In my view, the two biggest things companies can do is take active steps to educate their workforce about this important topic, and promote discussions that aim to de-stigmatize the topic. For us, education was the focus of our partnership with Shatterproof, where we made materials available through JustFive. Bite-sized, publicly available information was critical to not just those suffering, but for those caring for others.
To reduce stigma, we took several steps. First we involved our leadership, including our CEO who hosted a company wide discussion with Gary Mendell, CEO of Shatterproof. This conversation, in my opinion, set a tone to the entire organization that this was a topic we prioritized and were open to discussing. Additionally, we also worked with Shatterproof to create manager training – to help managers support Team Members with less stigma.
Recovery-ready workplaces believe individuals in recovery from substance use disorders (SUD) possess unique strengths and can add tremendous value to the workplace. These employers commit to providing employees access to whatever they need to help them achieve and maintain long-term recovery. To achieve this goal in an organizational context, employers must first gather information about employee substance use/misuse.
It is important to determine to what extent organizational culture encourages or promotes the use of substances. Results from this assessment quantify whether employees have an interest in learning more about SUD, perceive a need for higher levels of support and/or desire to change their personal or corporate-level behaviors. The extent that employees identify the need for and willingness to commit to individual or corporate-wide change must be captured and analyzed to identify programs and/or initiatives most effective in meeting these needs.
A first step an employer should take in creating a recovery-ready workplace is to reduce stigma by having an open dialog about substance use disorder with employees led by leadership. Help employees understand that substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder are treatable medical conditions, this will help shed shame and judgment that employees may be feeling if they are struggling.
Share the resources available for employees and their families such as health benefits, EAPs and other support systems the organization has in place. Additionally, look at the workplace culture to see how the environment could be more inclusive for those in recovery such as alternatives to traditional happy hours or other events that include alcohol.
Employers should take action now – the impact of substance use disorder (SUD) in the workplace isn’t new, but the ongoing opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic heighten the risk to your employees and organization. You can lower that risk by embracing employees who are in or seeking recovery.
Partner with experts in the field of addiction and recovery to ensure: employees’ insurance coverage supports mental health and SUDs; employees have educational and preventative resources to learn more about SUD and the stigma that accompanies it; there are clear and accessible pathways for employees to ask for help when needed; and you have policies in place to welcome these employees back to work in a way that supports ongoing recovery. It may be a culture shift, but the benefits to your workplace, to reduce costs, to improve safety and to save lives, is bigger than the risk of not doing it.
From our research, there are two key data points that employers should keep in mind about employees with or at risk for substance use disorder (SUD). 38% of respondents with a current substance use disorder and 34% of those at risk don’t think they can afford treatment or that their insurance would cover it, making it the top reason respondents delay their decision to seek treatment for substance use.
Additionally, respondents who are open to treatment are most likely to consider mental health therapy/treatment (51% current SUD, 44% at risk) or a support group (45% each) if they decide to seek treatment. Employers can ultimately help employees open to treatment by informing them about coverage options and alternative treatment options in local communities.