Tag Archives: coworkers

Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid as a New Risk Manager

The transition into your first risk management job can be difficult. Whether your boss promotes you into your first risk management job or hires you from another organization, you want to excel at your new position over the long haul. In part, that means avoiding mistakes. We often learn our best lessons when we fail, but some mistakes can seriously hurt your risk management program, harm your reputation or even derail your career. Here are 10 mistakes you can avoid.

  1. Don’t rush in with all the answers. You may arrive wanting to form your own alliances and acquire your own team, but avoid making hasty decisions. Give current employees a chance to prove themselves before you transfer them or hire your own team. The same applies to vendor relationships. You can lose a great deal of knowledge about loss history and coverage negotiation if you immediately decide to switch insurance brokers. “Changing brokers can be a great way to create significant coverage gaps or an errors and omissions claim for your friend the new broker,” according to one Atlanta broker. Some vendor alliances, such as relationships with contractors and body shops, may be long-standing, especially in a small town. Rushing in and making changes can cause big ripples in a little pond.
  2. Don’t try to do everything at once. In my teens, I read a book called Ringolevio, about a kid named Emmett Groan growing up in the streets of New York City. One of his compatriots frequently warned Emmett when he was about to rush headlong into a decision, “Take it easy, greasy, you’ve got a long way to slide.” I found that advice very applicable in risk management. If you inherit a big job, you will be faced with hundreds of decisions, some big, some small. Take your time. While you may feel overwhelmed at first, chip away at the organization’s most pressing problems. Put out fires as they arise. Then schedule time for you and your advisers — your brokers, your attorneys, your actuaries and your managers – to develop sound strategies and plans.
  3. Don’t use a shotgun, use a rifle. If the organization is experiencing too many injuries, for example, don’t jump to an obvious solution like using more personal protective equipment. Talk with front-line supervisors, study historical loss data and consider several options before you throw money at a problem. Once in the door, interview employees, talk with other managers, meet with your vendors and set a few important priorities for your first six months in the job. Using a rifle approach means you’ll have to say “No” to some people. This can cause problems. When possible, explain why you’re declining to act on the problems or the specific issues others may present to you. The more transparently you operate, the less criticism you will face. Openness reduces speculation and helps avoid resentment.
  4. Don’t job hop. Most people can be very ambitious early in their careers. Yet too much ambition can hurt your career. Think long and hard before changing jobs. Bad bosses rarely outlast their employees. Deciding to change jobs because of a conflict with a supervisor is often short-sighted. The grass might seem greener on the other side, but sometimes that’s because of a septic tank (to paraphrase a famous comedian). These questions may help you avoid rash decisions.
    • Am I making the change solely to earn more money or for a more prestigious title? If so, will this change “pay for” what I will lose?
    • Am I making the change because I’m feeling unchallenged or bored? If so, what steps can I take to make my current job more challenging? For example, would becoming more active in a trade association, offering expertise to a local nonprofit or mentoring an up-and-coming risk management professional add challenge and interest?
    • How will this affect my retirement financially? Will I be changing retirement systems, or will I lose significant bonuses or vacation because of the change? Always factor those figures into the salary decision. This question becomes more important as retirement age nears.
    • How will this change affect my family and my coworkers? Our coworkers can turn even a challenging job into an appealing one. Do you really want to leave your coworkers? As for family, what ages are your children? Disrupting school-aged children can have negative, long-term consequences.
    • What are the odds I will regret this decision? Go ahead, we’re numbers people. Put a percentage to your decision, then ask yourself if you’re really ready to take that gamble.

    It takes months to settle into a new job. It’s often a year or more before we feel comfortable. Some studies show that many people who change jobs would have done much better if they had stayed put longer. Change for the sake of change frequently is not positive.

