The past year has seen many companies move towards more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Despite the progress made, one group of workers still faces significant challenges due to lack of support and severe stigma – working in long-term recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies addiction as a disability. But although the ADA legally protects workers from disability discrimination, it falls short of supporting workers in long-term recovery for two reasons. The first is the stigma surrounding SUDs and the second is the lack of awareness.
There are 25 million people recovering from drug problems in the United States, and some of them will likely work for you. Very likely, you don’t know who they are, because they don’t talk about it. They have worked hard to overcome a serious mental health issue, and fear the stigma will lead to them being fired or being overtaken for a promotion. This is because many people do not understand that SUDs do not reflect a lack of discipline or human weakness, but rather mental health problems.
In order to create a truly inclusive workplace, companies must do more to support and embrace employees in their long-term recovery. Here are five ways to do this:
1. Ask the senior leadership to share the state of your recovery.
One of the most effective ways to influence company culture is for senior executives to lead the way. If managers in their long-term recovery are willing to talk about their recovery journeys and situation, let them do so. They can participate in a staff meeting, or even include their status on their internal resumes – signaling to others that recovery is far from pariah in the workplace. Instead, it is celebrated.
As the Lionrock Recovery Principal, I often introduce myself by saying, “I am a long-term recovery person. I am giving you this piece of information because I want you to know that there are people in long-term recovery with substance use disorders who don’t look the way you think they are. They’re doing it.”
2. Create traditions in the workplace in which people who abstain from drinking can participate.
Consider how pervasive alcohol is in our workplace culture – from cocktail networking events to team building events to corporate holiday parties. Alcohol consumption often plays a key role in how we celebrate the success of a company and build relationships with co-workers.
Aim to create events that focus on activities other than drinking. Add some organized activities, such as golf or bowling. Offer non-alcoholic beverages that allow recovery mates to blend in with everyone else. Do not tolerate a culture that insists on drinking in order to assimilate.
3. Create and promote self-care programs.
Self-care is an important part of recovery. Just as companies promote work-life balance, so should they promote self-care. Offer subsidies to the gym, meditation groups, and walking clubs. Check with employees to see if and how they take care of themselves. Make sure your employees feel encouraged to request accommodations that support their disability — whatever it may be.
4. Establish a Recovery Focused Personnel Resource Group (ERG).
Companies have ERGs for many related groups, including working parents, BIPOC workers, etc. Why not offer one for long-term recovery? ERG helps educate and support employees and leads to higher retention rates – and is relatively easy to start and maintain.
5. Provide resources for employees in the long-term recovery period.
Create and share a database of support services for people in long-term recovery. Include educational materials for all employees that educate and reduce stigma and misinformation. Consider hiring a keynote speaker in recovering from company events.
True inclusion means including and supporting diversity of all kinds – those you can see and those you can’t – and long-term recovery must be part of a comprehensive inclusion programme.