The workplace reintegration process for an employee who has completed a drug addiction rehabilitation program is far from straightforward, as employers and human resource representatives have many different elements to juggle. What can be done to make the person feel comfortable in order to once again become a productive employee?
There are many factors to understand and consider in preparation for an employee’s reintegration.
Consider the individual case
The circumstances of the employee’s departure as well as his treatment history are important starting points. Was the person forced to go to treatment or did he make the decision on his own? Is this the first, second, or third time he has done a drug addiction rehabilitation program? Did everyone at work know that he had a drug abuse problem and that he went to treatment? Though there are many questions to consider, what is most important is that the process is centered on the individual case and that the person be consulted as to how best to manage the reintegration process.
Understand what the person has been going through
An employer with a better understanding of the drug addiction rehabilitation process will be better equipped to help the employee with the ongoing recovery process.
At Portage’s drug addiction rehabilitation centres, residents live in a highly structured group living environment where they never have trouble finding someone to listen and support them. By questioning, discussing, and examining the fundamental issues that contributed to their addiction problems, residents make themselves highly vulnerable and experience intense emotions. In supporting their peers and taking on responsibility, they develop a set of social skills, such as how to communicate effectively, how to ask for help, and how to work in a team, which enable them to develop their self-confidence and better manage the stress of everyday life.
Consider the context of the work
The working conditions will obviously guide the reintegration process. Is the job unionised? Is it a public, community, governmental, institutional or private organisation? How big is the company? Is there a Human Resources Department? The type of work is also an important factor to consider. For example, there will be different elements to deal with if the individual is a nurse versus an accountant.
Some companies have an official return-to-work protocol that may include screening tests, medical follow-up requirements, validation of the employee’s participation in an aftercare program, a gradual return to work. If so, can the protocol be adapted to individual needs?
Understand the stress factors
It is important to anticipating the stress factors frequently observed during employee reintegration:
Justification of his absence to colleagues;
Anxiety about social unveiling;
Social judgement – fear of being misunderstood, difficulty in reintegrating the group, loss of trust with his employer and colleague
Anxiety that his performance may not be good enough without drugs;
Feeling indebted towards the employer for his absence;
Difficulty adjusting to life outside of the rehabilitation program (less structured, availability of drugs etc.).
Some suggestions to ease the process
Speak with the employee about the process and take his ideas into account:
-Gradual return, flexible working hours, ability to attend aftercare groups.
Provide positive reinforcement, recognise the skills he has acquired, and highlight his efforts.
Evaluate relapse risk factors associated to the workplace, which may include tasks, stress, schedule, conflicts between colleagues; and if the environment itself is risk, such as a restaurant where there is alcohol being consumed.
Respect confidentiality issues.
Cooperate with the aftercare services team at the rehabilitation centre where the person was treated to ensure optimal support and follow-up.
Though this process may seem like a major challenge, if it is well managed it will be so worthwhile, contributing not only to the personal success of the individual, but also to the well-being of the company.