Funding rehab: Why employers can benefit from helping their employees

Supporting an employee in their recovery from a substance use disorder can be beneficial in the long-term to both you and them. 

While you may not be legally obliged to implement a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace, having one can help managers deal with any issues appropriately and consistently. The health and safety implications of drug or alcohol misuse in the workplace can be catastrophic. Under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an employee could jeopardise their own or their colleagues’ safety. As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. A drug and alcohol policy can help you to meet your legal responsibilities surrounding health, safety and employee welfare.

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Why is it important to support employees in their recovery?

Employment protection legislation requires employers to treat substance dependence as a recognised medical issue. A staff member misusing alcohol or drugs has the same right to confidentiality and support as they would if experiencing any other physical or psychological condition. 

Substance abuse should not be an immediate cause for dismissal. While many companies may ignore an issue until an individual deteriorates to such an extent that they are dismissed due to poor performance, helping an employee from an early stage can significantly improve their chances of successful recovery.

Choosing to support an employee in their recovery, rather than stigmatising and isolating them, shows that you value them as a member of your team. It demonstrates that you have faith in their potential for recovery and sobriety; stacking the odds of success in their favour. 

Supporting an employee delivers an important message to the workforce as a whole. A show of genuine support to one member of staff can have a positive influence on overall staff morale and job satisfaction. Employees who feel happy and supported at work are more likely to work harder, have positive attendance records and demonstrate greater engagement and loyalty.

What are the costs of substance abuse to employers?

The effects of drug or alcohol abuse are often keenly felt at work. Being under the influence impairs judgement, concentration and decision-making. From operating heavy equipment to working with hazardous materials, reduced reaction times and poor co-ordination as a consequence of consumption, ramp up the risk of accident and injury. Furthermore, the burden often falls on an addict’s co-workers to accept additional responsibilities, put in longer hours and pick up the slack for poor performance, lateness and absenteeism.

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The financial repercussions of substance misuse to industry are staggering. Lost productivity is a blight on the bottom line. According to Public Health England, lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion annually. Employees may be hungover or still under the influence when they arrive at work. They may consume substances before work and during the day or may be affected by health problems resulting from drug or alcohol misuse. All of which have a negative impact on productivity.

How can employers support employees in their recovery?

While the workplace may bear the brunt of the effects of substance abuse, it can also exacerbate the problem. A workplace issue with substance abuse could be indicative of a wider, institutionalised culture of stress. As such, creating a supportive working environment is crucial. 

Traditionally, zero-tolerance would have been the go-to approach to alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace. More recently however, employers are recognising the value in supporting those with an alcohol or drug addiction. The work environment can be a good place to start helping people to identify problems and overcome them.

Providing Job Security Throughout Their Recovery

Knowing it’s safe to seek help at work means employees may be more likely to do so sooner. Judgement and reprisal generally drive addiction underground. If an employee feels assured that their circumstances will be handled sensitively and confidentially, they’ll be more likely to come forward.

Choosing to offer consistent support and continued employment not only improves an employee’s chances of recovery but can also incur fewer costs to your company. Many employers are now considering the financial and ethical questions surrounding the provision of long-term support. For many, helping an employee while saving on the costs associated with their potential loss, is a win-win situation.

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Costs to terminate an employee’s contract for reasons related to substance misuse are significant and in addition to the expense surrounding hiring and training a new member of staff to cover that loss. Whether directly or by means of company health insurance, funding rehabilitation and supporting long-term recovery can be a cost-effective investment.

As an employer, your role is to work with an employee to improve their performance at work. Intervening in this capacity is crucial. It’s important to neither diagnose nor act as counsellor. If treatment is required, choosing the right programme is essential. Treatment for substance misuse is not a one-size-fits-all programme. The level of intensity varies and the right treatment plan will ensure greater employee engagement. 

Residential rehab may involve a medically-monitored detox to provide relief from withdrawal symptoms as well as help to manage cravings in a controlled setting. This approach, combined with talking and behavioural therapies, can be effective in treating addiction.

How to ease an employee’s return to work?

Outpatient programmes often form part of a follow-up plan of care following successful inpatient rehabilitation. Ongoing care is a crucial phase of recovery and should be in place before an employee returns to the workplace. Supporting an employee’s reintegration is essential. The individual shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or stressed. However, it’s equally important to discuss and set clear performance guidelines and expectations.

Working in partnership with the rehab facility, employers can prepare a back-to-work plan with clear boundaries, including regular drug testing and progress reviews. A Return-to-Work Agreement can be implemented if an employee has been given the opportunity to participate in rehabilitation as a condition of their continued employment. 

Supporting employees through treatment and recovery in a sensitive but professional manner will enable them to return to work as fully-functioning members of the team.

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