How to Support Employees in Recovery


Addiction is a disease, and your staff members struggling with this condition deserve every bit as much love and support as those with other medical disorders. Your treatment of them can play a crucial role in their recovery. 

What can you do to encourage those staff members who need it to seek help? Here are five ways that you can support employees in recovery and help them return to the workforce. 

1. Learn the Signs of Trouble 

It isn’t always apparent that one of your staff members struggles with addiction. For example, high-functioning alcoholics may seem to have a perfect life — a competitive salary, happy home life and outside interests. However, their abuse of the bottle can nevertheless affect their on-the-job performance, leading to possible accidents and even liability issues. 

However, you might want to speak privately with employees who demonstrate any of the following behaviors:

  • Increased absenteeism: Employees who rarely took sick days may suddenly call out — particularly on Monday morning. 
  • Deterioration in relationships: A staff member who formerly got along well with colleagues may become aloof and standoffish.
  • Financial trouble: Your employee may suddenly begin asking for pay advances or to take a loan from you. 

You might also notice that formerly fashionable employees begin letting their appearance go. They might also gain or lose weight as their habit interferes with getting adequate nutrition. 

Please note that any of the above behaviors can occur for reasons other than addiction. For example, another chronic illness could leave one of your staff in a financially tough spot. However, it warrants a discussion — your intervention could save a career, possibly a life. 

2. Provide Resources 

Many employers have an employee assistance protocol designed to help those workers who struggle with various issues. If you don’t have such a resource, please consider establishing one. It could cost you far less than letting people go only to replace them. 

On average, it costs businesses anywhere from six months to two years of an employee’s salary to replace that worker. That’s a sizable chunk of change gone from your pocket that you could better spend helping those staff who need it. 

Plus, frequent staff upheavals cause issues with other staff members. They might not understand the reason for the turnover —  they only see what appears like a revolving door. 

Ensure that you distribute information about your program to all staff members so that individuals don’t feel targeted. It’s also wise to have representatives from human resources speak individually with employees and refer specific individuals to the program. 

3. Intervene Privately 

Those who struggle with addiction face considerable stigma in today’s society. The person affected may legitimately fear the effect on their career and income if they seek help. They may also want to hide their affliction from their colleagues. 

As an employer, you can facilitate getting them help by approaching them privately regarding your concerns. Establish a one-to-one meeting for your intervention, although you may wish to include a neutral third-party witness. Remember, it isn’t your job to diagnose the individual — rather, offer support and concern for their performance in the workplace.

4. Offer Leave 

Treatment for substance abuse disorder occurs on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Staff members who need more intensive treatment may need several weeks off of work to go through detox. 

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within 12 months. The rule applies to all private-sector employers with 50 or more employees. 

What if you have a smaller operation and losing a key player will severely impact daily operations? In such cases, you might want to communicate more closely with the employee to work out a hybrid arrangement that decreases their workload temporarily while they seek treatment.

For example, you could have staff members who are in recovery treatment check in by phone or Zoom while seeking in-patient treatment. Doing so might require coordination between you and the medical facility. Some places limit contact with the outside world while patients heal — collaborate, communicate and see what you can arrange.

5. Create an Uplifting Office Environment 

What creates addiction in the first place? Many people begin abusing substances to cope with excessive stress — including in the workplace. Is your office environment as supportive and inclusive as possible? 

Employees appreciate workplaces where their needs and contributions are seen and recognized. Do you allow adequate break times throughout the day? Do you promote shared values, like emphasizing positivity? Do you recognize those staff members who go above and beyond? 

You can’t control the outside factors like relationship issues that might contribute to your employee’s problems. However, you can ensure your office environment remains free of toxicity that can place undue pressure on those who struggle with addiction. 

Support Your Employees in Recovery

As an employer, it pays to retain your valued staff members. Support your employees in recovery with these tips.

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