Why you should have addiction recovery plans in place

Drug and alcohol addiction is a highly sensitive and stigmatised issue in the workplace – are you doing enough to support your staff through recovery?

Why you should have addiction recovery plans in place
A new survey conducted by South Pacific Private has highlighted the dramatic improvements seen in employees’ work during the transition to recovery from either an addiction or mental health issue.

The number of people who struggle with these issues is staggering – one in five Australians will experience a mental health episode in a 12 month period. But according to Claire Barber, GM of South Pacific Private, employers are not doing enough to enable and assist employees in resolving these problems.

“The idea around [the survey] was that there’s a lot of data in relation to the harms of drug and alcohol addiction and mental health, but there is very little information available on the other side of the coin, which is when people recover,” Barber told HC.

“We surveyed people who identified as being in recovery and looked at what their life was like now compared to when they were in addiction,” she continued. “The survey looked at various areas of their lives, including finance, health and family life.”

The Australian Life and Recovery Survey is the first of its kind to be produced in Australia, and the statistics indicated how offering support to the workforce can be mutually beneficial.

It is no secret that there is a stigma around drug and alcohol addiction, as well as problems with mental health – but the statistics from South Pacific Private’s research show that recovery is transformational.

According the research, people in recovery are 40% more likely to get good job evaluations, 34% less likely to get fired or suspended, and 27% more likely to remain in employment than those who are still in addiction. They are also over 50% more likely to attend work.

Addiction obviously has an impact on productivity. But according to Barber, organisations can create progressive HR strategies to proactively help employees get into – and stay in – recovery.

Barber shared the following tips for employers:
  • One of the first things to think about is the warning signs around addiction or mental health issues. Very often the flags are there; employers will probably notice deterioration in the employee’s professional relationships and general behaviour. Employers should be aware of those flags and consider that these behaviours could be more than just a performance issue. If an employee drinks too much at a work function, take note of whether it was a one off.
  • Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you must approach the subject sensitively. Know the right questions to ask employees, and make it clear that you are providing a supportive, questioning environment rather than a critical one. Remember that the nature of addiction is denial and dishonesty, and that is will not help either party if your solution is simply to tell them to stop.
  • Find a way of removing the stigma around the issues – people are often really fearful of putting their hands up and admitting to them for fear of reprisal, including the loss of their job. Creating a corporate culture which promotes sensitivity towards people can help. Making it acceptable not to drink is also a massive help; there are a lot of work situations where alcohol is closely tied in, which can be very difficult for people in the early stages of recovery.
  • Employers can also provide support by acknowledging that people need time to get well. Three weeks’ leave plus an ongoing treatment plan is what treatment often looks like. Treat people in recovery as you would employees managing any chronic disease – often it’s handled entirely differently.
  • Be aware of mental health and addiction, and have policies in place that either provide or support treatment. If employees feel supported, they are more likely to come forward for help, improving both their work and personal life.  
Barber advised that charities beyondblue and Black Dog Institute have a lot of helpful information around anxiety and depression.

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