Addiction problem “much greater” than HR realizes

Employers are paying close attention to psychological well-being but, according to one industry expert, too many ignore addiction.

Addiction problem “much greater” than HR realizes
Most employers know the importance of mental wellness – both for employees and the organization – but could some HR professionals be overlooking one of the most widespread and destructive diseases?

According to Statistics Canada, the rates of substance use disorders are higher than the rates of mood disorders and around six million Canadians have met the criteria for the former illness at some point in their life.

“The problem of addiction is much bigger and much greater than what most employers think it to be,” says Rebecca Flood, CEO of New Directions for Women – a California-based recovery centre.

Flood, who has worked in the addiction field for almost 40 years, says stigma is largely to blame for the don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude that still prevails.

“I think addiction is the most stigmatized disease that we have,” she says. “People have a lot of shame, guilt and remorse around it and many people think that it is wilful misconduct rather than a diagnosable disease.”

It’s this stigma, Flood says, that often prevents employees from seeking help; leading to a whole host of increasingly undesirable behaviours in the workplace – from absenteeism and on-site accidents to poor productivity questionable conduct.

However, rather than choosing to just discipline or dismiss, Flood says employers should be finding ways in which they can reduce stigma and help their workers come forward.

“We all know that retaining an employee is much more beneficial and much less costly than rehiring, retraining and going through that process once again,” she says. “And there are plenty of things that employers can do to promote their employees being more open to getting support and help.”

One of Flood’s suggestions is to honour or create a day which promotes addiction awareness and encourages those afflicted to share their stories – just like many workplaces do with different forms of cancer.

“You can organize a recovery walk or create a ribbon that indicates you’re talking about it,” she says, adding that employers can also share literature, put posters up and even send out a questionnaire that could help employees identify an addiction problem in themselves or a loved one.

“We have talk about it very openly and once we embrace addiction as a disease rather than stigmatize it as wilful misconduct, we will begin to react and respond to it very differently.”
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