  5. Don’t entertain gossip about your predecessors. Some at your new organization may try to build an alliance with you at the expense of your predecessor. Short-circuit these conversations whenever possible. Tactfully turn the conversation to another subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Try not to make an enemy of the person who is trying to get into your good graces.
  6. Don’t revisit your predecessor’s decisions. Especially when working with unions, you may find people lined up at your door asking you to revisit your predecessor’s judgments. Unless your predecessor’s conclusions hurt your overall program, don’t rush into undoing the decisions and the work he or she completed. You may not be operating under the same set of facts or with the same long-term vision that the former risk manager had at his or her disposal.
  7. Don’t believe your own PR. Never pretend you know more than you know, and don’t start believing your own “press.” While others may soon invite you to participate on panels and present at conferences, remain humble and teachable. It’s terribly painful to learn humility through humiliation.
  8. Don’t fail to communicate. A lack of communication is one of the most damaging mistakes a risk manager can make. A risk manager must have the ear of employees across the organization, from line supervisors to senior management. According to Don Donaldson, president of LA Group, a Texas-based risk management consulting group, “A risk manager needs to be an excellent communicator and facilitate his or her message across the entire organization. In my mind, that requires getting out of the office and pressing the flesh; seeing and being seen and listening, really listening, to determine what is going on in the organization.” Management by walking around is one strong tool in a new risk manager’s tool bag. Once people see that you’re willing to leave your office to discover what is happening, whether it’s on the shop floor or on the sewer line, they’ll more readily accept your expertise and counsel.
  9. Don’t get discouraged. “New risk managers may make the mistake of thinking that risk management is as important to others in the organization as it is to them,” according to Harriette J. Leibovitz, a senior insurance business analyst with Yodil. “It takes time, and more time for some than others, to figure out that you're more than an irritation to the folks who believe they drive all the revenue.” Over time, you will prove your value to the organization many times over. Until that day, quietly do your job and find encouragement from your risk management peers.
  10. Don’t forget to laugh. You will be privy to the peculiarities of human nature both at its finest and at its worst, so don’t forget to find the lighter side of situations when you can. A robust sense of humor will help you through the rough spots and build bonds with your coworkers.

While these are just a few tips to help you in your new role as a risk manager, your peers probably can offer many more ways to ensure success. Over my career in risk management, I have found my fellow risk management professionals to be some of the most generous people in my life, always willing to share their expertise and provide me with a helping hand. Develop and lean on your network. If this is your first job as a risk manager, you’re in for a wonderful experience. Take time along the way to enjoy the experiences, appreciate the great people you will meet and appreciate the lighter side of risk management.

Five Things Employers Need to Know About Mental Health

“The workplace is the last crucible of sustained human contact for many of the 30,000 people who kill themselves each year in the United States. A coworker’s suicide has a deep, disturbing impact on work mates. For managers, such tragedies pose challenges no one covered in management school.” (Shellenbarger, 2001)1

Five things employers need to know about workplace mental health and suicide include some bad news…

  1. Depression is a top driver of health care costs to employers.2 3 Depression represents employers' highest per capita medical spending. (The per-capita annual cost of depression is significantly more than that for hypertension or back problems, and comparable to that for diabetes or heart disease. People with depression also have more sick days than people suffering from other conditions.)4
  2. If we take a snapshot of any workplace at any given point in time, at least one in five people will have a diagnosable mental health condition.5 The most common are mood disorders like depression or substance abuse disorders like alcohol abuse.
  3. The majority of people who die by suicide are of working age. While other groups’ suicide rates are holding steady or decreasing, the rates for men and women in the middle years have increased significantly over the last decade.

And some good news…

  1. By engaging in simple preventative steps (e.g., stress management or depression screenings) anyone can help maintain their own mental health. By learning practical tactics (e.g., becoming suicide prevention gatekeepers or referring coworkers to employee assistance services) employees can help promote the mental health and safety of others.6 7
  2. A comprehensive and evidence-based approach to suicide prevention and mental health promotion exists,8 is cost-effective9 and gives employers a clear guide on what to do. By being “visible, vocal and visionary” leaders, employers can set the expectation that a culture of health and safety is a priority and that mental health promotion and suicide prevention are a critical part of that priority.

While managers often feel responsible for the well-being of the people they supervise, very few have been given any substantial training in how to identify people in a suicide crisis and how to link them to life-saving care. Employers can play a critical role in closing this gap through a comprehensive approach.

