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The Importance of Respectful Recovery Dialogue at Work

We’re at work more than one-third of the week, so it matters how we talk about recovery inside the walls of the workplace. Stigma is one of the top deterrents to people seeking treatment for addiction and, unfortunately, workplace dynamics, corporate policies, and employment status can perpetuate the difficulty of addiction stigma. Many employees often feel the stress and burden of being “found out” by their colleagues.

Yet, the truth of the matter is: our colleagues are struggling and their families are struggling. Addiction is not far away from our companies. The impacts of addiction and recovery are woven into the fabric of our company culture and DNA.

We’re all in the same meetings.

The Devastating Impact of Addiction

Statistically speaking, more than 22 million people are struggling with addiction each year, affecting more than 45 million people throughout the nation. Addiction impacts more people than cancer and AIDS, yet corporate America has been absent from the issue – and as a result, people aren’t speaking up, either hiding their current struggle or avoiding the recovery conversation at work.

And while our company’s policies may say otherwise, it’s often the hallway conversations, the degrading remarks, or fear of being labeled that keeps our struggling colleagues silent. Words like “deadbeat,” “alcoholic,” “junkie,” or “drunk” can float around our offices – whether in a formal conversation or informal talk.

It may be a joke, a remark about a colleague facing these struggles, or a side comment made with ill intent. But it’s this kind of conversation coupled with the daily stressors of work, multiplied by the tradition of happy hours and networking events that contributes to the reason so many people stay silent about addiction or recovery at work.

It’s Time for a Change

Whether you’re struggling with addiction, have a family member struggling, or are simply an employee of a company – it’s time to talk about addiction and recovery differently. Here’s what to remember as we work to transform the workplace into a collaborative environment, supportive of recovery:

  • For Leaders:   Create and influence a culture where respectful dialogue – recovery included – is the standard for your people. Educate yourself on addiction, and if you’re in recovery personally, begin brainstorming how you can incorporate recovery dynamics into your leadership. Be mindful of how your employees are impacted by this issue and create a safe foundation where your people are valued and feel comfortable no matter what they’re facing. If you’re a business owner or company executive, research how many people may be impacted by addiction in your company and see how your company can get involved or implement policies that normalize the discussion of addiction recovery.
  • For Employees:   No matter who you are or what role you hold within your organization, remember, your colleagues may be struggling. Be mindful of this fact and the way you talk about addiction in a professional setting. No matter if it’s a happy hour, in the hallways or in meetings, stay mindful that many people in your company may be impacted by addiction or may be living in long-term recovery. Degrading remarks about addiction are often bred out of the misunderstanding or lack of knowledge around the field of addiction recovery. Move forward with a better understanding of the disease of addiction and process of recovery. Be aware that many of your colleagues and friends may be facing a difficult journey with substance abuse and they need your support – or simple respect in dialogue – as they seek treatment or a resilient recovery.
  • For the Recovery Community:   Wherever you are on your journey with addiction or recovery, there are resources for you. If you are ready to share your story or contribute to the changing culture in your workplace, consider reaching out to a supervisor or your human resources department to discuss starting a support group or internal campaign to change the recovery pulse in your company. No matter what job you have or what company you work for, always remember you’re not alone. With numbers of those impacted by addiction in the millions, know that wherever you go, there’s likely to be someone else facing a similar struggle or someone on a similar journey of recovery. Consult your human resources department to see if there are support groups in your company or find community groups as an added resource for support.

Implementing Safe and Respectful Workplace Policies

Creating a safe, respectful workplace is critically important. Moving forward, develop a plan for how you will adjust your policies or behavior to support your colleagues. Our workplace recovery climates will vary, though, wherever your company falls on the spectrum, remember it’s better to start small than to avoid starting at all.



Images Courtesy of iStock


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