Jun 15
  • Written By Scott Drochelman

  • How Do I Create A Recovery Ready Workplace?

    How Do I Create A Recovery Ready Workplace?

    How Do I Create A Recovery Ready Workplace?

    In this installment of the Recovery Ready Workplace Series, we delve into the critical topic of creating a recovery-ready workplace that supports individuals in their journey of substance use recovery. Substance use issues can significantly impact employees and their ability to perform at their best. As organizations strive to promote a culture of inclusivity and well-being, it is essential to establish a workplace that fosters support, understanding, and resources for those in recovery.

    Join us as we explore strategies, best practices, and insights on building a recovery-ready workplace that empowers employees on their path to substance use recovery. 

    Key discussion points in this episode include:

    Understanding The Stages of Substance Abuse Disorder: It can be helpful to understand how alcoholism might show up in its various stages. In understanding the stages, we can understand how substance use might show up in a workplace.

    Creating a Recovery-Supportive Culture: A recovery-ready workplace begins with a culture of empathy, understanding, and support. We explore strategies for creating an environment that encourages open communication, destigmatizes substance use recovery, and promotes well-being. 

    Hosting Healthy Recovery Events: When hosting work events, there are specific details that can make an immense difference in how likely an employees might start down the road to recovery.

    By embracing the principles of empathy, support, and education, organizations can create recovery-ready workplaces that provide a safe and understanding space for employees on their journey of substance use recovery. Join us as we explore the strategies and considerations for building workplaces that promote recovery, well-being, and long-term success.

    Episode Resources

    Connect with Ashley Loeb Blassingame

    Connect with The Courage to Change


    Episode Transcript

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    You are listening to The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast. We are a community of recovering people who have overcome the odds and found the courage to change. Each week we share stories of recovery from substance abuse, eating disorders, grief and loss, childhood trauma, and other life-changing experiences. Come join us no matter where you are on your recovery journey.

    Hello, beautiful people. Welcome to the Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast. My name is Ashley Loeb Blassingame, and I am your host. And today we have the Recovery Ready Workplace Series.

    Speaker 2:

    Some context around these episodes a little bit is we’re wanting to create some episodes that are specific for whether they be managers or whoever might benefit from something like this, but to be able to say, “Okay, how do I look at what I’ve got going on right now, and create an environment that is more supportive for the folks who are working with me who might be struggling with substance use disorder?” So go ahead.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    I have thoughts about that, real quick.

    Speaker 2:


    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    So it is my belief that people might feel that a recovery ready workplace is super, super great for all those companies that have people with substance use disorder. However, their company, they don’t know anybody who has substance use disorder. They don’t know anybody who drinks too much or maybe they drink too much, but it’s not alcoholism, or how could they even hold down a job? What even are we talking about?

    And I have been running into a lot of people who truly do not believe that there is anyone at their company, or that there are very few people at their company, who struggle with any kind of over-drinking or over-medicating of any sort. And substance use disorder is the diagnostic term, but the reality is we’re talking about people who drink too much and it’s affecting their lives or it’s affecting their relationships or work, or maybe they have pain and they’re taking too much of the pain medication or find themselves addicted through no fault of their own.

    These are the types of scenarios that we’re talking about, situations where people become dependent on something and they’re overdoing it. And we all know somebody at a work event who does a little bit more than everybody else and manages to embarrass themselves every once in a while. That’s what we’re talking about. Those are the little tips of the iceberg that we all see. And many of the people who are struggling don’t even have those. We don’t even see any of those issues. They get everything on time. They’re great employees, and they’re struggling. And I know that because I’ve been involved in one way or another in this field for over 20 years, and I have worked with CEOs, bankers, doctors, lawyers, and everything in between. And it’s really important that we have recovery friendly workplaces because there is so much of this going on that people aren’t seeing.

    Speaker 2:

    Yes. I think that’s a really important distinction, and helpful and leads exactly into the topic we have today. Because you just told me that I may or may not even know who it is on my team who is struggling in this way. With that being the case, how do I create a recovery friendly workplace? How do I create a place where people who are potentially struggling in this way, how do I do that if I don’t even know who to target it at or what to do? What am I supposed to do?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    So a couple things. Number one, I want you to think of this diagnosis that we’re using called substance use disorder. It’s a diagnosis, right? So let’s think of this like four stages of cancer. If you have stage four alcoholism, your body’s falling apart. Maybe you live on the streets. You have very few resources. You are isolated. You are towards the end stages of being able to survive with alcoholism. Maybe you’re homeless, stage four, close to death.

