Is Your Workplace “Recovery Friendly”?

Companies need to look beyond resume gaps and give those who are recovering from substance abuse an opportunity to rejoin the workforce.

With the opioid epidemic claiming more than 130 lives per day in the U.S, according to the Human Resources and Services Administration, news of a program designed to help those in recovery from opioid addiction get back into the workplace caught my attention.

The article, by Hadley Barndollar of the New Hampshire Bulletin, which appeared on the site Route Fifty, details how New Hampshire’s “Recovery Friendly Workplace” is going to serve as a model for a national program. The state’s governor, Chris Sununu, will serve as honorary board chair of the National Recovery Friendly Workplace Institute, which is intended to provide “training and resources to companies willing to hire and help people in substance-abuse recovery,” according to Route Fifty.

Gaining a Wider Perspective

Is your company open to welcoming back into the workplace people who have struggled with issues such as addiction that may have caused gaps of unemployment in their resumes?

Sometimes those experiences can provide people with a new perspective. And that new perspective may be one that is familiar to some of your customers, who may have experienced similar challenges.

Having that wider perspective might result in a more compassionate customer service representative or a salesperson who is better able to connect with potential new customers. It also could result in a leader who can better manage employees, handling delicate situations with greater sensitivity than they might have shown before experiencing their own struggle.

Addressing Resume Gaps

The problem goes beyond organizations not wanting to take a chance on a person who has struggled with addiction. It’s a problem of many companies not wanting to hire an employee with any unexplained gap on their resume.

I found an article on the CNBC Website by Goh Chiew Tong that addresses how individuals should approach those unexplained gaps, noting that an applicant to a job has to “be prepared” to talk about the gaps during job interviews. On the company’s end, there also is work to be done. The organization has to decide to be open to hearing what the applicant has to say about why their career suddenly deviated from its expected path. Desire to travel, the need to take care of family, and sickness are common explanations.

A struggle with addiction also can be the truth behind a gap in a resume, but one that job candidates might be afraid to divulge. In an organization with a narrow perspective of what makes a good potential employee, they would be right to be afraid. With addiction such a common struggle, I wonder if that narrow perspective could be keeping companies from hiring people who could be transformative to the organization.

An Untapped Pool of Candidates

In addition to bringing the value of their experience, and how it may have improved them, those who are in recovery also represent many competent people who are ready to fill empty positions. Since the pandemic, it has become harder to recruit and retain employees. There is a greater demand for higher pay and more flexibility in work-life balance. Your company is competing with many others that can offer those things—and perhaps even more.

A person who is in recovery and eager to return to the workplace often will be motivated and enthusiastic to accept the opportunities you offer. And if you create a good work environment for them, they will remember the company that gave them a chance, and I bet they will stick with you for years.

How do you send a signal that your organization is open to hearing the story behind unexplained gaps in resumes, and even when that reason is addiction, that you are willing to give a qualified and motivated person a chance?