I've tried to quit drinking more times than I can remember during my lifetime. I'm in long-term drug recovery from meth, a drug known for the psychological cravings being arguably the most difficult to overcome. Not a single day goes by that I don't think about how difficult kicking alcohol is compared to meth. Alcohol is all around us. It's on billboards driving to work, on radio ads while we listen to music at work, and encouraged for happy hour after we get off work.
My company is located in a shared coworking space. Every day, I walk by kegs of free beer provided for our members just to get to the coffee machine. Free beer and happy hours are amazing and can improve workplace culture, but happy hour can quickly turn sad for someone who's secretly battling addiction. I own a staffing agency, which recruits felons and people in recovery. People who work at other companies in our offices come up to me everyday to confess their journey of recovery. It got me thinking. How many people are secretly struggling at work day to day? And is there anything companies can do to provide support without prying? Below are some tips I came up with as someone who does struggle. My hope is that at least one HR person reads this blog and considers implementing these simple changes. You never know, you might save a life.
1. Provide support: In our company, we are very open about addiction and our employees are not ashamed to come to us with their struggles because we provide support. Your company may never be that open depending on what type of business you're in, but you can still provide support without asking questions or employees confessing struggles. One simple way is to offer employees PTO for mental health days. The amount of days and how you go about it is up to you, but it's one way to provide support without asking questions. There are also great virtual recovery tools employers can provide and they aren't expensive compared to treatment. One I recently learned about is called Freedom 365.
2. Include alternatives: The other day I received an email inviting everyone out to a happy hour. The invite said something along the lines of "Have a drink on us! First drink, free!" I was thinking, dang, can a girl get some cheese sticks or a chicken wing? I am in no way suggesting any company or organization change culture completely to cater to those in recovery. In fact, we don't want to be excluded because there is alcohol present. It would just be nice to have options that focus less on booze so we can focus more on being present and not fighting social pressures.
3. Plan activities: It's inevitable that there will be a lot of alcohol at holiday parties and celebrations. Many times these events include a lot of standing around drinking and talking. And drinking. And talking. Which is so much fun for people who drink and can listen to the same slurring conversations all night long. This environment can be really uncomfortable for people in recovery. One really simple way to combat that is to add a couple of activities. Perhaps plan a themed party where there are things to do or book a venue that has both a bar and games.
After many conversations with people in recovery, I believe I speak for most when I say we don't expect anyone to cater to us. We understand it's us who have to deal with the problem, but why not start conversations to help with a solution?