    Stage three alcoholism, very large consequences, maybe arrests, maybe DUIs, divorces, losses of jobs. These are the things that we see that are much more obvious to us. And stage three is really where a lot of people are able to identify the alcoholism. They cannot hide it.

    Stage two. Stage two is tip of the iceberg alcoholism. Stage two is there’s some consequences here and there, maybe there are relationship consequences; but again, it’s easy to attribute them to other things at this stage. It’s easy to say, “Oh, well I get in a fight because that person always does X, Y, Z.” Right? It’s easy to call what is truly a result of alcohol and drinking or substance use something other than that, right? We’re still making excuses or trying to explain away these outcomes.

    Stage one is where it starts to pick up, but it’s pretty undetectable. It’s still very treatable. It’s in the early stages, and it would just look like drinking too much here and there. It would definitely be able to camouflage as normal drinking, but there are little things here and there that would signal to the trained eye that there is a budding problem. Okay? So we have the four stages of alcoholism.

    Now, having a recovery friendly workplace is important because you will likely have stage one to three. You’re probably not going to have a ton of stage three alcoholics. They’re going to have trouble holding jobs. It’s going to be much more obvious. They probably won’t last that long. That’s what most of us think of when we think of the alcoholic. And I’m using the alcoholic to encompass all substances. We think of stage three and four.

    Having a recovery friendly workplace needs to apply to stage one and two as well. And that is the part that I really struggle to get across to people, and I think this is where we can be helpful. So some of the reasons that I hear people say they don’t want to even attempt to reduce or eliminate their drinking is because their job revolves so much around them drinking alcohol and that it would look funny. So a recovery friendly workplace is a place where someone could cut back or quit drinking and it wouldn’t have a huge impact on their ability to be at events, to be in the workplace, or to maintain their abstinence.

    So what that might look like is fewer events that revolve around drinking alcohol. So for example, everybody going out to cocktails, everybody’s talking about cocktails. The only non-alcoholic drink is a water. There’s a bar where it’s very obvious who’s drinking what. Sometimes bars will put non-alcoholic drinks in very distinguishable cups, these type of things. We want to create a place where you can camouflage. No one has to know what it is you’re drinking or not drinking.

    Speaker 2:

    I do like the thought of being able to create an environment where people can make changes and not have it have to be so out loud. I understand that people wouldn’t necessarily want to do that, because it is declaring something. What follows are all the questions like, “Oh, not drinking today? Why aren’t you drinking today?” I might just say, “You know what? Forget it, because it would be better for me to not feel this uncomfortable at work.”

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:


    Speaker 2:

    “Well, I’ll just deal with it because it’s way more embarrassing the other way.”

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    And people quite literally will say that to me. They’ll say, “I cannot stop drinking because it would affect how people see me at work. It would be a really big departure from my behavior.” Having these workplaces that don’t require them to out themselves immediately if they want to make a change is important. And honestly, it’s important because people in stage one and two can talk themselves out of trying to change the behavior because the consequences aren’t that big yet. And so, a lot of them don’t get help if there are these barriers because they don’t think it’s that bad yet and they’re not willing to suffer any type of embarrassment until it is that bad. So we’re helping people by changing these cultures. We’re allowing these people to get help earlier and allowing them to assimilate into the environment while they get comfortable with this change in their life and not having to announce it to everybody.

    Speaker 2:

    When I’m hearing tangible examples, one might be a way of people in a culture where there’s drinking at work, things like that, that people can do it in a way that’s a little more incognito, that there’s options for them to have a drink that looks like another kind of drink, things like that. But what are some more tangible kinds of things that I can actually be doing to change the environment so it does feel like it’s more recovery ready in that way?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    So I have a couple of go-tos that I suggest on the employer side, for managers; one is Lunch and Learns. Put together a lunch, everybody loves a free lunch, and have a speaker who’s in recovery who has some sort of background in something they can talk about that’s helpful, that’s useful. And have them come talk about their story, how they got help, what were some of the things that they experienced working in corporate America, or some form of conversation where your employees know that you intentionally hired someone in recovery, and you hired them to come talk to them about their journey.

