- Today’s workplace is a battlefield. Employees are working in a dysfunctional period of political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental upheaval.
- Searching for help. A Businessolver study revealed there are a myriad of barriers making it difficult for employees to get support from employers for mental and behavioral health issues.
- Meeting employees’ needs. There are three evolving workplace models that companies are embracing to accomplish DEI goals: recovery-ready workplace, recovery-ready workplace and recovery-friendly workplace.
The world of work is undergoing unprecedented change, impacting both the workforce and the workplace. Since the onset of COVID-19, numerous articles have been written lamenting the state of the essential and remote workforce. Turn the page to the next chapter of the post pandemic workplace tale titled “The Great Resignation.”
Then suddenly, before you could say “ghost” (defined by HR recruiters as “I made them a great job offer and they never showed up to work”), the workplace lexicon expanded to include terms like “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing.”
The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) nature of the workplace has given rise to another new descriptive term, which is a catchall for “Hey, it's crazy out there!” Originally coined by the U.S. military to describe the environmental conditions encountered on Middle Eastern battlefields, the term is now taught in management training programs as an essential part of preparing today’s business leaders to survive the battlefield that is today’s workplace.
It is alarming to think that such a dysfunctional period of political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental upheaval would come to be known as the new normal. One begins to feel like a combatant on the frontline of a war zone. And in war, there are casualties.
Employees Suffer in Silence
A recently published study by Kaiser Foundation and CNN reported that 90% of Americans are suffering from some sort of mental health issue. And, specific to the workplace, the “2022 State of Workplace Empathy Report" by Businessolver states 50% of employees reached out at work for help with a mental health issue.
In addition to the millions of employees struggling with mental health issues, nearly 50% of the employees with mental health issues are also struggling with substance misuse. In fact, according to a “2020 Behavioral Health Update,” 49% of all American workers struggle with substance misuse.
While more people need support for behavioral health issues than ever before, the “State of Workplace Empathy Report” indicates 62% of employees say it’s become increasingly difficult to talk about mental health because 59% fear reaching out to a manager or HR about a mental health issue could negatively affect their job security. In fact, Oracle and Workplace Intelligence reported that 68% of employees would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work.
Businessolver’s report reveals that despite the myriad of barriers making it difficult for employees to get support from employers for mental and behavioral health issues, these issues are vitally important to employees.
So, what is the most appropriate solution for employers to use to meet the needs of hurting employees who fear opening up to employers regarding their needs? In addition to highlighting the behavioral health crisis confronting employers and the workforce, the State of Workplace Empathy Report also makes the case that employers should strive to create an empathic workplace culture as part of the solution.
DEI Demands Empathy
Demographically speaking, a snapshot of today’s workforce features the most diverse group of employees ever. And there are notable differences among employees in terms of what they want, need and expect from their employers.
For example, the “State of Workplace Empathy Report” notes that while 90% of all employees, HR professionals and CEOs said that empathy is important, only 69% of employees say their organizations are empathetic, suggesting that nearly one third of employees don’t feel heard, understood or appreciated.
The “State of Workplace Empathy Report” suggests that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activities remain an important driver of workplace empathy: In fact, the report finds that 76% of employees, HR professionals and CEOs believe DEI programs and initiatives encourage empathy.
This same report also states 93% of CEOs suggest workplace support groups as a top-rated benefit to address mental health. This is a natural transition as companies have historically utilized employee resource groups (ERGs) and affinity groups to support traditional DEI initiatives.
The workplace of the future should further expand these groups to meet a wider range of corporate and employee needs — specifically, employees’ mental and behavioral health needs.
Below are three evolving workplace models that companies are embracing to accomplish these goals.
1. Recovery-Ready Workplace
Recovery-ready workplaces understand the importance of taking the first steps toward creating a level of psychological safety. This environment allows people in recovery to become fully present, knowing they are valued employees who belong.
Recovery-ready workplaces don’t happen by accident. They happen because individuals in the workspace are vocal about breaking the silence of addiction. These champions may be leaders or front-line employees who are in recovery themselves. The commonality is that they have decided to create a workspace that promotes and protects the hearts, health and overall well-being of those who are hurting, healing and/or hopeful.
