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.
Substance Use and Addiction: What Does Work Have to Do With It?
Could your job be encouraging a substance use disorder?
Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of their job. But there are certain fields where substance abuse and addiction are more common, and they tend to have a few things in common. Research shows that high stress, low job satisfaction, long hours or irregular shifts, fatigue, repetitious duties, boredom, isolation, irregular supervision and easy access to substances can all contribute to the problem. But what groups are most affected?. We know that employees in the arts and entertainment, mining and food services are more likely to report heavy drinking in the past month compared to other employment groups. On the other hand, employees working in healthcare and education are the least likely to report heavy alcohol use.
Risk Factors Explained:
There are several factors associated with different types of jobs that may lead to an increased likelihood of problematic substance use. Low employee visibility and isolation can be high risk for substance use and misuse. Jobs that involve a substantial amount of travel, and therefore less direct supervision such as some sales jobs, construction or contracting jobs, can lead to increased substance use. In addition, social and workplace norms around drinking and drug use can also contribute to the problem. Some work environments are more permissive that others and it has been found that perceived acceptability of drinking by coworkers is one of the strongest predictors of drinking behaviour. In some industries such as the food and beverage service industry, alcohol is easy to acquire right on the job, making it easier to consume. Therefore the normative belief that it’s okay to have a drink while at work, coupled with the easy access to alcohol can make it extremely likely that an employee in a bar or restaurant will consume alcohol while on the job. If the employee works every day, it can become a daily habit that can ultimately lead to it’s misuse and possibly abuse.
Another important contributing factor is the issue of employee stress. Stress can come from various sources including physical hazards or heavy workloads, tight deadlines, low job security and workplace conflict. These factors can lead to an employee feeling little or no control over what happens at work. Jobs that offer very little control, combined with increasing demands, can place the employee at risk for substance use as the alcohol or drugs may be the employee’s form of coping with the demands and stress of the work environment. Therefore employers should be aware of possible stressful situations and should emphasize work/life balance with employees.
What to do?
It is important to note that not all employees working in high risk occupations will go on to develop an addiction. Instead, it is likely that a combination of several causes, including individual factors such as genetics, social, cultural, and mental health issues, places an employee at greater risk for developing a substance use problem. In order to minimize this risk, it helps if employers are aware of the common signs of substance abuse and receive adequate training in how to approach an employee that might need help.
It is also important to establish clear organizational policies about substance use in the workplace. Employees need to have clear expectations about workplace rules and repercussions that would follow should an employee choose to break those rules. Employers should also be aware of how the work environment or job features may lead to maladaptive coping or other unwanted behaviours such as drinking alcohol or using drugs. This knowledge could shape the workplace culture such that employees feel empowered to approach a supervisor when concerned or taking some time to rest and recover when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
So pay attention to the signs. Try to minimize stress, isolation and fatigue. Work on creating a culture where health and self-care are more important than drinking and using.
Addiction in the workplace and Safety-Sensitive Assessments
From big rigs to balance sheets – Addiction and safety sensitive assessments know no bounds
Safety. Not many workplace issues have caught the attention of employers in the past few years, as has the issue of safety. This is not surprising given that workplace safety impacts employees, customers, and the general public. Corporate responsibility to employees and other stakeholders, as well as government regulations, have led to the creation of new policies, procedures, committees, and specialized fields within the human resources and occupational health professions. Workplace safety is now viewed as an indicator of a positive work environment. In fact, companies promote their track records of “accident-free work-days” and reward employees for their roles in maintaining a safe workplace.
For many people, obvious thoughts of workplace safety include hard hats, safety boots, safety glasses and hearing protection. Construction is often the first type of job to come to mind where safety is a priority, because our understanding of safety is frequently related to the dangers of heavy or falling objects, and hazards such as heights. In contrast, people working in other environments and industries such as healthcare, retail and business are less likely to think about potential safety hazards when they arrive for work each day. However, many of the causes of workplace injuries are just as likely to be found in a law firm, as in a manufacturing plant. These causes include fatigue, stress, slips, lifting, trips and falling objects. While the resulting incident may not lead to an injury, an accountant’s miscalculation or a teacher’s classroom behaviour can have far-reaching implications and therefore may be deemed just as serious. As a result, workplace safety needs to be a priority regardless of how risk-free a job appears to be.
