The Challenge of Sustaining A Paycheck in Recovery

Pro-recovery workplaces are opportunities for companies to benefit from hiring motivated, honest, loyal employees; and for workers to find community, respect, and a steady paycheck.

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When recovery is in the workplace, everyone wins.

“Recovery friendly” employers use a new approach to hiring that helps people with substance use disorder find jobs. According to The Washington Post, research shows that working helps people overcome substance use and sustain recovery. Work also provides income and health benefits and can give life structure, meaning, and purpose. These are powerful incentives to stay off drugs.

David Mara, New Hampshire’s drug czar, told The Washington Post, “One of the most important things that people in recovery talk about is how it feels, with their self-worth and identity, getting employed again.”

The national drug epidemic has a profound effect on the economy. Getting people into recovery and working adds value at 700 percent: every dollar spent on recovery drives a benefit of seven dollars. When substance use disorder is in remission, the number of people able to work increases. Currently, 23 million Americans are in recovery, and another 22 million have substance use disorder but are not in recovery. Recovery affects quality of work, employee retention, attendance, and workplace safety. In a nation with a near-record-low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, 9.2 percent of people in recovery are jobless ‘involuntarily,’ according to a 2017 study by the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Arguably, having a mental health disorder is not ‘voluntary’ or a choice; employment is linked to recovery and helps people avoid homelessness and reliance on social services. For employers, it makes business sense to hire and retain people with a history of substance use disorder, rather than seek new workers from a shallow labor pool. Pro-recovery employers, in addition to using different hiring criteria, make other changes as well. For example, they may pay employees during the week, rather than on a Friday. They also try to pursue the larger goal of de-stigmatizing addiction. According to The Washington Post, these companies encourage employees to speak openly about substance abuse and the issues that surround it, if they are comfortable doing so.

Tom Coderre, senior adviser on drug issues to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), told The Post that open recovery in the workplace is key to breaking the stigma. He compared substance use disorder secrecy to the days when no one spoke about cancer at work. Later it was HIV. Now, he says, addiction and mental illness are the taboos that must be broken.

“If an employee had a cold, they would have no problem calling in sick for work,” Coderre told The Post. “But if an employee had depression or anxiety or substance abuse, they would lie. They would tell the employer they had a cold.”

In some cases, work also provides the sense of being part of a team. It can make former users feel like they are shedding their roles as outcasts and rejoining their communities. One New Hampshire employer, Hypertherm also encourages employees to get involved with local recovery groups. The company pays its workers to volunteer at community organizations and to train as recovery coaches. It also teaches employees and community members how to use naloxone, the antidote for opioid overdoses. In the workplace, people who experience relapse are put on light duty and monitored until the company is confident they can return to their usual job.

Pro-recovery workplaces are opportunities for companies to benefit from hiring motivated, honest, loyal employees; and for workers to find community, respect, and a steady paycheck. When recovery is in the workplace, everyone wins.

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