Tips to Return to Work Post-Addiction Treatment
How do you balance your job and new responsibilities towards recovery? For people who have just completed an inpatient substance abuse treatment program and plan on returning to work, you may have several questions.
- Do I tell my boss that I was in rehab?
- What do I tell coworkers who want to know where I’ve been these last couple of months?
- How will I handle work responsibilities and my recovery?
All very valid questions and with time you will become more experienced and better able to handle.
When it comes to early recovery, we know it’s crucial that you plan ahead your daily itinerary because having extra time can lead to boredom and boredom is a slippery slope for relapse. Planning ahead will allow you to handle unexpected questions and avoid certain situations that are risky for your recovery.
We spoke to David Paul, Addiction Counsellor at Bellwood Health Services, whom works closely with many individuals and employers who have sent their employees to Bellwood for addiction treatment. David Paul has many years of experience working with individuals to help them plan and transition back to their communities and into their jobs post- treatment.
To Disclose or Not To Disclose
If your employer hasn’t been a part of your recovery from the beginning and you’re returning to work, you may be wondering whether or not to tell them. David Paul states, “You are not obligated to tell them. By law, a person is entitled to take medical leave without disclosure of the issues or problems. But, you may want to inform your HR Manager, in case you need some more help with your recovery, for example appointments, 12-Step meetings, or therapist meetings. This disclosure to your HR Manager should all be confidential! Honesty is really the best policy.”
Relationships with Co-workers
So far, you’ve had experience ending relationships with people in your personal life that were helping fuel your addiction. It was tough but very much needed. You will need to make choices regarding who to hang out with at work and how to maintain professionalism in your workplace too.
David Paul explains, “Everyone needs balance in his or her life. One should focus on their job duties and make wise choices with the people they hang out with at work. If there are others that have addiction issues at the workplace one should steer clear of these people and really only communicate for work related issues, duties, supervision etc.”
This doesn’t mean that you can’t build healthy relationships with others at work. You may find other employees in your workplace that are in recovery too. David Paul shares, “If there is someone else in the workplace that is in recovery you may want to touch base with them, as they would understand what you are going through and trying to accomplish.”
Preparing Your Return-to-Work
One of the very first things you should do is arrange to speak to the company’s employee assistance professional (EAP) if available, counsellor or therapist and the addiction rehab centre where you went for treatment to help you prepare your return to the workplace. In An Employer’s Guide to Workplace Substance Abuse published by the National Business Group on Health, it states that employers have an important role in combating stigma in the workplace and helping employees understand that they can seek treatment without jeopardizing their careers. It also reminds employers that although they may not know which members on their team is in recovery, they must understand that there’s a balance between wanting to help and respecting an employee’s request for privacy.
David Paul says, “You should work on a return-to-work plan which may include graduated return-to-work. Meaning 3 days a week to 4 days to eventually full hours. You may have to switch your shifts. For example, perhaps not do night shifts, maybe not evening shifts and the company may have their own ideas of your return to work. Usually they are accommodating as they want to get you back to work in a safe way and conducive to your recovery.”
Communication with your human resources or occupational health and safety department will help you stay safe while transitioning back to the workplace. David Paul suggests, “You could have a conference call or face to face meeting with your HR or company nurse to discuss your return to work and any issues or requirements you need in order for you to return safely. Easy does it.”
Explaining Your Absence
Your co-workers might be surprised to see you back at the office because they aren’t sure where you’ve been. They might point blank ask you why you were away. There are smart ways on how to handle these situations. David Paul provides some advice and tips on how to manage. “Hold your head up high, try to go back with confidence, and tell only one story if people ask where have you been. Keep it consistent. I was off for health reasons and I am better now. End of story.”
David Paul continues, “There will probably be rumours. Remember, they are only rumours and let them go- just ignore them. You are probably not the only person in the company that has had or has an addiction problem. Don’t buy into it or encourage further talks around your absenteeism.”
5 Tips on How to Handle Workplace Functions
According to David Paul, in early recovery it’s wise not to attend any functions where alcohol will be served. As your recovery gets stronger, you may be able to attend some functions. You are the best judge of your health. You must do what feels right in order to stay sober.
- If your employer or company nurse knows where you’ve been, go and talk to them and explain how it can trigger you to go to events where alcohol is served. Politely request to be excused from this event.
- You may be able to take a “buddy” with you to the event. Go for the dinner and leave before the dance partying begins.
- You may want to be in touch with your sponsor or counselor a few times throughout the event.
- Leave early, take breaks, go outside and stay grounded.
- If you have to stay in a hotel for work purposes, ask that the Mini Bar be locked or emptied before you get there.
It Gets Easier
It may seem difficult at the beginning with all the adjustments you’re making in order to work through your recovery. Still, these are the types of decisions that must be made to keep you safe and on the right path. Some reminders that David Paul shares with us:
- Do not make any major decisions for the first year of your recovery. For example, quitting your job, selling your house and relocating unless you really have to for legitimate reasons.
- Remember, you are entitled to your anonymity but you must own and care for your own recovery.
- When you’ve been sober for a few months, you’ll start to gain clarity about your past and the best way to navigate your new life without the use of mood altering substances.
- Put your old behaviours behind you and show by example the new you.
If you need help with transitioning back to work or you’re an employer that needs assistance with an employee, give us a call at 1-800-387-6198. To learn more about our treatment and support services for employees and employers, click here.
