Addiction is a widespread issue affecting millions of Americans. Substance abuse disorders can negatively impact employees’ work performance, well-being, and personal lives. As an employer, you play a critical role in supporting employees who are overcoming addiction. With compassion, dedication, and access to proper resources, you can help create a supportive work environment that sets employees up for success in their recovery journey.
According to addiction specialist Dr. Louise Stanger, “Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain in complex ways. Like other chronic diseases, it requires comprehensive long-term treatment and ongoing support to manage. Employers are in a unique position to provide that supportive structure and make a huge difference in the lives of staff members struggling with addiction.”
Here’s how you can make a difference in the lives of your employees overcoming addiction:
9 Ways to Support Employees During Recovery
There are several steps employers can take to assist employees in sustaining addiction recovery:
1. Educate Yourself and Management on Addiction and Recovery
The first key step is to educate yourself and management on all aspects of addiction and recovery. Increasing understanding through training reduces stigma and equips managers to identify signs of addiction, handle sensitive conversations, and make reasonable accommodations to support recovery.
Ensure managers understand the nature of addiction as a disease, options for treatment and recovery, and laws like FMLA and ADA that protect employees.
2. Review and Update Your Drug-Free Workplace Policy
Take time to thoroughly review and update your drug-free workplace policy with a lens of support and rehabilitation over punishment. Outline counseling services and treatment programs available to proactively assist employees struggling with substance abuse disorders.
As Jennifer Morehead, CEO of Flex HR, advises, “Policies should clearly encourage employees to ask for help without fear of retaliation, job loss, or discrimination.” Make sure the policy communicates your company’s commitment to supporting staff members on their recovery journey.
3. Have Compassionate Conversations
If you suspect an employee may be dealing with addiction, schedule a private meeting to discuss your concerns in a caring and compassionate manner. Actively listen without judgment and recommend they take advantage of counseling services or other company resources for support.
4. Facilitate Access to Professional Treatment
Strongly encourage and facilitate the employee taking time off to seek professional treatment, such as rehab or intensive outpatient programs. Support flexible use of sick days, FMLA leave, or a temporary leave of absence so they can focus fully on recovery. Continuing their salary and benefits during treatment can help lift the financial stress often accompanying addiction.
5. Provide Ongoing Support After Treatment
After completing initial treatment, employees will likely need ongoing support and accommodations, especially during their first year of recovery.
Schedule regular check-ins to discuss their job performance, satisfaction, and any challenges faced. Provide positive feedback on progress and offer counsel if issues arise. Consider accommodations like a flexible or reduced schedule, change in responsibilities, reassignment, or the ability to attend counseling or support groups.
6. Promote Employee Wellness and a Healthy Environment
Take a big-picture view of employee wellness across your organization. Implement training to reduce drug and alcohol misuse. Offer programs promoting mental health and addiction recovery. Make sure workloads and expectations are reasonable and realistic to minimize undue stress. Limit the availability of alcohol at company events and lead by example with your own healthy behavior.
7. Protect Privacy and Maintain Confidentiality
Keep details about employees seeking treatment and accommodation for addiction recovery strictly confidential. Only share information on a need-to-know basis with HR and managers directly involved in providing support.
8. Apply Policies Consistently and Fairly
It is vital for workplace culture to hold all employees to the same standards of behavior and performance outlined in company policies. Do not make exceptions or excuses that enable addiction. Make sure you document performance problems and policy violations. Consult legal counsel for guidance on terminations.
9. Seek Expert Guidance on Legal Obligations
There are complex legal considerations around supporting employees with addiction issues. Consult knowledgeable legal counsel to ensure you meet the requirements of ADA, FMLA, HIPAA and other regulations.
Supporting employees through addiction requires diligence and care. But it can truly make a difference in the lives of employees facing addiction challenges.
Follow these best practices to guide employees toward recovery while building a supportive, understanding workplace culture. With the right help and continued accountability, those struggling with addiction can overcome this dreadful disease and thrive both personally and professionally.