Employment After Addiction
Employment after addiction can be tricky. Looking for or holding down a job is stressful at the best of times. Anyone who has been out of the workforce for any length of time will find it hard. They might struggle to get interviews, to be taken seriously, or to have their stories recognised and appreciated. Anyone in employment for any length of time will know how hard a slog that daily grind can be.
Addiction recovery, obviously, is not the best of times. Employment after addiction can be a tough ask. The stress involved can lead to thoughts of relapse.
However, the academic literature is promising. Studies have shown that those who have received addiction treatment are far likelier to retain their jobs, or even get better ones, than those who don’t. If you are going through addiction recovery, you’re actually in quite a good place. You will have enhanced your job prospects alongside your overall health and well-being.
Worries about employment after addiction
Gainful employment is great for and after addiction recovery. Obviously, it will allow you to pay your rent. However, there are some added practical reasons for taking it seriously.
It will help you to maintain your recovery and meet your goals. It helps to create structure and stability, which are crucial to recovery. Employment will also boost your self-confidence, give you a degree of accountability (you know you can’t fall off the wagon and turn up to work intoxicated), and will help you to consider your life in a more constructive, forward-thinking manner.
It isn’t easy, though.
Gaining or returning to employment after addiction
Addiction recovery comes hand in hand with plenty of anxiety. These anxieties will be spread across plenty of areas; you may find yourself doubting your own abilities and value, your sobriety, and your very being. It is also common in recovery to worry about that dreaded question – ‘what happened here, then?’
What is your story? How much should you disclose about your addiction and recovery, if anything, and how should you expect an employer or potential employer to react? It can be very daunting having to explain away gaps in your work history, where they exist, and any possible ramifications of your substance abuse or addiction.
In turn, addiction recovery can be a red flag to employers.
You should bear a few things in mind when approaching employment after addiction.
Firstly, you don’t have to disclose anything to a potential employer that you don’t want to. You have no obligation to tell them about your addiction or recovery. You could simply explain your work gap as ill health or something similar, telling them that it is fully resolved now.
Secondly, in most jurisdictions, employers cannot discriminate against you on grounds of addiction. They cannot fire you, manage you out, or refuse to hire you based on it. If you suspect that they have done this or are trying to, you are well within your rights to take them to an employment tribunal.
Most employers won’t want to fire someone over addiction, however. Though addiction is obviously often disruptive, it can be more expensive for your employer to fire you, go through the hiring process to replace you, and then train that replacement. Add the litigation you could bring against them, and they have a good incentive to make things work for you.
Addiction, the Workplace, rights, and Responsibilities
As an employee going through addiction recovery, you are entitled to the same rights as anybody else struggling with any kind of medical concern, either physical or psychological. Your employer should offer complete confidentiality, time off for treatment, and a safe, well-thought-out plan for returning to work.
Employers in most jurisdictions have a duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety and well-being of their employees. In turn, employees have a responsibility to ensure, far as is reasonably practicable, that they take reasonable care of themselves and those affected by their actions.
Therefore, if you simply have an addiction, you are well protected. If your behaviour through addiction has been dangerous or unprofessional, however, you may face legitimate disciplinary action.
In these cases, your employer will legally have to provide the same kind of support for disciplinary action as they would in any other case. This will include evidence of verbal or written warnings, evidence of poor behaviour and/or performance, and evidence of any other previous disciplinary action.
As above, if you think you have been treated unfairly, you do have legal recourse. You can sue your employer for harassment, unfair dismissal, or any number of other transgressions.
Personal responsibility plays a large part in workplace concerns surrounding addiction. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that employers typically give more support and maintain a safer, more open atmosphere for employees who admit they have a problem than when the issue is forced.
Though you don’t have a legal duty to inform your employer or potential of your addiction, it may be prudent to, especially if you are seeking treatment or have been through rehab. Transparency can sometimes be wise as you seek out employment during or after addiction.
Work stress through sobriety
Then there is workplace stress, the anxiety you might feel starting or maintaining your daily grind, returning to employment after addiction. You may have historically used addictive substances or behaviours to deal with this kind of stress. Obviously, you now won’t have this option.