Addiction in the Canadian Workplace
While workplace safety mishaps can occur at any time, the likelihood of the above-mentioned scenarios is compounded when an employee suffers from a substance abuse problem. While many employers believe that they are immune from issues relating to substance abuse, studies show otherwise. Current research estimates that over one in ten adults in Canada have a substance abuse problem, and 76 per cent of these people are employed. The total cost of substance abuse to the Canadian economy in 2002 included $24.3 billion in productivity losses due to incidences such as accidents and injuries, on the job errors, absenteeism, tardiness, and employee morale. Whether an employee’s job involves high-risk, safety-sensitive activities or office-related processes, an employee’s addiction can put an organization at risk.
Identifying and dealing with employee substance abuse is not an easy task. It can challenge the most experienced managers, human resources and occupational health professionals. However, organizations and managers who are willing to help a struggling employee will realize many benefits, including: decreased absenteeism; a reduction in the number of times the employee arrived late or left early, increased productivity; decreased presenteeism. Studies also demonstrate the importance of an employer’s role in an individual’s recovery. Bellwood Health Services’ outcome studies show that 82 per cent of clients who were referred and supported by their employer were in high recovery when followed-up six months after completing residential addiction treatment.
One of the most effective ways to identify an employee addiction issue is to arrange for a specialized assessment to be completed by an addiction professional. While this is a valuable exercise for employees working in a safety-sensitive position, it is just as helpful in identifying issues relating to addiction in less “high-risk” roles and industries. Often referred to as safety-sensitive assessments or independent medical examinations, they can also be called workplace, corporate or executive assessments, and can be a useful tool for any position where there is a risk of accident or serious error. More and more organizations are using these types of assessments as a tool to pro-actively manage employee addiction issues in order to retain valuable employees.
By Susan McGrail, MSW, RSW, PhD (Can) and Julie Bowles
9 questions to ask when choosing an addiction treatment centre for your employee
Do you have an employee with an addiction problem? Are you wondering what to do next?
You already know that the addiction is hurting their job performance and your bottom-line. Your calculations tell you that helping the employee recover is more cost effective than to find, train and replace him or her.
Your next challenge is to find the right alcohol and drug rehab centre that’s right for you and your employee.
But what’s ‘right’? What questions should you ask and what factors should you consider? With so many treatment providers, choosing the best can be a challenge.
The following list of questions will provide you, as the employer, necessary information to help your employees receive high quality comprehensive care that they need. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions, the results may surprise you!
(1) What is the communication process between yourself and the treatment provider, both during and after your employee’s treatment program?
(2) What opportunities are available for you to be actively involved in the treatment process?
(3) What education is available to help you understand your employee’s treatment program and on-going support needs?
(4) Is your employee’s family included in the recovery process?
(5) How does the treatment provider assist with your employee’s return to work?
(6) What continuing care programs and post-treatment monitoring systems are available?
(7) How effective are the treatment methods relating to employer referred clients and are extensive outcome studies conducted?
(8) Does the treatment provider provide additional services including corporate interventions and safety sensitive assessments?
(9) What type of accreditation or licensing does the treatment centre have?
Helping an employee with an addiction is a serious matter to the employee, their performance and your bottom-line. Answering these questions will help take you closer to making the right choice.
5 steps to create a safe and productive workplace
How do you help an employee with an addiction?
Addiction costs Canadian employers over $24 billion a year in lost productivity! (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2006).
75% of people with an addiction are employed!
So it would come as no surprise that at one time or another, as a manager or an employer, you would struggle with the question of ‘how do you help a worker with an addiction?’
