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Addiction in Corporate America

Addiction in Corporate America

Addiction is a common problem across all demographics of people. It is important to recognize that substance use disorder takes many forms and affects people of all types—even people who appear successful from the outside may be struggling with addiction.

It may come as a surprise to some that 11% of people who work in executive, administrative, managerial, or financial occupations have substance use disorder, according to the National Safety Council. These sorts of jobs can often place stress on employees who then turn to substances to decompress. Executives, in particular, may face substance abuse issues, as executive positions often require irregular hours, travel, and other occupational demands that can add stress. Executives are also often expected to attend events that offer alcohol, which could contribute to substance use disorder.

Additionally, personality traits can influence one’s proclivity to substance use disorder. The personality traits that allow someone to get to the top of the corporate ladder are the same traits that incline one to abuse substances: risk-taking, seeking novel experiences, and a near-obsessive striving for success.

An article by Ampelis Recovery offers some examples of top executives who have come forward with their struggles with substance abuse, including:

  • Steve Madden, founder of Steve Madden shoe company
  • Audrey Gelman, CEO of The Wing
  • Justin Kan, founder of Twitch and CEO of Atrium

Addiction and Executive Retention

Surveys indicate attraction and retention of top executives is the number one internal issue among CEOs and C-Suite executives. Even companies that attempt to bolster staff with improved work hours and job flexibility face difficulties retaining top talent. It is often expensive and time-consuming to replace top executives, and companies may find it more cost-effective and compassionate to support and retain executives dealing with substance use disorder rather than search for a replacement.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employers from terminating employees based on addiction alone, but inappropriate behavior or tarnishing of the company’s reputation can lead to termination. Encouraging employees with addiction issues to visit wellness centers is one way that companies can support employees with substance use disorder. Many wellness centers offer programs targeted towards executives, and such treatment plans that keep busy schedules and work demands in mind.

Work-Life Balance Can Prevent Addiction Amongst Executives

Although it is well-known that executives often focus on power and influence within their companies, a better route to push for executives is that of a good work-life balance. Companies can encourage their top executives to maintain a well-rounded life by providing workplace flexibility and workplace wellness programs.

Companies can implement generous time-off plans and flexible work schedules to accommodate employees and help decrease stress levels. In addition, CEOs can take the time to listen to employees’ needs and respond accordingly. CEOs who encourage employees to speak up about any issues they may be having can help create a work culture of openness that promotes the well-being of all employees. Focusing on creating work-life balance ultimately leads to higher job satisfaction, higher employee retention, and fewer employees facing substance abuse disorders.

Meaningful Work Prevents Addiction

A great way to ensure employees stay healthy is by providing them with meaningful and engaging work. Studies show that less than 40% of executives are satisfied with their position’s potential for growth. Executives and employees of all levels want to know their work will ultimately contribute to the growth and success of the company, so providing work that allows for recognition and advancements is essential to employee well-being. Some companies are implementing Total Talent Mobility programs which allow employees to move around within the company to give them new skills and new opportunities they may not have access to in their usual positions.

Encouraging community service and outreach can also aid in executive well-being. Younger executives are particularly concerned about being involved with their communities—a recent survey of millennials’ work habits found that 86% thought their company’s corporate responsibilities were of high value, to the extent that they would quit their jobs if the programs were ended. This factor demonstrates the importance of community involvement: it allows companies to bring employees together in different environments, which creates stronger bonds between employees, leads to more effective workplace collaboration, and boosts employee morale. It also makes the company appear more attractive to new talent and improves employee retention.

Fighting the Stigma and Preventing Relapse

Open communication and shifting corporate culture from a “me” attitude to a “we” attitude can aid in fighting the stigmas against addiction in the workplace. People dealing with addiction need support to get better, so companies must support their employees through their struggles. Encouraging openness from employees dealing with substance use disorders can relieve employees from the fear of being fired for their addiction issues. It can also prevent conflict with other employees who “cover” for the person with substance abuse disorder. Studies show that 75% of executives in recovery programs had their secretaries or assistants cover their addiction issues, and 90% reported having their peers take on extra work to compensate for their addictions.

Companies can further remove the stigma by providing employee assistance programs with complete confidentiality, such as phone counseling for substance use disorder. This counseling allows the employee to feel more comfortable receiving treatment.

Employee Assistance Programs

Employers are not legally required to provide employee assistance programs but providing this resource can work wonders in maintaining a workforce’s mental health. Companies also have a moral obligation to suggest treatment for employees dealing with addiction. Some executives may fear that taking time off work for treatment may not be possible, but fortunately, addiction is often considered chronic. It is covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to treat a serious health condition.

Executives who opt to receive treatment can expect programs tailored to their lifestyles. Treatment facilities understand the need for confidentiality and offer flexibility for busy schedules. These treatment programs also come with some added perks for executives, like luxury settings and gourmet food to encourage the executive to relax and destress.

Ultimately, companies can aid in executives’ well-being by encouraging a good work-life balance, offering meaningful work, and recommending treatment to employees who are facing substance abuse disorder.


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by Lottie Pritchard // Lottie Pritchard is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.