Transitioning Back to Workplace SMB Matters Benefits Culture Wellness

Clear and Compassionate Approach is Key to Supporting Employees Dealing With Addiction Challenges During COVID-19

April 12, 2021

Steps to Help Promote Workplace Wellness


The COVID-19 pandemic and sheltering in place may have created numerous triggers for people facing challenges caused by addictions, making it increasingly harder to overcome addiction or recognize concerning patterns for those who may be struggling. During the pandemic, many people are working remotely from home and are socially separated from coworkers, friends and family. This could create a feeling of isolation and loneliness, which could lead to a sense of hopelessness and depression potentially resulting in triggering addictive behaviors.

While people are working remotely, it may become difficult to recognize patterns that may indicate if someone is struggling, so others may want to take active steps to check in with remote employees or help them feel connected and check on their mental well-being. One way to do this is to potentially conduct regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings to check in .

Providing Support

A supportive culture can be promoted that encourages interaction and engagement. Active steps can be taken to bring others together by organizing social events through Zoom or other web-based video conferencing tools. Providing social outlets may ease the feeling of isolation and make others feel more connected to their coworkers and company. Some employees may not feel comfortable using video during these calls even though video calls may create a stronger connection, however it remains a good practice to respect others’ boundaries.

Reminding people that they are part of a team striving to reach a goal may help them feel productive and remind them of the importance of their work and to refocus their efforts to achieve those goals.

Maintaining a structured day and focusing and setting clear expectations such as short term measurable and achievable goals, may help keep people on track to succeed.

Steps to Take if You Suspect Someone is Struggling with Addiction

If you notice someone is having difficulty managing assigned job duties, then you may consider checking in with them. It is important to show interest and a desire to help rather than adopt a confrontational posture. Typically, if someone feels they are in danger of disciplinary action or feel they are being accused, they are less likely to have a productive conversation. By letting people know you care about their well-being and job performance, and want to partner with them, you will lead a more productive conversation.

You may want to start by asking open-ended questions. Directly asking someone if they have addiction issues limits the scope of the conversation, putting them on the defensive. And it may also lead to potential legal liability if protected medical information is requested. Allowing others to decide what information they are comfortable sharing will help mitigate potential liability concerns and make them more comfortable to open up and share. During the conversation, if someone divulges any medical conditions, the manager should consult an HR or legal professional to help determine if statutory requirements, such as mandated leave, should be provided or if a reasonable accommodation is necessary.

If someone shares their struggles or you think they may be struggling, provide them access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you can.

TriNet’s EAP program, available to customers and their employees, offers those employees free confidential counseling services for a range of substance abuse and mental health issues as well as providing a library of articles and webinars on a wide variety of topics.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates drug and alcohol abuse cost employers in the Unites States $81 billion annually. The economic impact may go beyond employee impairment on the job and could include decreased performance due to withdrawal symptoms, preoccupation with reengaging or managing the stress in their personal lives.

Addictions may go beyond substance abuse. Other examples of addictions may include gambling, playing video games, or excessive and/or problematic internet activities.

Providing a clear and compassionate approach to supporting employees can have a measurable positive impact not only in their lives, but in the success of a business as well.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such web sites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on TriNet.com does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

By Mike Simon

Mike Simon is a senior consultant HR & compliance services at TriNet.

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