    What that says is, “We approve of recovery. We want to be a part of the conversation around recovery. We’re putting resources behind the conversation.” It also allows people to listen and see if they relate to any of the conversations or any of the things that are going on, and explore options that maybe the company provides, various benefits, ways of getting help. It opens up the conversation.

    And the first conversation that actually comes out will typically be with people who are struggling with a loved one who’s going through this. But I encourage you not to discount people who are dealing with a loved one who’s struggling with substance use disorder, because their work performance will absolutely suffer as a result of the stress and emotional tornado of a loved one struggling. And having these resources is helpful for them as well. So that’s another tangible one.

    In any event that you throw, there needs to be some sort of focal point that isn’t the food and beverage, right? So the focal point could be a speaker. The focal point could be games. It could be some sort of thing that you can do that isn’t focused on, “What are we going to eat and what are we going to drink?” When you have that, people who don’t drink can assimilate much better. Also, having drinks that people who don’t drink actually want to drink, like mocktails or non-alcoholic beverages or sodas or whatever it is, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to something and the only non-alcoholic beverage is water in a bottle. And so, thank God I don’t care, but I’m walking around with a water bottle. Then I have to field those questions you talked about.

    Speaker 2:

    Mm-hmm. Can I go back to a couple things that you just said?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    Yes, please.

    Speaker 2:

    The first one is how do you create an event like that, a Lunch and Learn? Because my experience typically is those are optional. There’s a free lunch to get you there or whatever, but is there some element of by attending I am saying something about myself? You know what I mean? Are there any things that you could do so that you make that event appealing or that in attending I am not worried about outing myself in some way?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    That is a great question. So there is, of course, the obvious answer, which I think is a great one, is making it mandatory for everybody to come. Additional pieces that might help, making it a really good lunch, people having really great… “We’re going to have catered from this fantastic restaurant” or whatever it is. Maybe having two speakers, one that is about this topic and then there’s something else in there so that you sort of camouflage if someone wants to come and listen; putting it in the context of, “This person is going to come and share their journey, but they’re also going to talk about how people could be helpful to someone else.” People are always willing to go listen to a talk on how they could help someone else with their problem, right? And so, you can often get a ton of people in the door by telling them, “This person is going to give you the answer to how to manage your child, your spouse, your whatever it is.” So those are some really good ways.

    Speaker 2:

    I love that. Now the second thing that you mentioned, I think it’s something that’s maybe commonplace for you, but I don’t know that it would make sense to every person as far as what that truly means, is you talked about having events that don’t necessarily revolve around food and drink. What does that mean exactly? What does that look like?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    There are a lot of events where if you’re not drinking or eating the food, it is not part of your lifestyle, then it is extremely difficult to be in that situation. Inclusivity requires people to think about what it would feel like if you didn’t consume any of the food or any of the beverages. What would that feel like? Could you still go? Could you still sit at the table? Would it be weird if you sat at the table? What could you do instead? Would it be pointless to join the event if you didn’t consume those things?

    A kid’s birthday party is a really great way to think about it, right? You’re not going to throw a lunch for kids, right? Are you going to have lunch? Yes, you’re going to have lunch, right? But they don’t want to walk away like, “Yeah, I just had pizza. I basically went to a restaurant.” So you have an event: it’s bowling, it’s at a park, it’s blah, blah, blah. It’s something that people can do together to get to know each other that doesn’t revolve this substance that is there to break down barriers. Instead, we break down barriers with the activities. So that piece is really, really important, and it’s a whole different way of thinking about how to put on the event.

    Speaker 2:

    I love that. Well, now let’s say that we have somebody at an event or there’s some other opportunity. What are some other ways that we can signal to people that our workplace is recovery friendly? Are there things that we can say? Are there things that we should explain? Are there things that we should touch on that speaks more broadly that we’re the kind of workplace that’s recovery friendly?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    I’ll give you a quick example. At Salesforce, there is an employee interest group called Soberforce, started by a woman named Marin Nelson who is in recovery herself. And she was in a management position and felt that it was important to come out and have this employee group. And now it has taken on a life of its own and it’s called Soberforce. And she’s no longer with the company, but this is still an employee-run group and it’s got a lot of members, and so on and so forth.

