Becoming a Claims Adjuster: The 6 Stages of Grieving

It’s a typical Friday. Everyone who doesn’t work weekends is bustling to wrap up any loose ends (or as we in the biz call it, “putting out fires”) so we don’t have any especially nasty voicemails waiting for us on Monday. I’m taking yet another break and have wandered from my desk, only to run into my good friend Stew and a fellow coworker, Stevie. Stew is graciously lending an ear to her current work-rant. I drop in and insert myself into their conversation, because I’m rude that way.

To preface: Stew, Stevie and I all work in non-injury liability claims. This is a department in which most claims adjusters begin. It is stressful and high volume, and there are about a million things you need to know before you can handle 1 claim. We determine liability, or fault, in automobile accidents in 7 states in the southeast. Each state has its own specific guidelines and hoops to jump through.  That being said, this department has a high turnover and burnout rate. If you are lucky, and can manage to keep swimming, you get out within a year to a year and a half. Unless they don’t let you. (This is also a department that is constantly understaffed).

Now, Stevie is a bit newer than Stew and me. She has not yet come full circle in her Claims Adjuster Metamorphosis. She is angry and stressed to the point of constant shrillness. As she launches into a tirade about our sub department (you don’t need to know what that means), Stew and I calmly listen. When she pauses for breath, we smooth her hair and begin to explain the 6 Stages of Grieving:

Stage 1: Cautious Optimism.

Yay!! I got a job! I have rockin’ benefits! I’m confident and ready to work! You begin your first days bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, prepared to show your supervisors your excitement and determination to excel. You listen attentively during your training, eager to understand this (increasingly) complicated business. Your trainers assure you they will aptly prepare you before you even get handed a claim. You inwardly sigh with relief every time that sentence is uttered.

Stage 2: Nervous Tingles.

Your training is coming to an end. Much like cramming for finals in a week, you feel slightly overwhelmed with the mountain of information you’ve been force-fed. Your trainers advise you that, given how high the volume is right now (PS: It’s ALWAYS high) you’ll start receiving claims a little sooner than expected, but don’t worry! They’ll be beside you every step of the way. Don’t worry! You’ll get very simple, uncomplicated ones to start. Don’t worry! They’ve prepared you.

Stage 3: Um… REALLY Nervous Tingles, aka Anxiety Horizon

You’re moved to sitting with your “team”, your manager at the head of the row. Your mates are friendly and helpful, although you feel slightly guilty because you’re constantly bothering them with questions. You know you spent a week learning the computer system in which you handle claims, but every task is lengthy and time-consuming. Half of what you’ve learned is now forgotten, and you feverishly pore through your handbook every 5 seconds  to find answers.

You’re getting a few claims a day. You’re not “on” to receive them all the time like the veterans; after all, they don’t want to overwhelm you. Regardless, your pending is creeping slowly but surely upwards. You find yourself making this pathetic squeaky noise every time your phone rings, although you’re not sure how… Every time a customer asks a completely normal question, you have to put them on hold and run to the nearest manager, terrified to give an answer without confirmation that it’s correct.

Stage 4: Full blown Hysteria.

You’re on “Full claims load” 3 weeks sooner than your manager initially told you. Sorry, they simper, but it’s REALLY busy right now. Your phone never stops ringing. You find yourself jumping from claim to claim, and everything you read is Chinese. You bite your lip until you taste blood, trying and failing to not cry at your desk. You can’t sleep. You have nightmares of claims left untouched for months, of policyholders screaming your ear off and complaining to your boss’s boss’s boss. You begin to daydream of winning the lottery and quitting your job. In reality you’re in sight of taking up an addiction of some kind to ease the stress.

Stage 5: Fire breathing Anger

You’ve finally managed to tame your pending, but it hits a wall that’s still 30 feet high and you can’t manage to get a leg up. The sound of your phone heats your blood. You begin to tire of the same complaints over and over again. Policyholder 1: “I don’t have rental coverage??? How am I going to get to work??!”. Policyholder 2: “What do you MEAN I have to pay my deductible?? It wasn’t my fault!!” You grit your teeth and scowl at the never ending, petulant whining. Every setback sends you into a tailspin of fury, spitting and cussing under your breath. Occasionally you wonder if your desk mate thinks you’ve gone insane.

Stage 6: Complacency.

Aaah. It’s finally happened. You’ve broken through the barrier. You no longer give a shit when someone’s yelling your ear off, because deep down, you know you have (will always have) the upper hand. You begin an internal mantra, unique to those complaints that previously enraged you. Mine you ask? One of my pet peeves: people who are upset because they either 1) don’t have rental coverage; or 2) expect to an upgrade to their rental coverage because WHATEVER bullshit reason. As soon as they get started, I zone out and croon to myself: ‘Insurance is a CONTRACT. You get WHAT YOU PAY FOR.’

You’ve finally learned enough shortcuts to keep your pending manageable, maybe even low. You’ve finally grasped perhaps the most important thing about non-injury claims adjusting: you don’t have to know the answer, you just have to know who to send them to. You are so adept at deflecting you feel as if you’re made of rubber. And then you pity those who have yet to complete the cycle.

This is my job. In a nutshell.

Current Jam: “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin

8 thoughts on “Becoming a Claims Adjuster: The 6 Stages of Grieving

  1. I have to say, this article matches my experience as a PD adjuster EXACTLY!

    I never made it to step 6 though, I put in my resignation last week after just over one year.

    Excellent article and thank you for the laughs!

  2. This was a great blog entry. Very insightful for a job seeker (or anyone who’s not a CA for that matter). Thanks for giving me a realistic glimpse into what it’s like!

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