Seven Tips for Creating a Recovery-Supportive Workplace
(November 2019) The thought of hiring or retaining a person in recovery, with a history of alcohol or other drug issues, may bubble up feelings of concern and apprehension. But because of scientific advancements like brain imaging technology, we now know that addiction is a brain disease that is preventable and treatable – similar to other behavior-related, chronic diseases like heart disease and Type II diabetes. And while it may seem easier to understand how to support employees with other chronic diseases, supporting employees in recovery from substance use disorder is not difficult and often benefits the employer too.
A recovery-supportive workplace is a workplace whose culture and operations reflect an understanding of addiction (also referred to as moderate/severe substance use disorder) and works to motivate and support employees in recovery while protecting the company and its other employees.
But it’s not just the employee that benefits from a supportive workplace. Employers who offer second chances benefit, too. Research shows that employees in recovery have lower turnover, absenteeism and health care costs than the general workforce. On top of that, terminating an employee instead of offering assistance can be expensive – costing an employer an estimated 25-200% of an employee’s annual compensation to replace them – not to mention the loss of knowledge and experience.
Tips for success
The foundation of a recovery-supportive workplace is a drug-responsible program that includes comprehensive, written policies and procedures (e.g., drug-free workplace, attendance, time off and other HR issues), annual employee education and supervisor training, drug testing and a plan with resources to assist employees who need it.
Beyond having this type of responsible foundation, here are seven other ways employers can support employees in recovery:
- Establish a culture that treats addiction as a medical condition – train supervisors about the disease and the warning signs of a set-back, establish low or no-use alcohol consumption guidelines at social gatherings and discourage inappropriate alcohol and other drug-related jokes and put-downs.
- Encourage employees in recovery to be upfront and honest if they feel their recovery is in danger – just as you would encourage an employee recovering from a heart attack to speak up if their symptoms returned. Sometimes relapse does occur, which typically means treatment needs to be adjusted. However, relapse rates for substance use disorder are about the same as for high blood pressure.
- Employees may need time off for ongoing support or treatment. Evaluate your time off and flextime policies through the lens of an employee managing a disease over a lifetime.
- Be sure all appropriate release forms are signed to enable you to communicate with your employee’s counselor.
Having a support system and a sense of purpose and contribution only improves employees’ chances of staying in recovery.
- Hold employees accountable to your usual work standards and refer for assistance or take appropriate disciplinary action if their work performance is not up to par.
- Do follow-up alcohol and/or drug testing as recommended by a counselor and directed by your drug-free workplace policy.
- Encourage work/life balance and overall wellness to minimize stress, which can trigger a setback.
It is important to know that there may be laws and authorities that require employers to take certain actions in relation to an employee in recovery. Therefore, it’s prudent to seek legal counsel to address all issues of accommodation, especially as they relate to your policy and practices related to handling medical conditions.
Continued exposure to education and research will increase awareness and knowledge on this topic. Visit https://www.workingpartners.com/recoverysupportiveworkplaceresources/ for additional information on recovery-supportive workplaces, including an infographic and a video you can easily share with others.