    The fact that Salesforce supports that and fuels that and gives that any attention, and frankly, allows it to be a full-on thing of its own gives us information about the values of Salesforce. When I see that, as someone who’s in recovery, I know that at some level Salesforce is behind this cause, maybe not perfectly, but that’s signaling to me. So that’s one way where I’m picking up these signals.

    Frankly, a big signal, and I know this sounds convenient for me to say, so I’m just going to say that right up front, but this is the God’s honest truth, frankly, is if they have the benefits for people who need the help. I know that you’re friendly of recovery or anything, right? You’re parent friendly if you have great parental leave, if you have great parental benefits. You’re health friendly if you have great health benefits, you care about your employees. So recovery friendly is going to include things I might need in my recovery, whether that’s substance use disorder benefits, mental health therapy, and not just the eight sessions a year.

    There’s little things that I teach managers, and I’ll give you a couple examples and there’s a ton of these, but here’s an example. The way you set up the bar at an event can be the difference between someone having to out themselves based on what drink they order and not. There are ways to set up a bar so that people are in a line, almost like at the pharmacy, and the line kind of starts further back. You have some sort of barrier or some sort of way where I do not have to announce my order with all the people surrounding the bar, and the bartender yelling back to me my order that I’m not going to have alcohol in my glass. Instead, what happens is, you have no idea what I ordered. I have this beautiful glass that looks like your glass. And I walk away, and we don’t have to ever talk about it because no one’s going to say, “Hey, what is in your glass?”

    There are certain ways to set things up where you have a little bit of privacy around what it is that you’re doing. Maybe you do a health challenge, you have a juice cleanse, or the work has a health challenge, a step challenge, and people can say, “Oh, I’m part of this so I’m not drinking right now.” There are little things that people can do that make a big difference in terms of people feeling like they can camouflage. They’re places where companies can really show that they’re thinking about the intricacies of inclusion. And frankly, they don’t even need to think of them. They can reach out to someone like myself or other people and say, “What are some of the things? What are some of the obstacles, and how can we help?

    Speaker 2:

    Yeah. My hope is that this is helpful for folks who are in this position, where they’re in charge of setting the environment and what feels accessible and what feels like group norms and things like that. If you were to say one last thing to managers, or even just people who hold power or influence in an organization, about how to create an environment that is recovery friendly, what’s one last thing you might want to add?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    If you have people who are openly in recovery and willing to be celebrated amongst your ranks, particularly in management, and you as a company for example, wish them a happy sobriety anniversary on their anniversary publicly, if they’re willing; or you put something out on LinkedIn about it or it’s in your newsletter or some sort of public acknowledgement or some sort of conversation around mental health or things of this nature, that is really signaling to people that you care. But again, it’s signaling inclusivity.

    True inclusivity requires you to create spaces for these people, not just the signal. In order to create spaces for people who have a certain medical condition, you have to have the medical benefits that come along with it. You have to have the resources and create space for people to get real help, not surface level help. And if you do these things and acknowledge that you have people in stage one and two, maybe a few in stage three, and that you’re going to be able to help people in stage one and two get help sooner by just being inclusive and friendly and trying to reduce the stigma and shame around these issues, forget being a good person, you’ll also save the company a ton of money in other medical expenditures that that person will absolutely accrue over time: work productivity, absenteeism. There are so many benefits to having a healthy, sober person in your workforce. And signaling, but also the true inclusivity are where you can make the biggest difference.

    So I know I just threw a ton of stuff at you, and if you have specific questions around your workforce or any clarification or just reiteration that you’d like, feel free to reach out to me. My email is ashley@lionrockrecovery.com, A-S-H-L-E-Y@lionrockrecovery.com. Feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to help. I want to promote inclusive workspaces and help companies to join me in my mission to reduce stigma. Thank you so much for listening to The Recovery Ready Workplace Series. I’ll see you next time.

    This podcast is sponsored by Lionrock.life. Lionrock.life is a diverse and supportive recovery community offering weekly over 70 online peer support meetings, useful recovery information, and entertaining content. Whether you’re newly sober, have many years in recovery, or you’re recovering from something other than drugs and alcohol, we have space for you. Visit www.lionrock.life today and enter promo code courage for one month of unlimited peer support meetings free. Find the joy in recovery at Lionrock.life.

    Scott Drochelman

    Scott Avatar