Hiring People in Recovery is Just Good Business
Chameleon Group is a business-to-business call center located in Dover, New Hampshire. It’s a busy and bustling workplace, and one where it would be difficult for most people to guess that approximately 70 percent of its newest employees are in recovery.
The story of how this came to be, and how hiring people in recovery has contributed to Chameleon Group’s success, is a lesson in good business for any employer curious about tapping into the recovery workforce.
All it took was one person.
Dana Lariviere, CEO of Chameleon Group, vividly recalls the day he decided to take a chance on hiring someone in recovery. In 2016, an employee with an average track record at the company developed a severe attendance problem. Ultimately, the employee, a woman named Sarah, was terminated.
Two years later, Sarah got back in touch with Lariviere to explain what had happened. As Lariviere recounted, “Sarah called me up and let me know she had been addicted to heroin. She had since entered a 12-step recovery program…and had even become a certified recovery coach. She was calling to make amends…and to ask for her job back.”
This call, Lariviere recounted, left him, in a word, “gobsmacked.”
After doing some thinking, Lariviere decided he was going to give Sarah a second chance. “This wasn’t so easy. I really had to sell this to my management team,” he says.
When Lariviere finally got the green light, Sarah came back and immediately hit the ground running, doing so well that she was soon promoted to manager. Lariviere was impressed. Then a light bulb went off.
“One day I asked Sarah, ‘Are there other people like you?’”
The answer was yes. So, guided by Sarah’s recommendations, Lariviere began hiring other people in recovery. Chameleon Group is now designated as a “Recovery Friendly Workplace” by the state of New Hampshire.
Over time, Lariviere has figured out how to make the process of hiring people in recovery a success. “First, any new hire in recovery must be an active member of a recovery program,” he says. Lariviere also provides the ability for employees to meet with their counselor or parole officer, if applicable, on site.
“We’ve found that recovery is all about resources, so we do our best to connect people.”
Lariviere has also found that additional training is sometimes needed to bridge skill gaps for these new employees. “Depending on what happened before they entered recovery, these people might not have all the life skills they need for success, or they had jobs that didn’t require much business knowledge.” To help strengthen job skills, Chameleon Group offers peer-to-peer mentoring.
Geoff Booker is one of the employees in recovery at Chameleon Group. He was hired after Sarah’s initial success. “I was still in rehab when I learned about Chameleon hiring people in recovery. Two days after I got out, I came over and got a job. Sales was new, but I was willing to learn.”
Four years later, Booker is now Chameleon’s Director of Sales. This meteoric rise up the job ladder is a stunning career success, and much more. Working for Chameleon represents a total turnaround for his life.
“I was a homeless addict. Now I have a job, a house, and I am back in school,” Booker described.
For Lariviere, it’s the success of people like Geoff that confirms how much the decision to hire people in recovery has been a win-win for his business.
“These people are fiercely loyal to our company. They go the extra mile because it was for them.”
Tips for Maine Employers Hiring People in Recovery
Hiring people in recovery could be a pivotal way to help stem the worker crisis facing many Maine businesses. Lariviere, who is also a member of the New Hampshire Recovery Friendly Workplace Advisory Council, offers five tips to encourage fellow employers to take a chance on people in recovery.
1. Speak with other businesses who have done it.
There can be a “fear factor” that employers must overcome at first. You need to know that you are not alone. Resources like the NH Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative can help you find connections with businesses that have made this work.
2. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
At Chameleon Group, so many of our policies for recovery came from what other businesses had shared with us based on what they had found to be successful. We adapted these policies to suit our needs and came up with some of our own. You won’t be an automatic subject matter expert on hiring employees in recovery, but you don’t need to be.
3. You need buy-in from other stakeholders.
There will be pushback and you need to be prepared to make the case about the benefits of this approach. Our experience working with people in recovery is that they are extremely motivated and focused. If there is a sense that “we don’t want to work with addicts,” my response to that is every business has people with addictions. In our business, we just happen to know who they are.
4. Not everyone will work out, and that’s okay.
Have we had some failures? Yes, but overall this is something that works and I wouldn’t do it any other way. New employees in recovery are just like other new employees: some will work out and others will not. What matters to us is that even when an employee doesn’t work out, they still tell us that they’re leaving with an improved sense of self worth. We take that as a feather in our cap, especially when we hear how they’ve moved on elsewhere to do great things.
5. Focus on the future.
When you hire people in recovery, you might be hiring someone who was in jail, or has a very difficult background. To make the transition a success, adopt the mantra: “I don’t care where you’ve been, I just care where you are going.”