Back to Work after Addiction Treatment – How You Can Make a Difference in Your Employee’s Recovery
Written By: Julie Bowles
(Originally published in Winter Issue of Moods Magazine, 2016, www.moodsmag.com)
Addiction in the workplace is nothing new. Employers have had to deal with the issues relating to addicted employees ever since alcohol became integrated into our society, over 200 years ago. Early on, employers identified that certain employees were more affected by alcohol, and prone to accidents and low productivity. However, until the birth of the early-model treatment programs for alcohol in the 1940s, there were few options for employers who wanted to help their employees. This need led to the development of Occupational Alcoholism Programs, the forerunner of today’s Employee Assistant Programs, or EAPs.
Awareness and understanding of workplace addiction issues continue to grow, with policies and legislation designed to protect both the employer and employee, and a willingness on the part of organizations to support an employee with counselling and treatment. Research has shown that inpatient addiction treatment can have a dramatic positive impact on employee workplace performance, with one study indicating a 76% increase in productivity, a 76% decrease in absenteeism, and a 91% decrease in incidents of arriving late or leaving early.
But what about post-treatment? Are employers as comfortable knowing how to manage someone returning to the job after treatment? Do they understand that the role they play can be just as important as the one they played pre-treatment? As with any chronic disease, the recovering individual will always need to live with an awareness of the need to maintain their recovery. Assuming an employee has included his or her employer in the treatment plan, there are many ways the employer can provide support and contribute to the individual’s continued recovery.
Respect the Employee’s Privacy and Confidentiality
Privacy and confidentiality are paramount, both while the individual is in treatment, and upon return to work. An employee may choose to seek treatment confidentially on their own, using vacation or sick time to cover their absence and not disclosing to their employer. For a variety of reasons, others may include their manager or supervisor in the process. While this will open the door for opportunities to support the employee, it also places the responsibility for confidentiality firmly on the shoulders of the manager or supervisor.
Some employees will ask about their colleague; it’s human nature. Why is he taking time off? Is she alright? Where has he gone? For some, it will be gossip, while for others, it will be genuine concern. In many cases, the individual’s colleagues will either officially or unofficially know there is a problem. They may have observed the behaviours first-hand, or had to cover up for uncompleted work and absences. Once the employee returns from treatment, colleagues will likely notice changes in behaviour, both at work and during social events.
It is the employee’s choice as to what they wish to share and disclose, if anything. Some will choose to keep their treatment and recovery confidential. Others will share their story and embrace any support they receive as a result of their disclosure. Some may even champion recovery amongst their colleagues. However, regardless of their decision, the employee needs to believe that their privacy and confidentiality will be respected and protected at all times by their employer.
Educate and Be Prepared
One way employers can help alleviate uncomfortable situations such as those described above is to be proactive by providing regular education to all staff about addiction. Through education and training, all employees can learn about signs and symptoms and what they can do if they are concerned about a colleague’s behaviour. It will also help reduce the stigma that is still often attached to addiction, and give staff greater comfort in knowing how to respond when a colleague returns to the workplace.
Return to Work
Treatment has been successfully completed and it is time for the employee to return to work. While the employee hopefully feels like a new person with new behaviours and attitudes, reality will set in when they arrive back at work to face the same stresses, deadlines, conflicts and responsibilities that were there when they left. Now they need to manage them without their substance or behaviour of choice, while ensuring they meet their workplace expectations. One of the most dangerous thoughts an employee can have in early recovery is to feel that he must jump back in where he left off and play catch up with his workload. This attitude can quickly lead to the individual feeling overwhelmed and stressed, resulting in burnout and potentially relapse by returning to their old behaviours.
As an employer, there needs to be a good balance between sensitivity and expectations. It is important to communicate openly and ensure that the employee understands what is expected of him. It is important that the employee understands that while the organization wants them to be successful in their recovery, they still need to comply with clearly discussed and documented performance guidelines and expectations.
One of the most important things a manager can do is to be involved in regular communication with the treatment centre addiction counsellor working with the employee. This three-way connection between the counsellor, employee, and employer can be the cornerstone for success during the post-treatment, or aftercare, phase of recovery.
With the help of the addiction counsellor, a strong and realistic back to work plan can be developed. The return date and responsibilities upon return need to be looked at on a case by case basis, however in most situations the recommendation is often for the employee to return to work full time in their existing role.
A back to work plan may also include requirements for regular drug testing, a last chance agreement, and participation in the treatment centre’s aftercare program. Research has indicated a significant increase in the rate of recovery with participation in multiple aftercare supports. An important component of a back to work plan should include aftercare participation with attendance monitoring and reporting back to the employer by the addiction counsellor.
Before completing treatment, and with the help of the addiction counsellor, the employee should have developed a detailed relapse prevention plan. While this plan extends beyond the workplace, it can include important details regarding managing situations while at work, and knowing about resources that can be available. The addiction counsellor can help identify company EAP resources and support meetings. Some professionals such as police and lawyers have their own peer support systems. Some companies have onsite 12-Step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and many unionized workplaces have substance abuse representatives available for support and guidance.
The relapse prevention plan can also provide assistance in dealing with difficult or triggering situations that the employee might encounter as part of his or her job, such as business trips, conferences, sales dinners, and company social events. While it may not be a requirement for the employee to share the relapse prevention plan, any willingness to include the employer in the workplace-focused plan can only further strengthen the back to work and recovery experience.
There are many ways an employer can help with the transition back to work and provide the support needed to help their employee through the early days of recovery and beyond. However, it is important to be aware that there is a difference between being supportive and being in charge. Managers need to be mindful and able to distinguish between monitoring and requiring accountability, and stepping back and trusting their employee, who must want to be in recovery for themselves, not for their manager. With this shared goal between the employer and employee, there is a good likelihood that everyone will be successful.