Dr. Anton Bizzell


October 08, 2021


As we transition from September’s National Recovery Month to Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 3–9), it is important to remember that the need for recovery is not limited to certain occupations, communities, races, genders, or conditions. Your employees can encounter any number of life-altering experiences from which they struggle to rebound. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely many of them have found themselves in unforeseen circumstances and need help returning to normal. Business leaders must step up their awareness of all situations that may be impacting their workforce – and educate themselves on the forms of assistance they can provide.

Recovery Applies to More than Substance Misuse

Most people associate the word “recovery” with a substance use disorder (SUD), such as alcohol or drug addiction. However, your employees may be living with other addictions including food, gambling, or video gaming. They may also have a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They might be struggling with grief due to the death of a family member, friend or pet, or the loss of a relationship. Growing financial or family care burdens may be contributing to their stress. Trying to recapture normalcy following a physical illness, or learning to live with a chronic condition, may feel like a losing battle to them as well. Perhaps they have been rejected by family or friends by “coming out” or transitioning, or suffered physical or emotional abuse on the job or at home. They may fear neighborhood or workplace violence. As an employer, you must consider any and all of these possibilities, and what you might do to support the recovery process. Stress is Manageable As Long As There’s Recovery

In a recent article, life coach and leadership consultant Birgit Ohlin points out that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Although many people become stressed in the face of demands, she notes that feeling stress does not really harm anyone as long as they are able to recover from it. However, those who feel chronically stressed, or cannot recover from a stressful situation, often suffer from long-term illness.

As an employer, you are responsible for creating an appropriate and protective work setting. Do you set reasonable expectations for your employees’ performance? Do they feel respected? How often do you communicate with them…and listen to them? If they feel constantly stressed in the workplace, it stands to reason that they will not be as productive or creative as you expect them to be. Eventually, this kind of situation results in burnout, something else from which they must recover.

Identify Prevention Strategies and Programs

Responsible employers help their employees avoid situations or routines that lead to stress, which can trigger behaviors that require recovery. Some businesses offer physical outlets for their staff such as gym memberships and yoga sessions. Others provide personal care such as massages or meditation. But these perks may not be right for your organization. Take a look at the demographic of your workforce. Are the majority having difficulty making ends meet, particularly since the pandemic began? Does their health insurance cover mental health care or recovery programs? Are they routinely late or absent due to transportation or child care issues? Do you have more single people than those in families? Do millennials make up the majority of your team? Finding ways to ease your staff’s predominant challenges not only makes them more effective employees but also generates goodwill and loyalty.

In a blog post, personal finance writer Susan Shain identifies 17 employee benefits she terms, “worth the investment,” particularly for small businesses. She recommends focusing primarily on financial benefits (like 401(k)s and help with student loan payments) then compleimenting them with relevant -– and less costly –- lifestyle perks, such as flexible schedules and wellness programs.

Make Those in Recovery Feel Supported

Despite your best efforts as an employer, you will not be able to prevent all situations requiring recovery. If you need help finding tools and solutions to address behavioral health issues in your workplace, reach out. Look for expertise across the public health spectrum, including clinical medicine, community health, substance use disorders, mental health, and maternal and child health. Effective recovery care looks at the entire person and the support necessary for them to recover and thrive. Trained providers, coordinated care teams, evidence-based programs, and resources can help them live whole.

There are ways you can create a workplace that supports people in recovery or those considering it. The firm Working Partners offers some suggestions for implementing and maintaining a recovery-friendly atmosphere. These include:

  • Tell employees in recovery to speak up if their recovery is in danger.
  • Give employees time off for necessary support or treatment.
  • Communicate regularly with employees and their counselors.
  • Maintain employee accountability, but consider temporary accommodations.
  • Inspire wellness, as well as a better balance between work and personal time.

So dedicate yourself to recovery in all its forms. You will see the gratitude and relief on the faces of your employees. It is a timely commitment to empowering the American workforce.

About the authors

Dr. Anton Bizzell