In Recovery and Back to Work: How to Face Co-workers

Reviewed Mar 27, 2016

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Summary

  • Issues with co-workers vary.
  • Plan response to inevitable questions.
  • Build and use a support network.
  • Acknowledge any hardships your addiction caused and make amends.

Jennifer, a 32-year-old, single graphic designer, is coming back to work after 30 days in a rehab center for addiction to cocaine and alcohol. She is petrified about returning to work, facing her boss, and answering questions from co-workers about where she has been for the last month.

She is not alone. Many employees believe that if they seek substance use disorder treatment they will face negative consequences from supervisors and co-workers when they return to work. Some fear discrimination, getting passed over for advancement, or losing their jobs. Most are just afraid of facing their friends and managers. Although laws protect a person's confidentiality, most employees believe that once they seek treatment almost everyone at work will know about their problem. They wonder: “Who knows why I have been away and what have they been told?”

Early recovery from addiction is never easy. Learning to live without drugs or alcohol means reorganizing your life, restoring broken relationships, and earning back the trust and confidence of your employer and co-workers.

Talking with your employer

The transition back to work may seem scary but it is fairly straightforward. Here are some suggestions to ease the transition:

  • Talk with your human resources department or your supervisor about return to work timelines, expectations, policies, or other concerns.
  • Ask about any changes in job status or performance expectations.
  • Discuss any follow-up counseling appointments, after care, or time off you will need for your recovery program.
  • Make sure you understand what is expected of you and any requirements the organization has about long-term support.
  • If your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP), make an appointment to discuss specific clinical issues or specific support you will need.
  • Some organizations offer workplace peer support teams. These include employees who have gone through some training in order to assist co-workers who are in recovery or need on-site support and encouragement.

Co-worker issues vary

The transition back to day-to-day life with your co-workers is not so straightforward because there are no clear-cut policies or guidelines to follow. The issues related to facing co-workers are somewhat dependent on:

  • the nature of your job
  • the specific culture of your department
  • the specific relationships that were affected by your addiction

Some co-workers may harbor resentment about your performance, attitude, or absenteeism prior to treatment. Others may have enabled your addiction by covering for you at work or making excuses for you. The majority probably are just happy to have you back because they miss you and care about you.

Suggestions for dealing with co-workers

  • Plan what you will tell your co-workers about your absence so that you are not caught unaware when they ask—because they will.
  • For those you choose to confide in, try to meet individually and tell them how they can best support you; describe what is helpful and what is not.
  • If you have close friends at work, talk with them about your recovery and let them be part of your support team.
  • If your conduct at work caused hardship for your co-workers, acknowledge this fact and make amends accordingly.
  • If your absence in treatment has caused more work or resentment with one or more of your team, ask to meet with them and talk it out.

If you feel overwhelmed and need additional help, speak with a mental health professional.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: Hazelden Foundation. “U.S. Employees Fear Job Loss if They Seek Drug, Alcohol Treatment.” Press release issued October 25, 2002.

Summary

  • Issues with co-workers vary.
  • Plan response to inevitable questions.
  • Build and use a support network.
  • Acknowledge any hardships your addiction caused and make amends.

Jennifer, a 32-year-old, single graphic designer, is coming back to work after 30 days in a rehab center for addiction to cocaine and alcohol. She is petrified about returning to work, facing her boss, and answering questions from co-workers about where she has been for the last month.

She is not alone. Many employees believe that if they seek substance use disorder treatment they will face negative consequences from supervisors and co-workers when they return to work. Some fear discrimination, getting passed over for advancement, or losing their jobs. Most are just afraid of facing their friends and managers. Although laws protect a person's confidentiality, most employees believe that once they seek treatment almost everyone at work will know about their problem. They wonder: “Who knows why I have been away and what have they been told?”

Early recovery from addiction is never easy. Learning to live without drugs or alcohol means reorganizing your life, restoring broken relationships, and earning back the trust and confidence of your employer and co-workers.

Talking with your employer

The transition back to work may seem scary but it is fairly straightforward. Here are some suggestions to ease the transition:

  • Talk with your human resources department or your supervisor about return to work timelines, expectations, policies, or other concerns.
  • Ask about any changes in job status or performance expectations.
  • Discuss any follow-up counseling appointments, after care, or time off you will need for your recovery program.
  • Make sure you understand what is expected of you and any requirements the organization has about long-term support.
  • If your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP), make an appointment to discuss specific clinical issues or specific support you will need.
  • Some organizations offer workplace peer support teams. These include employees who have gone through some training in order to assist co-workers who are in recovery or need on-site support and encouragement.

