How employers can support remote workers amid rise in substance use disorder

mental health month employee man at computer is stressed Man at computer Man looking at computer stressed

Key takeaways

Mental health benefits, open conversations, mentorship, and trust can help remote workers amid uptick in substance use disorder (SUD).

If you have employees who work remotely, then you understand that work-from-home arrangements require a level of trust between your company and your employees. 

For example, are your employees actually working, or are they participating in “productivity theater,” where they only appear logged on? And what’s actually in your colleague’s mug that she’s always sipping on during Zoom calls?

It’s probably just coffee…but with substance use disorder (SUD) rising among remote workers, it’s worth considering if some of your employees could be struggling. Just consider these statistics:

  • Around 20% of U.S. workers admit to using recreational drugs while working remotely and being under the influence during virtual meetings. 
  • One in five believe substance use has affected their work performance.
  • Nine out of 10 people admit to drinking alcohol while working from home.

According to addiction specialists interviewed by Bloomberg, treatment programs are currently over-enrolled and fueled by remote work arrangements that create a “dangerous triad: steady paychecks, proximity to drugs and alcohol out of view from coworkers, and incentive to maintain day-to-day functionality.”

So, reflecting on your team, do you believe some of your remote employees could be struggling with SUD? Societal stigmas, lack of resources and costly health care could be preventing your employees from getting help—but you have the power to combat stigma at your workplace and empower your employees with awareness and programs that can help them identify a need and get help quickly. In honor of World Mental Health Month and Day, learn how to help your remote employees.

1. Integrate mental health benefits into your benefits package
It’s beneficial to offer outpatient care for employees who need it, as well as telehealth solutions for those with less intensive needs. And don’t forget about offering counseling and resources for family members of loved ones struggling.

2. Open the conversation and remove stigma 
SUD isn’t often talked about at the workplace because of the stigma that surrounds it. Your employees who are struggling are probably scared to come forward and speak, but you can change this by acknowledging that SUD is a mental health condition, not a moral failing. Train your management and HR to be versed in SUD, and provide your employees with educational resources that open the conversation and remove the shame.

3. Build trust
When integrating SUD recovery benefits at your workplace, it’s crucial to assure your employees that the company isn’t out to get them. They will be too scared to seek help if they fear there will be repercussions for using the program.

4. Create an employee peer support program 
Employees who struggle with SUD often feel alone. A peer support program or even mentorship program can help give employees confidence and hope, and a specific person to connect with, while also setting the foundation in the event they need to talk to someone or ask for help. 

Most importantly, employers should show concern for their employees by being aware of this concern, especially in remote workers, and equipping managers and leaders to support their teams. Research from the University of Chicago reveals that each employee who recovers from addiction saves their employer $8,500. It’s truly a win-win for employees and employers.