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Are We Really Ready to Bring Employees Back to Work?

  • John Showalter, MD, MSIS

“Work smarter, not harder” was the message of Ford’s marketing for the F150 truck beginning in 2018, when they added several smart features to the vehicle. But working smarter, not harder is a concept that has been around since the 1930s when industrial engineer Allen F. Morgenstern, creator of the Work Simplification Program, coined the phrase. It’s a concept most auto manufacturers have embraced in their assembly line work. Unfortunately, while trying to do the right thing, Ford has not yet figured out how to work smarter, not harder when helping employees safely return to work.

Ford implemented workplace screening and detection measures, strategies many employers are using as they reopen. The actions being taken include temperature checks, re-configured workstations, enhanced cleaning processes, and social distancing measures. Despite this increase in work effort to enhance employee safety, two Ford plants were only open for one day before having to send employees home due to exposure from an employee who tested positive for COVID-19. This is a situation that is likely to happen over and over again, simply because of the nature of COVID-19: employees will report to work and expose their coworkers before symptoms appear or testing is done. Asymptomatic but infectious employees are an unavoidable reality in today’s workplace. And no amount of hard work can change that. You can’t “out work” a virus that can infect colleagues before the employee is even aware they have it.

That’s a problem. Vulnerable individuals who develop a COVID-19 infection:

  • are more likely to have a complex hospitalization, which can cost as much at $88,0001
  • often have hospital stays of over 22 days1
  • cost employers, on average, $4,400 per infected employee due to lost work time costs2
So what’s to be done? How can employers work smarter, not harder, to protect the safety of their employees as they return to the workplace?

The answer is obvious: to work smarter, you must first get smarter. This means having a greater understanding of which employees are at the highest risk during the public health crisis. It means helping employees understand their individual vulnerability to COVID-19. It also means making knowledgeable decisions around accommodations for employees who are more vulnerable. When employees understand their individual vulnerabilities, they can actively participate in the most impactful measures to avoid an adverse outcome.

Working smarter means helping employees return to work in the time and manner that considers their individual risks and vulnerabilities. This is driven by employee engagement, knowledge, and personal responsibility, not just employer interventions.

Just because the answer is obvious doesn’t mean it’s simple. Determining employee vulnerability in an ever-changing pandemic environment while maintaining employee privacy is rather complicated. Jvion’s advanced analytics, powered by the Jvion CORE™, combined with our experience protecting the privacy of millions of patients, allow us to make these complicated calculations. We recently launched an online AI-honed assessment that helps employers take a more proactive approach to their back to work plans.

Jvion can help employers work smarter, not harder, by:

  • leveraging employee-sponsored health plan claims data to feed the Jvion CORE
  • providing employees with individualized employee vulnerability action plans, which put the employee in the driver’s seat to mitigate their vulnerability
  • providing employers with easy-to-use reports that provide vulnerability insights on the individual, departmental, or facility level

Sources:

[1] Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker (https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/brief/potential-costs-of-coronavirus-treatment-for-people-with-employer-coverage/)

[2] Integrated Benefits Institute (https://www.ibiweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-19-Infographic.pdf)