Employers Can Be Champions For Recovery

By Alison Webb

Are you an employer who cares about making your community a place where your employees can all lead healthy lives? If you answered “yes,” you can be a recovery ally.

Recovery allies are family members and friends of people in recovery, professionals, community groups and concerned citizens who share an interest in supporting people in recovery from substance use disorder. A recovery ally may be a person in recovery, but not necessarily. Perhaps the most important quality of a recovery ally is the ability to provide meaningful nonjudgmental support, empathy and encouragement to people in recovery. As allies, we use our passion, position and resources to make positive change in our communities. Employers can play a crucial role in supporting recovery.

Work helps us maintain our mental health and well-being, and for people in recovery, work is especially important. It provides meaningful daily activities, as well as independent income and resources to participate fully in society. Employment is one key aspect of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency.

In short, work aids recovery.

People in recovery have special challenges when entering or re-entering the workforce. Employers can be aware of these challenges and work to create recovery-friendly hiring practices and work environments.

Hiring Practices.

People in recovery may have criminal records.

Communicating to job applicants that a criminal record does not automatically disqualify a person from employment is critically important to people who may be discouraged from even applying. People in recovery may also have gaps in their employment records that cannot easily be explained without disclosing drug or alcohol use.

As an employer, you can create a safe space for employees to disclose their recovery status and let them know you care about their wellbeing.

Job Skills.

People in recovery may have missed opportunities to build “soft skills” such as self-motivation, perseverance, problem solving, time management, communication and accountability. They may lack self-confidence, and they may have low expectations of their own abilities to achieve. Employers can recognize these obstacles and provide training opportunities, including those for developing new skills, and informal mentoring programs where employees in early recovery are paired with more seasoned workers. Employers can also be sensitive to specific needs for structure and accountability by making sure job expectations are clear and supervisors are supportive of the recovery process.

Discrimination.

People in recovery face discrimination and stigma in the workplace. Employers can address discrimination by making sure hiring practices do not place people with a criminal history or substance use disorder at a disadvantage, and they can help reduce stigma by using person first language, such as “a person with substance use disorder,” rather than “addict” or “alcoholic.”

Recovery Support Services and benefits.

Employers can learn about the recovery support services in their community and encourage employees in recovery to access these services. To the extent it is financially viable, employers can support people in recovery by providing health insurance that includes treatment and recovery support services, and Employee Assistance Programs that provide counseling and support for specific challenges that may arise.

Workplace Culture.

Employers can learn about the many paths of recovery and educate their employees as well. Understanding and celebrating all paths to recovery is a powerful way to show employees in recovery that you value them and support their chosen path.

Mission-Driven Employment.

Employers may choose to go beyond supporting recovery in the workplace and create a mission focused company that specifically hires people in recovery. Employers can reach out to local recovery residences and treatment facilities to link with potential employees in early recovery. Maine Works, an industrial staffing company in Portland, is one such company that intentionally hires and supports people with felony convictions and people in recovery from substance use disorders.

Actions that employers take to maintain a drug-free workplace,
such as employee wellness programs and appropriate drug testing, can also contribute to a recovery friendly workplace. The Workplace Toolkit for employers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a helpful resource.

Employers can be some of the most effective and powerful voices support recovery. Not only can they provide support directly to people in recovery, but they can also help others understand the importance of empathy, understanding, fairness and mutual respect. They can work with municipal officers to make sure local housing policies do not discriminate against people in recovery, and they can work with policy makers to change state policies to support recovery.

Employers can speak in positive terms about the possibility of recovery and the hope that a healthy lifestyle offers. Employers as allies can raise awareness and build bridges by being active publicly, practicing acceptance and support for people in recovery, and speaking out on their behalf.

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