A five-year analysis of the nation’s death rates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among 45- to 54-year-olds increased 20% from 1999 to 2004, while rates for youth and elderly persons are decreasing. The Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention targets employers as critical stakeholders in the prevention of suicide.10

While suicide prevention may seem to be too intensive for workplaces to take on, there are many upstream prevention strategies that do not take much effort but yield tremendous results. Here are low-cost, high impact strategies employers can take to promote mental health and prevent suicide:

  1. Promote the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This free resource (1-800-273-8255 [TALK]) is available to employees 24/7 and used by both people in crisis and those who are trying to support them. The line connects to local crisis call centers and is answered by certified volunteers, most of whom have had more training and experience in de-escalating suicidal behavior than many of our mental health professionals.
  2. Participate in National Screening Days.  Whenever we can identify a health condition early in its course, we are in a much stronger position to prevent it from escalating. Employers can help coordinate screening days as a part of a larger national awareness effort. Mental Health Screening offers workplaces promotional and screening tools for National Depression Screening Day (October), National Eating Disorders Awareness Program (February), National Alcohol Screening Day (April), and National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day (May). In addition, their WorkplaceResponse program gives employees an anonymous opportunity to self-screen for depression, bipolar disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and alcohol use disorders.  These screenings offer immediate results and referrals to an organization’s employee assistance program and community-based resources.
  3. Reward Mental Wellness. For example, the Working Minds program offers a contest every year to workplaces that have developed mentally healthy policies and practices that demonstrate positive outcomes like retention, lower absenteeism, and higher employee satisfaction. These workplaces then become the model for others.
  4. Change the Conversation Through Social Marketing.  By showing models of people who have experienced significant psychological distress and who have recovered and are thriving, employers can show that struggles are normal and increase a sense of efficacy among the hopeless. For example, workplaces can develop a multimedia campaign that lets people know they are not alone if they are thinking about suicide and that many resources exist to help. If the company’s leaders are courageous enough to model this message, the culture of the organization usually shifts accordingly.
  5. Offer Educational Programs on Mental Illness. Employee assistance professionals can provide “lunch-and-learn” sessions that increase awareness about the signs and symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, and other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide.  These presentations should share how treatments are effective while dissipating misperceptions people have that create barriers to care.
  6. Training Staff to Become Suicide Prevention Gatekeepers. In addition to offering general training, workplaces should train key people in suicide prevention gatekeeper methods. The concept is similar to CPR – train lay people to know the warning signs of a life-threatening situation and how to sustain a person’s life until they can be linked to professional care. Many models for this training exist, including Working Minds, QPR, and ASIST. For more information, review the gatekeeper matrix on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center website.

As our workplaces accelerate from the industrial age to the information age and beyond, we come to increasingly rely on our mental muscle to get us through our workday. Like any other muscle, our mental muscle can get injured or fatigued, and we can experience high levels of distress, sometimes leading to a suicide crisis. Workplaces can prepare for this in many ways and develop a comprehensive approach to reduce suicide risk and promote mental resiliency.

For more information, visit WorkingMinds.org. Working Minds is one of the first programs in the country to provide workplaces with a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. Working Minds is a priority program of the Carson J Spencer Foundation based in Golden, Colorado. In a little more than a lunch hour, employees at all levels of a workplace can be taught how to identify warning signs and risk factors and help link distressed coworkers to appropriate care.

1 Schellenbarger, S. (2001, June 13). Impact of colleague’s suicide is strongly felt in workplace. The Wall Street Journal.

2 Mental Health America (n.d.) Depression in the Workplace.

3 Witters, D. (2013, July 24). Depression Costs U.S. Workplaces $23 Billion in Absenteeism.

4 Managed Care Magazine (2006, Spring) Depression in the Workplace Cost Employers Billions Each Year: Employers Take Lead in Fighting Depression.

5 Gray, T. (2004) ValueOptions Articles – Managers.

6 Paul, R. & Spencer-Thomas, S. (2012). Changing Workplace Culture to End the Suicide Standstill. National Council Magazine. (2), 126-127.

7 Spencer-Thomas, S. (2012). Developing a workplace suicide prevention program. Journal of Employee Assistance, 42(1), 12-15.

8 National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (2013) Comprehensive Blueprint for Workplace Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/task-force/workplace/cspp

9 National Institute of Mental Health (2007, September) Workplace Depression Screening, Outreach and Enhanced Treatment Improves Productivity, Lowers Employer Costs.

10 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. (2001). National strategy for suicide prevention: Goals and objectives for action, p. 67.