Co-worker issues vary

The transition back to day-to-day life with your co-workers is not so straightforward because there are no clear-cut policies or guidelines to follow. The issues related to facing co-workers are somewhat dependent on:

  • the nature of your job
  • the specific culture of your department
  • the specific relationships that were affected by your addiction

Some co-workers may harbor resentment about your performance, attitude, or absenteeism prior to treatment. Others may have enabled your addiction by covering for you at work or making excuses for you. The majority probably are just happy to have you back because they miss you and care about you.

Suggestions for dealing with co-workers

  • Plan what you will tell your co-workers about your absence so that you are not caught unaware when they ask—because they will.
  • For those you choose to confide in, try to meet individually and tell them how they can best support you; describe what is helpful and what is not.
  • If you have close friends at work, talk with them about your recovery and let them be part of your support team.
  • If your conduct at work caused hardship for your co-workers, acknowledge this fact and make amends accordingly.
  • If your absence in treatment has caused more work or resentment with one or more of your team, ask to meet with them and talk it out.

If you feel overwhelmed and need additional help, speak with a mental health professional.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: Hazelden Foundation. “U.S. Employees Fear Job Loss if They Seek Drug, Alcohol Treatment.” Press release issued October 25, 2002.

Summary

  • Issues with co-workers vary.
  • Plan response to inevitable questions.
  • Build and use a support network.
  • Acknowledge any hardships your addiction caused and make amends.

Jennifer, a 32-year-old, single graphic designer, is coming back to work after 30 days in a rehab center for addiction to cocaine and alcohol. She is petrified about returning to work, facing her boss, and answering questions from co-workers about where she has been for the last month.

She is not alone. Many employees believe that if they seek substance use disorder treatment they will face negative consequences from supervisors and co-workers when they return to work. Some fear discrimination, getting passed over for advancement, or losing their jobs. Most are just afraid of facing their friends and managers. Although laws protect a person's confidentiality, most employees believe that once they seek treatment almost everyone at work will know about their problem. They wonder: “Who knows why I have been away and what have they been told?”

Early recovery from addiction is never easy. Learning to live without drugs or alcohol means reorganizing your life, restoring broken relationships, and earning back the trust and confidence of your employer and co-workers.

Talking with your employer

The transition back to work may seem scary but it is fairly straightforward. Here are some suggestions to ease the transition:

  • Talk with your human resources department or your supervisor about return to work timelines, expectations, policies, or other concerns.
  • Ask about any changes in job status or performance expectations.
  • Discuss any follow-up counseling appointments, after care, or time off you will need for your recovery program.
  • Make sure you understand what is expected of you and any requirements the organization has about long-term support.
  • If your organization has an employee assistance program (EAP), make an appointment to discuss specific clinical issues or specific support you will need.
  • Some organizations offer workplace peer support teams. These include employees who have gone through some training in order to assist co-workers who are in recovery or need on-site support and encouragement.

Co-worker issues vary

The transition back to day-to-day life with your co-workers is not so straightforward because there are no clear-cut policies or guidelines to follow. The issues related to facing co-workers are somewhat dependent on:

  • the nature of your job
  • the specific culture of your department
  • the specific relationships that were affected by your addiction

Some co-workers may harbor resentment about your performance, attitude, or absenteeism prior to treatment. Others may have enabled your addiction by covering for you at work or making excuses for you. The majority probably are just happy to have you back because they miss you and care about you.

Suggestions for dealing with co-workers

  • Plan what you will tell your co-workers about your absence so that you are not caught unaware when they ask—because they will.
  • For those you choose to confide in, try to meet individually and tell them how they can best support you; describe what is helpful and what is not.
  • If you have close friends at work, talk with them about your recovery and let them be part of your support team.
  • If your conduct at work caused hardship for your co-workers, acknowledge this fact and make amends accordingly.
  • If your absence in treatment has caused more work or resentment with one or more of your team, ask to meet with them and talk it out.

If you feel overwhelmed and need additional help, speak with a mental health professional.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: Hazelden Foundation. “U.S. Employees Fear Job Loss if They Seek Drug, Alcohol Treatment.” Press release issued October 25, 2002.

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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