Is personality testing the future of claims prevention and management

When we are considering the factors impacting a person’s recovery, should we be giving more weight to the role of an individual’s personality features on the trajectory of their recovery? KRISTIN TINKER reports.

There are so many factors that affect a person’s recovery from injury. Typically, Insurers, Employers, Rehabilitation Providers, Doctors and all other involved parties look towards known “risk factors” of a claim becoming protracted. But what role does a person’s personality have on their recovery, and should we be using personality profiling as a key predictive tool to identify long term claims?

Regardless of the compensation context or injury type, there are several easily-identifiable risk factors which indicate the potential for a claim to become difficult, complex, stuck and expensive- ie: long term. Utilising a best practice framework for barrier identification, one can take a flags-based approach to identify potential risk factors. We consider injury type and treatment quality (red flags), psycho-social influences including the availability of quality social support, financial pressures, attitude towards compensation, risk-taking behaviours (yellow flags), level of vocational content, relationship with manager, supervisor and colleagues, workplace culture, perceived level of workplace support (blue flags), and any legal factors present (black flags).

The flags-based approach is widely used as a method to identify all the potential factors impacting a person’s recovery, and subsequently allows for strategies to be devised to overcome the potential of these barriers becoming a reality.

But when we are considering the factors impacting a person’s recovery, should we be giving more weight to the role of an individual’s personality features on the trajectory of their recovery?

We are all different. Our physical appearance is made difference our by eye and hair colour, skin colour, body shape and size. Our personalities are made different by the unique characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that vary from person to person.

Research that demonstrates the relationship between personality types, resilience and perception about quality of life is not new. In 2003, Wrosch and Scherer demonstrated that personality affects quality of life by influencing how people approach and react to critical life situations. Overall, the found that “individual differences in people’s abilities to adjust to … goals are associated with a good quality of life.” Personality styles colour our emotional reactions to life events, and when combined with individual differences affecting our ability to manage these life events, such as emotional resilience, the potential recovery path can be immensely different between two people faced with the same emotional reaction.

So the question remains- how can we use this information to identify claimants which may be at a higher risk of complex claims and delayed recovery? Is the concept of personality profiling for known risk factors something that can be utilized as a recruitment strategy to allow organisations to have increased control over their claim profile, and thus Workers Compensation premium?

Personality types explained – The big five

In psychology, “The Big Five” are five broad dimensions of personality that are used to describe someone’s personality. The Big Five personality traits are independent, and include Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness and Openness to Experience.

A summary of the factors of the Big Five and their associated traits:

  • Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine.
  • Conscientiousness: (efficient/ organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
  • Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness: (friendly/ compassionate vs. analytical/ detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
  • Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability” 

So what does the research suggest about personality and recovery?

In 2008, Wall, Ogloff and Morrissey used an Australian population to compare the personality traits of injured workers who had returned to (or remained at) work with non-injured workers. The outcomes suggested that those who sustained work-related injuries demonstrated higher levels of Neuroticism and lower levels of Extraversion – indicating greater emotional instability and lower capacity for adaptively coping with stress when compared to non-injured workers.

Injured workers also reported greater levels of depressive symptoms, somatic complaints, anxiety and sleep disturbance in comparison with non-injured workers. In a separate study in 2008, Wall, Morrissey and Ogloff explored the influence of personality traits on injured workers’ interaction with workers’ compensation systems. They used three groups of study participants at various levels of involvement with the Australian workers’ compensation system: previous claimants, current claimants, and nonclaimant workers. Significant differences in personality traits were found between these groups of compensation claimants. Current compensation claimants displayed greater emotional instability and introversion compared with those less acutely involved in the compensation system. Current claimants also experienced clinically significant levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, and reported reduced social functioning, relative to previous and non-claimants, respectively. Overall, subtle differences were found to exist in personality and psychological health between groups of workers at different levels of involvement with the workers’ compensation system.

According to Gatchel, Polatin, & Kinney, (1995), personality disorders are found in concentrated levels within Workers Compensation populations with up to four times that expected in the community. They explained that these rates of pathology are not fully explained by pre-existing worker vulnerabilities or by the severity of the workplace injury (Dersh, Gatchel, Mayer, Polatin, & Temple, 2006; Dersh, Gatchel, Polatin, & Mayer, 2002; Gatchel et al., 1995; Sadigh, 1998).

The relationship between personality and physical health is also well documented. Of most recency, in 2015 Vadhara et al examined the relationship between personality traits with biological immune responses. Specifically, they considered personality and patterns of gene expression– that is, how geared up our body is to deal with threats to our immune system. And the results of their research led to some interesting insights into how personality type may affect our immune system functioning. They found that extraversion was associated with increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes, while Conscientiousness was associated with reduced expression of pro-inflammatory genes. The authors concluded that extroverts have a greater ability to deal with infection and injury, however also found that there are downsides to increased levels of inflammation, including a higher probability of developing auto-immune diseases.

So where to from here?

Research is beginning to emerge showing the impact that personality has on an individual’s vulnerability to sustain illness (both physical and psychological illnesses). Personality makes someone more vulnerable to developing illness, and also, to affect their recovery.

The potential for personality testing to be used as a recruitment method for employers to impact their claim costs and duration is real.

Does the future of life insurance policies for consumers entail personality testing to determine policy premiums? Surely if personality has such an impact on health and recovery, then it is reasonable?

The potential implications are endless, however because the research is strong organisations including Employers and Insurers should consider how this can be used to have a positive impact on compensation / claim costs, and also workplace health and well-being.

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Quality of Life Research 2003, Volume 12, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 59-72 Personality and quality of life: The importance of optimism and goal adjustment, Carsten Wrosch, Michael F. Scheier

Personality and gene expression: Do individual differences exist in the leukocyte transcriptome? Kavita Vedhara; Sana Gill; Lameese Eldesouky; Bruce K. Campbell; Jesusa M.G. Arevalo; Jeffrey Ma; Steven W. Cole Psychoneuroendocrinology Vol. 59, September 2015

Personality Traits, Psychological Health, and the Workers’ Compensation System Cindy L. Wall Monash University, Australia Shirley A. Morrissey Griffith University, Australia James R.P. Ogloff Monash University, Australia Australian Journal of Rehabilitation Counselling Volume 14 Number 2 2008 pp. 55–68

Psychological consequences of work injury: Personality, trauma and psychological distress symptoms of noninjured workers and injured workers returning to, or remaining at work. Wall, Cindy L; Ogloff, James R P; Morrissey, Shirley A 2008 Citation International Journal of Disability Managment Research, Vol. 2(2), pp. 37-46