The workplace is changing. Anyone who’s read the news — or worked a job — in the past few years can tell you that. But the dynamics aren’t entirely new: Employers want motivated employees, and employees want employers that respect them and their well-being. When it clicks for both, it’s a win-win.
Increasingly, both employers and employees recognize that addiction recovery is part of this conversation, and mental wellness is a big part. In a 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association, 81% of workers voiced that employers’ support for mental health would be an “important” consideration when they looked for future work.
Smart employers who want to attract top talent grasp this, and many of them have begun to incorporate recovery-friendly practices into the workplace to help promote employee well-being.
A recovery-friendly (or “recovery-ready”) workplace shows empathy and clear support for those who are recovering from addiction and mental health difficulties, and provides certain accommodations as well. The specifics of the workplace will be unique to each company. But regardless, a person in recovery will benefit from being in an environment that considers their needs and supports their sobriety, while an employer will gain a satisfied and productive employee, not to mention a broader reputation for being proactive and inclusive.
Anyone can struggle with mental health and addiction, and the majority of people who do are already in the workplace. When they have the support to get well, everyone reaps the payoff.
Benefits of a Recovery-Friendly Workplace for Employees
For employees who are in recovery, being in an environment that is dismissive or unsupportive of their recovery can be difficult. It causes an increased level of stress, which makes going to work a burden — an unpleasant daily task. It doesn’t have to be this way. A recovery-friendly workplace, by contrast, helps employees by offering motivation and support.
When an employee feels seen, noticed and appreciated, that person is more willing to work, and to do the job well. Employees who feel comfortable and respected in the workplace have more energy and feel like they can be themselves. Everyone has problems, but if work isn’t one of them, an employee is much less likely to feel downtrodden and unmotivated to do their job.
There are many drivers of motivation. But it mostly comes down to this: When employees know they can succeed and have the resources to do so, they are more likely to be motivated. In a recovery-friendly workplace, those in recovery have that.
What does this look like in practice? It might be the knowledge that employees can adjust their schedules to deal with a trigger or make it to a counseling appointment. If a company’s health insurance package includes support for addiction recovery and mental health, that also boosts employee motivation by helping workers get care outside work.
It is essential, in a recovery-friendly workplace, for people in recovery to have support. In a work context, that generally means having a place to go when they need assistance. For example, a recovery-friendly workplace might allow employees to attend a support meeting during the day. This helps an employee who is part of a 12-step recovery program.
Support also means an atmosphere where employees can trust employers to discuss sensitive topics if relevant, as well as an absence of behaviors hostile to addiction recovery. No one needs to be pressured into attending an office party where there will be a lot of alcohol use.
Stress distracts, and support helps employees decrease their stress levels. When employees feel supported at work, they’ll have a workplace that doesn’t cause or exacerbate their problems. However, when an employee in recovery feels like they aren’t supported, they are more likely to experience high stress, to be less productive and to feel negative about the job — an undesirable situation all around.
Benefits of a Recovery-Friendly Workplace for Employers
A recovery-friendly workplace does not only benefit employees. There are many upsides for employers as well. This makes implementing one well worth the consideration. When a company’s employees are supported and treated with dignity, their work improves the company’s work. Among adults with an active drug or alcohol use disorder, 70% are employed already. There are clear advantages to helping them recover.
Attracting and Keeping Talent
Employers know that getting and keeping the right people is key, and many highly effective workers are in recovery. When a company offers a recovery-friendly workplace, it opens the door to those who are very skilled at their jobs and also in recovery. The opposite is also true. A company without a recovery-friendly workplace will bar the door to those in recovery, or certainly inhibit them from contributing their full potential.
Establishing a recovery-friendly workplace also signals to all employees and prospective employees that the company respects its employees and understands their needs. High-talent employees value companies that promote personal well-being and a diverse, inclusive workforce, according to recent Gallup polling.
Having a recovery-friendly workplace also helps a company keep its employees. A positive environment is a big plus for employees, since most people spend much of their day at work. If the workplace supports employees’ mental health and recovery, they’ll be more inclined to stay.
This is true not only for those who are currently in recovery but also those who want to seek treatment for mental health or addiction issues. A recovery-friendly workplace encourages treatment and stands by employees through the recovery process. This kind of support during tough times generally makes an employee feel more loyal to a company.
Employees who feel less stressed and more supported will be more productive. They have the space and time to do good work. Employees with a high level of stress and little support are less likely to be as productive. There are more obvious examples of improved productivity: An employee with a substance use or mental health issue who’s given the accommodations needed to address it will return a better employee.
The bottom line is the company as a whole will do better when its people are taken care of.
A final thing for employers to consider: Employees who are in recovery have gone through treatment, and treatment for addiction teaches skills that improve productivity, communication and agency, even if their main aim is promoting sobriety. For example, time management is an important aspect of recovery, but it also gives employees a leg up on task management and the ability to complete projects on a deadline.
If you’re an employer, think about what it might take to start a recovery-friendly workplace, and why you should. If you’re an employee in recovery, think about how your current or future job could enrich or hinder you. When the values and goals of employer and employee align, it can be the beginning of a powerful partnership.
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