What is a recovery-ready workplace, and why should employers consider establishing one?

In an article in the January/February issue of Benefits Magazine, author Isabelle Wettergren explains that “a recovery-ready workplace is a compassionate and supportive environment that prioritizes the well-being of employees. It is a place where organizations recognize addiction as a mental health condition, not a moral failing, and actively take steps to alleviate stigma and provide practical assistance.”

The Biden Administration has announced actions to support recovery-ready workplaces, including the development of a Recovery-Ready Workplace Toolkit. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu also has announced the creation of a national Recovery-Friendly Workplace National Institute to support states and employers in the development of recovery-friendly workplace policies.

Recovery-ready workplace initiatives are an important piece of addressing employee mental health, which is an emerging focus for employee wellness programs, Wettergren writes. Employers that take the steps to establish a recovery-ready workplace can reduce the costs of substance use disorder (SUD), estimated at $81 billion annually, including increases in absenteeism and use of extra sick days, injuries and accident rates, premature deaths and fatal accidents, theft and turnover, she adds. Employee productivity also decreases, thus lowering the morale of co-workers who have to pick up the slack.

Wettergren, who is a workplace wellness consultant, will present “From Addiction to Advocacy: Fostering a Supportive and inclusive Workplace for Employees With Substance Use Disorder” during the 34th Annual Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference April 8-12 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Her article offers the following tips for employers that want to establish a recovery-ready workplace.

  • Gain leadership buy-in: If leaders commit to establishing a recovery-ready workplace and champion the cause, it will set the tone for the entire organization.
  • Conduct a needs assessment: Employers need to gain an understanding of the prevalence of SUDs and identifying any existing support and policies.
  • Develop and implement policies. These policies will address issues such as nondiscrimination, confidentiality, reasonable accommodations and access to treatment resources. Wettergren notes that employers should consult with a lawyer to ensure that these policies comply with relevant laws and regulations.
  • Provide education and training: This can include training managers and human resources (HR) personnel how to recognize signs of addiction and how to provide support to employees. Offering workshops on topics such as stigma reduction, resilience, healthy boundaries, values, career interests and more can benefit all employes.
  • Establish or enhance employee assistance programs (EAPs): Employees must be aware of these programs and know how to access them. 
  • Foster better communication and awareness: Awareness campaigns can reduce stigma and foster open discussions about addiction and recovery, while demonstrating the organization’s commitment to supporting recovery
  • Create a supportive environment: The workplace culture should encourage employees to seek help without fear of judgment or reprisal and promote inclusivity and empathy.
  • Offer reasonable accommodations: Employees in recovery should be informed about their legal rights regarding treatment and reasonable accommodations. Again, Wettergren recommends seeking legal counsel to ensure that the organization is willing and prepared to provide these accommodations as needed.
  • Form community partnerships: Connecting with local addiction treatment centers, recovery-supportive organizations and community resources can improve employee access to treatment services and support networks.
  • Gather feedback and evaluate: Feedback on the effectiveness of initiatives will help reveal the need for changes and improvements.
  • Monitor and ensure accountability: Collecting data on measures such as absenteeism or benefits utilization will provide information on the effectiveness of recovery-ready policies.
  • Promote employee involvement: Affinity groups, employee resource groups or similar forums allow employees to share experiences and contribute to the development of supportive programs. Groups could promote the safety and inclusion of sober, sober-curious employees and recovery community allies. 
  • Celebrate success stories: Sharing stories of employees who have successfully navigated recovery can reduce stigma and showcase the organization’s commitment to recovery.

“Starting a recovery-ready workplace is a transformative journey that requires commitment, empathy and concrete actions,” Wettergren writes in her article. While the steps may seem overwhelming, she notes that many employers already have systems in place that can help them start.

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS

Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation Favorite Foundation Product: The Foundation magazines: Benefits Magazine and Plans & Trusts Benefits Related Topics That Interest Her Most: Financial literacy, health and wellness programs Favorite Foundation Conference Moment: Hearing attendees sing “O, Canada” at Canadian Annual in addition to hearing the anthem sung in both French and English. Personal Insight: Whether she’s collecting information for a magazine story or hanging out with her family and friends, you know Kathy is fully engaged. Her listening ear and introspective nature provide reassuring presence to those enjoying her company.

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