I am a person in long-term recovery and work at the Bangor Area Recovery Network in the field of peer-based recovery support services.
I am intimately familiar with the barriers individuals face when entering the workforce and/or while working to sustain their recovery.
Among many other obstacles, obtaining gainful employment can be an extremely difficult barrier to overcome. For those hindered by criminal backgrounds and gaps in employment history, reentering the workforce can be trying, especially when they are already putting a lot of energy and time into engaging in their recovery. It can be downright discouraging.
We speak often in this field of “recovery capital,”—the internal and external resources that one can draw upon to be successful in their recovery journey. Paramount among these recovery capital domains is employment. When speaking about recovery capital, I’d even argue that employment is fundamental and foundational.
It is easy enough to draw a direct line from employment to many other recovery capital domains. To meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing requires an income source. To access health care and mental health services, we often need income or insurance. The list goes on, and it is aside from the role gainful employment can play in empowering individuals, bolstering self-esteem, building social relationships, and creating a sense of belonging in the community.
Employment is fundamental and foundational.
I have seen with my own eyes that employment can often make or break someone’s recovery so when Joanna Russell, executive director of the Northeastern Workforce Development Board, approached me last year about developing training around recovery and employment, I was immediately interested.
When she explained to me that she wanted our target audience to be service providers in the workforce system, employers, and business owners, my interest turned to excitement.
Our efforts are so often focused on educating and preparing someone in recovery to enter the workforce. It is important to ensure that an individual in recovery has the tools, skills, and resources needed to successfully gain employment.
This was a different opportunity— an opportunity to inform the other side of the employment relationship. To demonstrate to employers and business owners the importance of addressing substance use in the workplace, the value of hiring people in recovery and supporting them in their process.
Joanna and Benjamin Hawkins of the Northeast Workforce Development Board, Laurie McDonnell from the Maine Department of Labor, and I began meeting as a workgroup to start hashing out a framework around which I could build a workshop.
After a wealth of great conversation and input from everyone, we defined five learning objectives:
• Increase understanding of the return on investment in recovery
• Increase understanding of SUD as a chronic condition from which people do recover
• Define and increase fluency in the language of recovery
• Build capacity to understand and support recovery in the workforce
• Develop understanding of how to use the tools to become a Recovery Friendly Workplace
Several weeks of developing the presentation and meeting with the workgroup produced “Recovery Works for ME,” a four hour interactive workshop that illustrates for employers the value of supporting recovery in the workplace, provides education around the process of recovery, and how they can take their first steps toward becoming recovery ready.
After piloting the workshop with service partners within the workforce system, we also developed a two-hour iteration that was less interactive and more presentation style to make it more accessible for the often-busy schedules of business owners, managers, and human resource personnel. Both formats have been well received and elicited much conversation among participants.
I continue to work with Joanna and Ben to expand on their work around recovery friendly workplaces and deliver the workshop as needed.
There is still much work to be done around recovery in the workforce. The topic is multi-faceted and ranges from understanding recovery processes, pathways, and stigma to complex questions about human resource management practices, hiring policies and legal liability concerns.
“Recovery Works for ME” begins a conversation and can start to align attitudes and perspectives in a more progressive direction.
It’s time for us to stop viewing hiring people in recovery as simply a risk and begin viewing recovery in the workplace as an asset.