Last year, many companies made strides towards more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Despite progress, one group of workers still faces significant challenges due to insufficient support and too much stigma – workers in long-term recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs).
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies addiction as a disability. But even though the ADA legally protects workers from discrimination based on disability, it fails to support workers in long-term recovery for two reasons. The first is the stigma that surrounds SUD and the second is the lack of awareness.
There are 25 million people in recovery from addiction issues in the United States, and chances are some of them will work for you. Most likely, you don’t know who they are, because they don’t talk about it. They’ve worked hard to overcome a serious mental health issue and they fear the stigma will get them fired or make them look like a promotion. This is because too many people fail to understand that TUS does not reflect a lack of discipline or human weakness, but rather mental health issues.
In order to create a truly inclusive workplace, companies need to do more to support and welcome employees in the long-term recovery phase. Here are five ways to do it:
1. Ask senior management to share their recovery status.
One of the most effective ways to impact corporate culture is for senior leaders to lead the way. If managers in long-term recovery are willing to open up about their journeys and recovery status, let them. They can share at a staff meeting, or even include their status in their internal bios, signaling to others that recovery is far from avoided in the workplace. On the contrary, it is celebrated.
As Lionrock Recovery’s Director of Human Resources, I often introduce myself by saying, “I am a person in long-term recovery. I am giving you this information because I want you to know that there are people in recovery long-term . . who struggle with substance use disorders that don’t look and sound like you think they do.”
2. Create workplace traditions that people who abstain from drinking can participate in.
Consider how prevalent alcohol is in our work culture – from cocktail networking events to team building events to corporate parties. Drinking alcohol often plays a huge role in how we celebrate business success and build relationships with co-workers.
Try to create events that focus on activities other than alcohol consumption. Add structured activities, like golf or bowling. Serve non-alcoholic beverages that allow recovering colleagues to blend in with everyone. Don’t tolerate a culture that insists on drinking alcohol to fit in.
3. Create and promote self-care programs.
Self-care is an important part of recovery. Just as companies promote work-life balance, they should also promote self-care. Offer grants for gyms, 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 for their disability, whatever it may be.
4. Create an employee resource group (ERG) focused on recovery.
Companies have ERGs for so many affinity groups including working parents, BIPOC workers, etc. Why not gift one for long-term recovery? ERGs help educate and support employees and lead to higher retention rates – and they’re relatively easy to start and maintain.
5. Provide resources for employees in long-term recovery.
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 recovery keynote speaker for company events.
True inclusion means including and supporting diversity of all types – those you can see and those you cannot see – and long-term recovery must be part of a comprehensive inclusion program.