Everyone has their own set of challenges and obstacles that prevent them from thriving and living their life to the fullest. If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s that we need to be aware and cognizant of one another’s struggles whether at home or in the workplace.
One of the comments I most often receive when interviewing sources about mental health topics is that employees spend more time during the day with their coworkers than their families. And it’s true. And it’s these relationships that are so crucial to supporting one another during this time.
In June, I had the opportunity to speak with Tim Ryan, the subject of A&E’s 2017 documentary “Dope Man” and founder of non-profit A Man in Recovery. Ryan, a recovering addict and thought leader on the subject of recovery, travels the country hosting interventions and speaks about substance abuse along with his wife Jennifer Gimenez, an actress and model. He discussed how the anxiety, fear and stress Americans have been facing is spurring a resurgence of relapses and substance abuse.
Even though this interview occurred months ago, one thing that struck me was his response to the question: what can employers do to support workers? His first response was that it was one of the best question he has ever been asked. In the hundreds of interviews he has completed, no one has asked him for his insight when it comes to the workplace. It has stuck in my mind because, to me, it’s shocking that it hasn’t been the topic of conversation more often. And it needs to be, especially during this ongoing public health crisis.
“The biggest fear with someone in the work environment asking for help is, well everybody’s going to find out,” Ryan told EHS Today. “They don’t educate employees about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to where if you are getting help, nobody knows you can’t lose your job and you can take off due to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It’s not explained properly to the employees, and a lot of employers don’t know how to convey that message.”
He continued, “And these are things that companies are really going to need to start working on, especially with people coming back. If there’s a second wave happening, they want to keep your employees healthy and some might just need some online tele therapy and somebody to talk to because they need to talk with an expert.”
A recent study “An Epidemic in the Midst of a Pandemic: Opioid Use Disorder and COVID-19,” confirmed the effects of the unprecedented situation. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a particularly grave risk to the millions of Americans with opioid use disorder, who—already vulnerable and marginalized—are heavily dependent on face-to-face health care delivery,” researchers stated.
So what can employers do to help workers? Regular communication is key, Ryan said. Building those relationships will allow managers and employees to gain trust between one another and alert them, for instance, about why their productivity has dipped.
“Open the conversations and look for the signs,” he explained. “What more companies need to do is if they have an employee that’s struggling, do everything you can to get that person help because it’s much more cost-effective to support that employee, get them help get them into treatment, get them back and let them do their meetings, then try to replace them.”
One productive worker could significantly put a snag in business continuity efforts during the ongoing pandemic. It could take multiple people to replace the efficiencies that person displayed when they were actively engaged. And with the ongoing pandemic, it could exacerbate any deficiencies in operations.
“You’re better off investing in people and letting them know that addiction and mental health is out there and if you have an issue, we’re here to support you,” Ryan concluded. “Especially with everything that’s been going on. You have COVID and then all suddenly we have all these protests and these riots. A lot of people are in fear. They have a lot of anxiety. They have panic, and they don’t know who they can talk to. And if you’re able to talk to people at the workplace, that’s a great thing.”