There are other ways to deal with workplace stress, however. In fact, there are other ways to think about it that may help you a great deal.
Those going through addiction recovery will always benefit from a proactive mindset, with proactive behaviour underpinning it, paired with a routine and plan. Therefore, though work can be stressful and intimidating, it can also be incredibly comforting.
However, you will need strategies for coping with the stress and triggers that employment will undoubtedly bring after addiction. This will include the kinds of mechanisms any recovering addict should have in place.
You will want the support of a sponsor, therapist, meetings, friends, family, and any other sources of support around you. Be frank and open with them about your fears and anxieties. Let them know that returning to work is hard for you, if it is, and tell them how, and how it is affecting you.
Realise that it isn’t a case of if stressors and triggers arise, but of when and how bad they are.
If you have colleagues to whom you are close, include these in your group, though only as far as professionalism might allow.
Lean on your existing coping strategies and mechanisms, too. If you know that fitness is good for destressing, make sure you keep up a regular exercise program. If sleep is a big deal to you, make sure that you are getting as much as necessary. Whatever hobbies or wellness activities work for you, make sure you are doing them too.
You cannot afford for this to all be pushed to the back burner for the sake of work. Utilizing them will drastically improve your chances of a successful, healthy, meaningful return to employment after addiction.
Go into employment with your eyes open after addiction
Most importantly, you need to be mindful and understanding of the challenges you are about to face as you return to employment after addiction. There are plenty of different kinds, we will all experience different ones, and we will all experience them differently.
However, there are a few challenges that might be more likely to surface than others as you return to work, some of which we have already seen. These can include:
- Employment gaps on your CV due to addiction, rehab, and associated unemployment
- Negative references from employers who have seen you at your lowest
- Any kind of criminal record
- A lack of higher education due to addiction, including a skills deficit
- A lack of confidence in the interview process
You can begin to close these down, plan for them, and greatly improve your chances of returning to the world of work.
For instance, if you have a lack of recent skills or education, you could consider taking a course at your local college or taking part in some form of online training. If you are struggling to get into work because of a large gap in employment, try volunteering, if you can (this can have its own mental health benefits, and can take up just a day or so per week).
You may want to take some mock interviews, too. This can be with a friend or family member. Print off a list of questions that you know you will struggle with and have them ask you them. This way, you will be able to practice explaining potentially difficult aspects of your past in a professional setting. You will also be able to build up a good deal of confidence in yourself and your interview skills.
How to talk about recovery
As above, you should feel free to disclose as much or as little as you want about your recovery. Your new employment might represent a completely blank slate after your addiction recovery.
However, I would always recommend being open and honest where possible. This is especially true if you’re taking some time off, rather than looking to begin a new career after rehab.
If you need to take some time away from your job, begin recovery, go through rehab and so on, then return, you should keep your employer in the loop. They need to understand you. We have seen that they cannot legally discriminate against you. And they will be managing your return, so will need to know how to best support you.
Be transparent and ask for help. If you work for a small employer, they will be able to work with you personally. If your employer is large, they will have an occupational health team who can support you.
Tell your co-workers that you’re taking some leave for personal reasons. Don’t feel obliged to tell anyone the full situation if you don’t want to.
What you can expect from the professional world
Obviously, we all operate to different levels, in different sectors, with different skills. We cannot all expect the same as one another in the world of work.
This being said, there are a few things to watch out for as you get back into employment after addiction.
I don’t want to tell you to manage your expectations, or at least to lower them. You have been through a hell of a journey, shown a resilience few people can boast of, and deserve to live your best life. This being said, you need to be realistic at first.
Don’t go for jobs that will be too stressful or high-powered. They may be too anxiety-inducing in the early days. You will also be less likely to get higher-end jobs. Re-enter slightly lower down than you used to work, if circumstances allow. Prove yourself both to yourself and those around you before biting off more than you can chew.
Dip your toe before going swimming.
This being said, you don’t need to start all over again. Unless you really burned your bridges (we’ve all been there!) you should rely on the networks around you. Reach out to old colleagues and bosses. They will know your history, may know of some good opportunities, and will be more likely to support you getting back into employment after addiction than strangers might.
Reach out to your social and support networks, too. You never know from where an opportunity might knock.