Give this little experiment a try. Select a topic you in which you have absolutely no interest. Perhaps Big Foot sightings , UFO news, or the “debate” over global warming. Use your smartphone to search a couple of websites or your news app to track a few stories. No big deal, right? Within a few days, you may notice your news feed or social media begins feeding you news based on this new “interest”.

Why is this a problem? Social media and many news search services will use your past searches to send you stories that have the effect of not only reinforcing your views but reinforcing any view that coincides with even a passing interest. If you start searching stories on how poor workers’ compensation systems are, you will begin receiving more and more stories that reinforce this view.

The reputation of a workers’ compensation system is damaged by a thousand negative stories shared just once or twice; it is just as vulnerable to a single negative story shared a thousand times (Just look at your Facebook Feed). The self-reinforcing nature of current social networks and news services are making this scenario more common. Even if the original story is speculative, inaccurate, one-sided or plainly “fake news”, it undermines reputation of the workers’ compensation system.[Example and background, see Feldman, Lauren; Teresa A. Myers, Jay D. Hmielowski, and Anthony Leiserowitz “The Mutual Reinforcement of Media Selectivity and Effects: Testing the Reinforcing Spirals Framework in the Context of Global Warming” Journal of Communication Vol 64: 590–611].

Why is this so important? Public confidence in the workers’ compensation and occupational safety and health systems are critical to their mandate. Eroded reputation based on spurious accounts of wrongdoing discredit important information on safety, health, and rights to compensation leading to under-reporting of hazards, suppression of work-injuries, and increased barriers to entitlements.

More critically, the resulting loss of information regarding workplace injury and its costs may lead to inaccurate risk assessment and underinvestment in prevention. This raises the potential of harm to workers and other persons in the workplace.

To be clear, reputation is not just a public or worker matter nor is it only a concern for state funds, provincial workers’ compensation boards, or OH&S inspectorates. All players in the system need to be concerned about their own reputations and that of the overall workers’ compensation system in their jurisdiction and beyond. Employer or provider complaints can be just as damaging. As we have seen in other domains, if you can’t rapidly resolve complaints, counter misinformation with fact, and demonstrate performance with authority (research, external reviews) then the reputational impact will be severe. Not only will detractors be energize but supporters will fall silent and the ambivalent may shift support to any alternative even if it is unproven.

Current privacy and political restrictions often restrict responses to criticism. A workers’ compensation insurer may be unable to respond about a particular case because of privacy laws meant to protect the worker and his or her family. State funds may be precluded from advertizing prior to an election or even informing a debate on performance with new data.

Protecting and improving system reputation is becoming more difficult. Poorly operating systems are going to have poor reputations—they earn and deserve that; however, even systems that objectively rank among the highest for customer service, public contribution, value and timeliness will find reputation management an increasingly difficult challenge. Averting erosion of hard-earned social capital means workers’ compensation systems must actively provide evidence of excellent of performance, demonstrate transparency, and actively respond to fake news and inaccurate reporting.

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