‘This is our fight’

Employer support is critical for workers struggling with addiction

On a busy weekend at the Woodstock Inn Brewery, we serve thousands of customers in our four on-site pubs. For our servers, the shifts can be grueling, sometimes 12 to 16 hours with limited breaks. During a recent shift, I noticed that James (name changed to protect his privacy) was falling behind. He seemed off; I called him into my office to check in.

It had been a rocky road for James. He was put on suspension after failing multiple drug tests and had been back for only about a month. As we chatted, I expressed my concern that I had been picking up on signs that he may have relapsed. He paused and eventually admitted that he was using again and desperately wanted to go to rehab. James confessed that he feared losing his job and didn’t know what to do.

The accommodations and food services industry has the highest rates of illicit drug use of any industry nationally (19.1%), with its workers having the highest rates of substance use disorder (16.9%). Hospitality is New Hampshire’s fifth largest industry, and so many are suffering.

For many in hospitality, a casual post-shift drink turns into one too many and before they know it, the sun is shining and it’s time to wake up, head to work and do it all over again. Too often, these individuals turn to cocaine, heroin or pills just to get through the next shift, creating a devastating and debilitating cycle of abuse.

As general manager of the Woodstock Inn Brewery, I’ve not only seen this epidemic first-hand, I’ve survived it and have been sober since 2015.

Once I got clean and it was time to return to work, I asked myself the questions so many in my position have: Is it possible to stay sober in this atmosphere, where alcohol and drugs are so readily available? What will my co-workers think of me when I can’t participate in the camaraderie of an end-of-shift drink? Can I handle the stress?

Luckily, as general manager, I had the opportunity to turn the tables and cultivate a recovery-friendly atmosphere for myself and my colleagues. In addition to our existing policies of drug testing upon hire and additional tests and breathalyzers upon suspicion, I made it a priority to encourage open communication and honesty. If one of my employees is struggling, they know their job is safe, and they’ll be offered help first.

We’ve also implemented the state’s Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative, a program that provides business owners the resources they need to create a supportive environment for those struggling with addiction and encourages the success of employees in recovery. This is an easily accessible option for employers who are overwhelmed by where to begin.

By taking these measures, the Woodstock Inn Brewery has gained a reputation as a safe place for hospitality workers hoping to stay sober. I currently employ over 15 staff members in recovery, and they are some of the hardest-working employees on my payroll. They care about their job, they appreciate their second chance, and go above and beyond to try to do well, in and outside of work. They make it hard for me to understand the stigma against hiring folks in recovery.

Today, James is back from rehab, back to work and thriving. He’s an asset to our team, and I’m so glad that as a company we were armed with the knowledge necessary to get him the help he needed.

Untreated addiction costs New Hampshire’s economy $2.36 billion every year, and the situation will worsen unless the perception of addiction and recovery in the workplace changes. As employers, it’s our responsibility to step up and support our colleagues in need by creating a workplace culture that eliminates stigma, promotes recovery and encourages an open and honest dialogue.

This is our fight; we can and must do better.

Molly Rice is the general manager of the Woodstock Inn Brewery.

Categories: Opinion