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Workplaces at the Forefront

Issue 29
Championing Recovery and Hope

I believe that businesses influence to reduce addiction stigma and save lives.

According to the National Safety Council, 75 percent of people who struggle with substance use disorder are employed. Workplaces have an opportunity to play a major role in reducing stigma by fostering understanding, offering support, and creating environments where hope can grow and recovery can thrive.

Several initiatives around the country are supporting employers in their desire to change workplace culture, although similar they’re not interchangeable — referred to as “recovery-friendly,” “recovery-ready,” “recovery supportive” or “recovery-informed.”

These initiatives are taking root by creating a cultural framework for education, training, support, and visibility that benefits not only employees and family members but the broader community and society as a whole.

The core of my business as the founder of Journey Enterprises is about elevating and amplifying these types of initiatives. I think about this all the time. A recent Health Links webinar gave me an added boost of inspiration regarding recovery and the workplace—so much so that I requested permission to share some key insights from the three panelists who spoke.

Health Links is a program from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health that is part of Colorado’s Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative. The group hosts an annual webinar on recovery-friendly practices for employers and workplace champions.

Links Between Work and Substance Use

There are many links between work and substance use, as pointed out by Jamie C. Osborne, a public health analyst for CDC – National Institute of Occupations Safety and Health (NIOSH). Consider the connections between hazardous work and increased risk of work-related injury. Or how limited available sick leave might affect someone considering taking time for recovery. Or the impact of the anxiety accompanying unemployment or unstable work.

“Workplaces are looking to support workers who are struggling with substance use to receive treatment, achieve their recovery goals and of course to keep them working,” said Osborne. “Keeping all of that rooted in a focus on prevention and stigma reduction.”

“For the employee, employment provides economic stability, a meaningful social role, and direct access to treatment and recovery services, making it an important factor in supporting the initiation and maintenance of recovery.“

A report from the University of Chicago and the National Safety Council found that one in every 12 workers has an untreated substance use disorder. And yet, only a fraction, about one in 6 people facing substance issues, reach out for help.

It’s important to remember that among us, even those we work with, someone might be silently suffering and seeking support. When I think about that, it’s a reminder about the importance of the language we use when talking about substance use disorder. We never know if the person we’re talking to may be struggling or may love someone who’s struggling.

Creating a workplace that encourages their employees to get the help they need is a multifaceted challenge but one that promises rewards.

By understanding the unique needs of their workforce, offering resources and support, and promoting a culture of what the NIOSH calls Total Worker Health®, employers can pave the way for a healthier, happier and more productive workplace.

If you want to create a supportive workplace program but don’t know where to begin, the NIOSH has best practice resources online:

Creating a Supportive Work Environment

The workplace can have both recovery hazards, such as negative working conditions and exposure to stigma, and recovery supports, such as fair treatment and social support, which can both impact the well-being and recovery process of employees. Visit for more information.

“Substance misuse and substance use disorder have become significant workplace stressors,” said Cal Beyer, a human capital risk management consultant and a long-term advocate for workplace mental health. Beyer resides in Washington state and works nationally.

Employers who actively acknowledge this challenge and work towards creating an environment that supports the recovery journey of every affected individual can have a great impact on the health of their workplace. Beyer recommended that employers begin by learning about the impact of substance misuse on their industry from both a human and financial perspective. Then work to remove barriers, reduce stigma, promote active care and put the cultural framework in place to make this happen.

“The hallmarks of a recovery-friendly workplace,” Beyer said, “include stigma reduction, flexible policies, peer-to-peer mentoring and support as well as ongoing training and resources to promote active recovery.”

Andersen Construction: A Recovery-Friendly Workplace

Andersen Construction is one of the largest commercial construction firms in the Pacific Northwest. Kristina Ewing, who led the holistic design of a robust Health and Well-being Department, shared how the company has implemented a recovery-friendly workplace in practice.

She suggested understanding the unique challenges of the industry, ensuring leadership buy-in, and knowing available resources— state, federal and local, many of them free. She also suggested having resources readily available, because the more employers start talking about these offerings, the more employees will join in the conversation and be interested in what’s available.

Andersen Construction started by laying the foundation with “mental health lite” topics, introducing techniques like tapping and mindfulness training that can provide workers with practical tools to manage stress and pain. They built up to heavier topics such as suicide and addiction, breaking down stigma through repetition and self-disclosure, and educating and discussing through “toolbox talks,” while also ensuring the availability of Narcan on every job site and office.

Ewing encouraged employers to educate, discuss, and share frequently.

Creating a safe and stigma-free workplace environment where conversations about mental health and substance use disorders are normalized can help employees feel more comfortable seeking help and support.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’re as encouraged as I am by the substantial work being done around the country with employers wanting to be part of the solution. Check out page 16 to find out what’s going on here in Maine!

If you have found these highlights as intriguing as I did, check out the 1-hour webinar here:

Or use this QR code to go right to the YouTube video.

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