With intention, recovery-ready workplaces introduce and undertake enterprise-wide initiatives and activities with the express purpose of encouraging and facilitating employees’ access to individuals, information and resources while eliminating barriers. The result of these efforts raises awareness and reduces the stigma attached to substance misuse and addiction.
Simultaneously, these efforts expand the inclusion umbrella to welcome and support individuals who are sober curious, striving to achieve sobriety or maintain long-term recovery.
2. Recovery-Supportive Workplace
Moving beyond the recovery-ready workplace, the continuum of non-clinical workplace care brings us to the recovery-supportive workplace. The most notable feature of a recovery-supportive workplace is that the organization’s culture, operational systems and workforce community have begun to reflect a collective awareness that substance use disorder — more commonly known as addiction — is a chronic health condition that may require affected individuals to obtain treatment and pursue ongoing care.
The understanding and acceptance of this fact motivates the organization to encourage and support employees in recovery, while simultaneously protecting the company’s business interests and other employees.
The U.S. Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as a process of change that individuals go through while overcoming a substance use disorder. Individuals striving to achieve sobriety or maintain long-term recovery must learn to navigate the following four dimensions of their lives: health, home, purpose and community.
Recovery-supportive workplaces are not bystanders, watching idly from the sidelines; they are active participants in helping those employees seeking to achieve and maintain an addiction-free life that is fulfilling, rewarding and healthy. Not only do they give assistance to the employees in such a way that enables them to perform their job well, but they also seek to remove any job-related obstacles that would cause the individual to stumble, fall or relapse.
As a reminder, some companies can utilize the ERG or affinity group model as a way to facilitate their ability to effectively implement a recovery-supportive workplace. By design, ERGs and affinity groups are company sanctioned, yet they are entirely employee led. An example of one very successful group is SoberForce, which was established by four employees of Salesforce.
Organizations of the future are encouraged to expand their inclusion umbrella to connect and support employees who are curious about sobriety or in need of assistance for themselves, family members, co-workers or others regarding substance misuse and addiction. Employers will find supportive individuals who are eager to lead or participate in such initiatives among their existing employee population.
More than 23 million U.S. adults are currently in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). These individuals are sometimes referred to in behavioral health circles as recovery “peer supporters” because their life experience qualifies them to share in, or identify with, the experience of others regarding mental health or substance use disorder.
3. Recovery-Friendly Workplace
Companies that have made significant progress toward achieving their recovery-supportive workplace goals may be ready to extend their commitment to recovery support beyond their internal workspace into a broader community network. The recovery-friendly-workplace model provides a framework for those efforts.
The first recovery-friendly workplace initiative began in New Hampshire under Gov. Chris Sununu. Today, there are 26 states that identify as recovery-friendly, and more are on the way as state governments begin to closely align with the needs of local businesses. Recovery-friendly workplaces support their communities by recognizing recovery from substance use disorder as a strength and are willing to work intentionally with people in recovery.
Recovery-friendly workplaces are more formal and evolved than recovery-supportive because they encourage ongoing collaboration between employers, employees, other recovery service providers and specialists within their local communities. Recovery-friendly workplaces recognize individuals who are in recovery from SUD possess incredible personal strengths and characteristics that can create positive change in workplace cultures by eliminating barriers for those whose lives have been impacted by addiction.
Recovery-friendly workplaces model to other employers that the topic of substance misuse, addiction and related mental health disorders can be approached openly, proactively and with transparency within the workspace. These workplaces are synergistic because the results of their collaborative efforts are greater than the sum of the parts — they sow seeds of hope, provide help, healing and long-term recovery support to individuals in need.
The recovery-friendly workplace is the most evolved working environment in existence today. The key to success is strategic collaboration between empathetic employers, employees, treatment service providers and specialists such as professional recovery coaches.
Such collaborative efforts provide employees with direct access to both prevention and treatment resources as well as other workforce solutions within the healthcare continuum.
Editor’s Note: Additional Content
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