Dealing with an employee who is struggling with an addiction issue to alcohol, drugs, gambling or sexual addiction is not easy. But on the flip side, ignoring the problem is even more costly. In almost every case, it is more cost effective to help an employee get well than to find, train and replace a worker. Discover more: Calculating the Cost of an Addicted Employee.
Helping an employee with an addiction begin with a strategic framework that educates, communicates and facilitates a clean, positive and productive workplace.
Educate! Communicate! Facilitate!
(1) Communicate! Build a workplace culture that ensures your employees feel safe about approaching you to discuss their own – or a co-worker’s – problem.
(2) Educate! Learn how to identify signs of potential substance abuse and how to approach your employee to discuss your concerns. Discover more: Signs of Addiction
(3) Facilitate! Encourage your employees to seek help and offer them guidance, support and financial assistance to make it easier for them to get the best quality treatment.
(4) Be Involved! Learn how you can support them during treatment and when they return to work.
(5) Outline! Plan and layout your expectations and conditions of your ongoing support, including post-treatment support programs, reporting, monitoring and testing.
Building an effective framework will help you effectively manage an employee with addiction. In turn, this will save you and your company time, money and resources.
A peek into – The Many Faces of Addiction Symposium
In a few weeks, Bellwood will be hosting a very special event, and we are quite excited.
We are excited with the breadth, depth and freshness of this year’s The Many Faces of Addiction Symposium and can’t wait to see everything unfold in Toronto on October 16th and 17th.
Now in it’s fourth year, the goal of the Symposium has always been to bring together experts in the field of addiction and mental health to discuss and gain new insights; to learn what’s new and the best practices on helping those struggling at home, in the workplace, and in our communities overcome addictions.
This year we are expecting nearly 200 delegates from across North America to learn from the best, share first hand knowledge and examine the illness of addiction. We are looking forward to the delegates exploring the latest and proven treatment options, workplace management techniques, recovery best practices and much more.
Based on emerging new areas in addiction and delegate feedback, this year we have carefully designed sessions to focus on the areas of concurrent trauma/PTSD and substance abuse, Internet and gaming addiction, best practices for managing employees with addiction, and clinical techniques for achieving excellent results. Each session has been structured to delve into the depths of addiction in a dynamic and interactive framework.
Over the year, the organizing team has worked hard to bring together leading experts, clinicians, and academics from Canada and the United States to seek out answers to the tough questions surrounding addiction and mental health.
This year’s expert keynote presenters include:
- Lisa M. Najavits, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine and lecturer at Harvard Medical School – Numbing the Pain: PTSD and Substance Abuse
- Ryan Van Cleave, PhD, faculty member at the Ringling College of Art + Design; Patricia Morgan, MA, CCC, counsellor and author specializing in strengthening personal resilience – The Digital Dilemma: An Inside Look at Internet Addiction; Video Game Addiction: Surrender and Consequences in the Electronic Age; Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace . . . in a Super-Connected World
- Dr. Ray Baker MD, FCFP, ABAM, consulting physician specializing in Occupational Addiction Medicine – Best Practices for Managing Employees with Substance Use Disorders
- Scott D. Miller PhD, co-founder of the Center for Clinical Excellence, clinical trainer and author – Achieving Clinical Excellence: Four Steps to Superior Performance
- Ali Liénaux RSW -TSI MSW (Equiv), Vice President of Clinical Services and Operations at Integrated Workplace Solutions (IWS) – The Duty to Accommodate: Substance Abuse at the Workplace
and many more.
Yes, there is no doubt we are excited!
We would like to invite you to join us and take advantage of this opportunity to hear from leaders in the addiction and mental health field; and gain new insights into how to help those who are struggling at home, in the workplace, and in our communities.
Whether you are a healthcare or corporate professional, or an individual whose life has been touched by addiction, we are confident that this year’s Symposium will provide education, training and information about new tools and emerging practices to help people heal from addiction.
Mark your calendars; registration is open and space is limited.
See you on October 16th and 17th at the Ontario Science Centre.