.”

 “Most organisations will not employ me because I am not recognised for my age and experience.  Insurers will not employ me because I have too much experience and knowledge from working within employers, have self insurance background across a number of organisations and can think for myself without the need to tick boxes to make sure process is followed.”

“Non-workers’ compensation insurers trying to impose their rules.”

“Organisational responsibilities.”

“Supervisor / employee relationships I consider to be one of the most pivotal points in RTW.”

“Unfortunately, it may also depend in some workplaces if you have the 'correct' working relationships with the 'correct' Supervisors or Managers.”

“Finding an employer who is not afraid of my experience base, who understands my strengths and is willing to provide me the autonomy to give to the organisation what they need, and admit they don’t really know what they need but will embrace what I deliver that I understand meets their unknown needs.”

Q: Final thoughts?

“Just as an extra comment - I would love to see more advocacy and support to case managers. I have seen such high burn out over 10+ years and I wish more engagement was given to the staff directly. This is the first survey I have seen if it’s kind. I’m an insurance case manager- just didn’t have anywhere else to make a comment!”