While the challenge of addiction is not new and will continue to remain a significant issue long after the coronavirus pandemic has ended, the “collision” of addiction with COVID-19 has resulted in a host of challenges that have exacerbated an already serious substance abuse situation. Employers are in a unique position to spot the signs and symptoms of substance misuse early. The National Safety Council (NSC) is alerting employers to brace for an increase in employee substance abuse –a result of the pandemic’s impact on mental health. COVID-19’s impact on psychological systems and disorders, addiction and behavioral health is substantial and on-going, and will negatively impact people’s mental health, putting employees at greater risk for chronic illness and addiction. Managers who are serious about handling workplace addiction must balance compassion for the employee with a need to keep their workplaces running smoothly.
We’ve compiled a strategic list of steps that employers can take to stem the tide of addiction. Let’s dive in:
• Begin an open dialogue with staff – It’s important to foster an environment where substance abuse can be discussed openly and without stigma, with the understanding that some employees may still be dealing with COVID-19-related emotional issues. In addition, awareness programs should be launched that focus on substance use. They should include broad education that reduces associated stigma, and the best ways to work with employees and family members who may be struggling with a SUD. Through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), resources and referrals to mental health professionals can be provided to ensure employees are cognizant of support programs that are available and how to access them.
• Conduct manager training – Targeted managers should be trained annually on areas that include updates on EAP mental health and substance use disorders. Also, manager toolkits should be created and updated for identifying the right resources for specific issues.
• Employee technology tools – Information and communications technologies can play vital roles in addressing and managing SUDs in the workplace for both on-site and remote employees. Technologies can be used as adjuncts to traditional treatment or, in some cases, a stand-alone therapy. Employing a virtual addiction technology solution, like Quit Genius, can improve substance abuse and prevention treatment in a way that is cost-effective and increases reach to a broader population, including the many people with SUDs who aren’t in treatment.
• Have a clear set of rules to follow – This is one of the best ways to manage addiction in the workplace. Clear workplace policies like EAPs and self-help, peer-based programs, along with treatment resources and referrals all provide support for employees and their families. Remember that all pre-pandemic principles still apply when employees are facing a SUD. Don’t reinvent the wheel and abandon what you already know to work.
Economists and other experts predict that a global recession will take place post-pandemic, though its impact on substance abuse is not known. Employers should expect that in the medium-term, there will likely be a rise in consumption for some populations as a consequence of increased Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and psychiatric comorbidity. Realize that each person will experience the stress and trauma of the pandemic differently, and that some may not show signs of or experience mental health distress for weeks or months. Knowing this, employers can start to prepare now for the best ways to support impacted employees and help their business recover from the serious side effects of an unprecedented crisis. The ability to provide timely care post-pandemic is crucial and employers should make it a priority moving forward.
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