One of the many reasons people avoid getting help is that they are afraid to talk about mental health and addiction with their coworkers and bosses. Asking superiors for time off for treatment might seem impossible out of fear of losing one's job or being demoted. In some work environments, getting a drink with coworkers after work is commonplace. This article talks about how to create a safe place for employees to talk about mental health and addiction struggles without fear of being reprimanded.
How the Workplace Affects Mental Health
The biggest contributors to poor mental health in the workplace are stress and burnout, which can be caused by overworking and enduring extreme pressure. If an employee works long shifts without sufficient breaks or has too many responsibilities in their job, it can become a detriment to their mental health. Other things that cause stress in the workplace include coworker conflicts, poor management, workplace discrimination, and a lack of safety. Poor mental health caused by work can harm the employee, impact their work performance, and lead to more workplace accidents. Additionally, poor mental health in the workplace can lead to substance misuse.
How the Workplace Impacts Addiction
When people feel extra stress or pressure from their job, or they simply do not find their career enjoyable, they might turn to self-medication. Self-medication is when a person uses substances to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. The workplace can contribute to, and even encourage substance use, only making a person’s addiction worse. A typical outing to a bar with coworkers after a long week might seem harmless, but drinking to cope with stress becomes a recipe for future problems.
A person who does not know how to properly cope with stress might turn to drugs and alcohol. A person who is overworked might use stimulants to keep up with the demands of the job. When experiencing burnout and depression, an individual might drink at home in order to recover from their day.
Workplaces also do not help those with addiction find help. Many places of work do not offer paid time off or are quick to replace a position if the person needs to leave. It is also common for people to be pressured to work longer, especially in salary jobs where the employer does not lose money if a person works more.
Why People Don’t Talk About It
While some places are starting conversations about addiction and the workplace, many industries are silent about addiction. A person who is struggling with substance use might be afraid of repercussions if they are honest about their addiction. Some businesses have a zero-tolerance policy for drug use. While often this is for insurance purposes, it still makes admitting an addiction risky.
Others might not know if they will have a job to come back to after treatment. They might have worked hard to get into their position but are afraid of losing everything for treatment. They might not think that getting treatment is worth losing the income they need to support themselves and their family. This fear of consequences also leaves people isolated. They do not have someone to talk to. Talking to a coworker could be risky since they might tell a boss or human resources.
How You Can Create a Safe Work Environment
Offer Easy Access to Employee Assistance Programs
Employee assistance programs, or EAPs, are workplace intervention problems that can help employees confidentially be assisted with personal, family, or mental health problems. EAPs can offer assistance with substance misuse, as well. Unfortunately, not every business offers this kind of assistance, especially small businesses. Employers should consider finding an EAP for their employees.
Workplace Education About Substance Misuse
A great way to reduce the stigma is through education. There are many myths about substance use that can prevent people from seeking help. These classes should either be confidential or offered to the entire company in order to avoid singling anyone out.
Offer Health Coverage for Substance Use Disorder Treatment
It is important for individuals to check if their healthcare plans cover substance use treatment. A barrier to treatment is often the cost. Many plans might only offer substance use treatment as an add-on. Individuals should make sure their plans include this form of care as a default option.
Promote Support Groups
Offer support groups for those struggling with mental health and substance use, or for people who are in recovery. These groups can help employees feel less alone.
Provide Confidential Screening Tools
Sometimes what keeps people from seeking treatment is not knowing they have an addiction. Employers should provide their employees with a screening tool they can use in confidence to find out if they have an addiction. If an employee finds that they do have an addiction, they should seek help right away.
Teach Healthy Working Habits
A great preventative measure is making sure that employees are educated on healthy working habits. This can include tools to cope with stress, information on overworking, and tips on maintaining a work-life balance.
Reconsider the Zero Tolerance Approach
There are alternatives to a zero-tolerance approach, which is a policy that means that an employer must terminate an employee who tests positive for illicit substances. Another option could include a policy that requires an employee to seek counseling instead. This option can save an employer money in the long run by not needing to hire and train a replacement.
Reduce Addiction Risks
This can include reducing stress in the workplace, evenly delegating workloads, focusing on prevention, and including substance misuse information. Reducing addiction can help employees in the future and ultimately may save the company money.