By: Mark Lamplugh 04 Aug 2017

It’s natural to worry about the work performance of an employee who is in the process of recovery or who recently became sober. Employers worry about former addicts having a relapse on the job and negatively impacting the company. They worry that the employee will take a lot of time off or be dead weight. Then there’s the worry over the office dynamics and the rumor mill affecting everyone’s productivity. But all that is only true if you view the glass half-empty.

When employers can see the glass as half-full, people in recovery bring many positive qualities to the workplace.

Recognize that Addiction is a Disease

During the course of long-term employment, nearly all employees go through personal or professional experiences that affect their work performance. Family members get ill or pass away. An employee may get an illness or injury that takes them away from the job for time to recuperate. Perhaps someone has experiences with unreliable childcare or an elderly parent that needs caregiving. Employees are often trying to find the balance between being a stellar employee and managing personal demands.

It’s no different for a person recovering from an addiction. Addiction is a treatable disease. With the right treatment program and support system, many people in recovery become valued employees upon re-entering the workplace. In fact, gainful employment is a helpful component to many people’s treatment programs.

Recovery is a Chance for a Fresh Start

People who reach out for help from an addiction treatment facility have usually been through a lot before they make a commitment to recovery, even if they didn’t hit rock bottom. The tough times they’ve had will make some of difficult days on the job seem not so bad, so the little problems that occur during the course of the day are less likely to get them down.

Part of recovery includes helping them see their lives as they used to be and comparing that with how much better they feel and live when they are sober. Recovery means a fresh start in every part of their lives, including at work. People in recovery are highly motivated, loyal, appreciative, healthy, creative, and mentally sharp.

Recovery is a time for rebuilding a healthier lifestyle, and it’s difficult work. Prospective employees who successfully work through recovery demonstrate to their employers just how hard they are willing to work.

Recovering individuals learn that sustained employment is one of the components to getting their lives back on track. They are highly motivated to begin living a quality lifestyle once again. Having a job to go to each day helps them make progress.

People in treatment often partake in alternative treatments like exercise, yoga, meditation, and physical activities that help them become stronger mentally, emotionally, and physically. They are less likely to take time off work because of weekend partying or illness due to weakened immunities.

People who participate in addiction treatment programs often rediscover many of the character qualities that dulled when they were abusing substances. Many of the 12-step programs focus heavily on character qualities like honesty, humility, and integrity, which are qualities that every employer values. When people in recovery feel ready to return to work, they appreciate having a steady job and are very loyal to the employer that gives them a second chance to prove themselves. Having an employee who holds these qualities dear is a win-win situation for the employee and the employer.

Many people believe that there is a link between creativity and addiction. Neuroscientist, David Linden of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, doesn’t agree that there is a direct link between creativity and addictions. However, he does believe that there is a link between addictions and other behaviors that lead to creativity like risk-taking, novelty seeking, and compulsivity. While those qualities may be negative things outside the workplace, employees who are willing to take chances often take a productive lead ahead of their peers inside the workplace.

Returning to the Old Job During Recovery

Many people in recovery are welcome to return to their old jobs. It’s usually hard for the employee to return to an old job amid the questions about where they’ve been and dealing with the rumor mill. Once the employee gets into the swing of the work routine, many of the questions and comments will become a thing of the past. Returning employees who stay positive and optimistic will have an easier time. Employers can help the recovering employee by acknowledging that things will feel differently and offering them an extra dose of support.

Given enough time, the employee has a chance to prove themselves and regain trust and respect from peers and the employer. In time, the colleagues may even be inspired by the recovering employee.

If returning to the prior job isn’t a good fit, people in recovery may take the opportunity to explore new career options.  It’s a good time for some people to get additional training or education or start their own business.  Some people in recovery find rewarding new careers working in addiction recovery centers, helping others find freedom from addiction.

Managing Successful Employment Through Recovery

Employers who conscientiously take steps to aid the transition back to work for recovering employees will be more likely to achieve greater and lasting success than those who do nothing. Employers can set up a recovery-friendly environment by setting up trainings about addictions and the recovery process for all employees. It helps to adopt policies for early intervention and to help implement Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

Employers will also have success with recovering employees when they set up agreements that are fair while keeping the recovering employee accountable. Company policies that outline in writing the amount of time that an employee must spend in recovery keeps things fair for all employees.

Return-to-Work (RTW) agreements or contingency agreements give employees the benefit of the doubt while offering the employer protection in the event of a relapse. RTW’s outline performance expectations and consequences for poor performance or relapse. Employers may also require performance reviews or random drug testing to monitor performance over the long term. Such agreements work well for both parties when expectations are agreed before the return to work.

Final Thoughts on Viewing the Positive Aspects of Employing People in Recovery

It’s true that there are risks in employing people who are recovering from addictions. But aren’t there risks in employing anyone for a variety of other reasons? By viewing addiction as the disease that it is and supporting recovering individuals through returning to work, many employers soon find that for the reasons noted in this piece, people in recovery actually make some of the best employees.

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