How to fight burnout and addiction with empathy and resilience

It’s only when employees feel comfortable enough to have conversations about taboo topics like substance abuse that they seek the help they need. (Photo: Shutterstock)

According to 2022 Global Wellbeing Trends Report: The Future of Wellbeing 2022, COVID has dramatically changed consumer expectations of the wellness industry. Released by the Global Wellness Summit, this provocative report reveals that wellness is “shifting from wellness luxury to survivalism as people seek resilience.”

The American Psychological Association defines helping professions as “professions that provide health and educational services to individuals and groups in psychology, psychiatry, counselling, medicine, nursing, social work, physical and occupational therapy, teaching and education”. Although not listed, HR also falls into this category of help. says that people working in HR “specialize in serving a company’s employees and helping to develop their growth and fulfillment in the workplace…so that they can perform at their best in the workplace” .

Related: Infographic: What Causes Worker Stress?

Cheryl Brown-Merriwether
Cheryl Brown-Merriwether is Vice President and Executive Director of International Center for Addiction Education and Recovery (I WORRIED). She oversees and directs administration, operations and student support services for ICARE’s three divisions, Strategic Sobriety Workforce Solutions, International Association of Professional Recovery Coaches (IAPRC) and NET Institute.

Curiously, wellness practitioners are also not listed as helping professionals. However, the article “Well-being in the helping professions: historical overview, models of well-being and current trendspublished in the September 2020 Journal of Wellness issues the following call to action: “We suggest helping professionals refocus their practice to include wellness and integrate these practices into their daily routine to combat compassion exhaustion and/or professional burnout (which are common phenomena among carers).”

Employees burn out

Case in point: Tiffany Swedeen, Registered Nurse, Clinical Instructor and Professional Certified Recovery Coach, is also in long-term recovery from alcohol and opioid addiction. Tiffany worked in an intensive care unit at a West Coast hospital, which was among the first to be affected by the pandemic. She now speaks and writes about her experience as an essential worker during this extraordinarily stressful time.

Tiffany’s lived experience as a survivor of the disease of addiction has strengthened her personal resilience and empowered her to help not only herself, but also others struggling to survive what she has. called “the horrible year”.

In addition to being helping professionals, teachers, nurses, human resource and wellness practitioners share another common characteristic: burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic work stress that has not been successfully managed”. Symptoms include feelings of exhaustion or drained of energy, increased mental distance from one’s work or negative feelings towards one’s career, and reduced job productivity.

Asked about nurse burnout during the pandemic, Tiffany referenced a 2017 pre-pandemic study published by Chronos in which four out of five nurses reported fatigue on the job. Tiffany added that “burnout is important in this conversation because it is extremely prevalent and one of the main consequences of it is substance use disorder. The two most tragic consequences of burnout are substance addiction and suicide.

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) recently reported that “burnout and exhaustion are commonplace in HR, with 42% of teams struggling with too many projects and responsibilities.” The article also reports that a March 2021 survey found that more than 40% of American employees felt burnt out from their jobs. This finding was supported by a July 2021 survey conducted by The Hartford finding that 61% of American workers suffer from burnout. It is estimated that we spend approximately a third i.e. 30% of our working life, which is equivalent to 25 to 30 years.

The data also supports Tiffany’s comment that burnout creates a cycle of addiction. The American Psychological Association calls addiction a pandemic within the pandemic. As much as one in four remote workers have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. SAMHSA Annual National Drug Use and Health Survey reported in 2020 that more than 40 million Americans are living with a substance use disorder. This is alarming because more than 70% of illicit drug users are employed full-time or part-time.

Repressing professional burnout

Burnout and addiction are a chronic couple that won’t resolve on its own. The stress that leads to burnout and ultimately substance abuse and addiction needs to be recognized and mitigated. As a preventive measure, HR, EAP/benefits providers and wellness practitioners should work together to create a culture of workplace safety. It’s only when employees feel comfortable enough to have conversations about taboo topics like substance abuse that they seek the help they need.

Establishing a person-centered approach to mental and behavioral health, substance abuse, substance abuse and recovery in the workplace is essential. Nurturing this kind of culture requires corporate wellness plans that intentionally address employee wellbeing as a human being first and then as an employee.

Creating a people-centric work culture requires breaking the corporate status quo. A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Your office is open and the alcohol is flowing,The employers mentioned use alcohol to induce employees to return to work. This approach presents many risks for individuals and employers and can do more harm than good.

Beyond basic liability and risk management concerns, many employees are unmotivated by the lure of midday happy hours. A 2020 Pew Research study reports 60% of American adults consume alcohol, down from a high of 67% in 2010. The continued decline in the number of people who consume alcohol can be attributed to several factors. 21 million people in the United States are recovering, have medical conditions, religious beliefs, or other considerations that influence their decision to abstain from alcohol or other substances.

Getting Sober Curious

The decline can also be attributed to the “curious sober” movement, which began in 2016 with the publication of a book by Ruby Warrington. The growing popularity of “Dry January” and “Sober September” activities and the rise of alcohol-free mocktails can be traced to this book, which encourages people to be mindful and intentional when exploring their relationship with alcohol and substances.

Role of DEI

Companies looking for innovative solutions to move towards a person-centered work culture around alcohol and substance abuse can do so safely and proactively by expanding current wellness, diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). Such initiatives offer an enhancement or an alternative to pre-employment drug testing and other interventions normally used after an accident/incident, or when there is a reasonable suspicion of intoxication at work.

These traditional HR responses to substance abuse and substance abuse in the workplace are mostly reactive, with the exception of pre-hire drug testing, a practice increasingly abandoned by companies that are not required to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act. This trend can be attributed, in part, to the ever-increasing legalization of marijuana and the difficulty in filling vacancies.

To achieve their DE&I goals, many companies have already created employee resource, affinity, or equity groups that are company-sanctioned and employee-led. These groups can be expanded and used as a channel through which the voices of people whose lives have been affected by mental health, behavioral, substance abuse, substance abuse, or recovery can be heard.

Moreover Pew Research study reports that nearly half of American adults who have not personally struggled with substance abuse or addiction have family members, friends, co-workers or other acquaintances who struggle with these issues. Since many of these people are employed, these employees could also benefit from this new type of support group.

The list of companies adopting such programs continues to grow nationwide. One of the most notable is SalesForce, whose CEO, Marc Benioff, no drinking in the office and who wrote in a company-wide memo that “alcohol is a drug” and that it is “unfair” for non-drinkers to see alcohol in the workplace.

Create an empathetic workplace

An empathetic work culture identifies and engages employees who have lived experience as partners in creating a person-centered work culture. This makes it easier to approach the uncomfortable topic of substance abuse and addiction.

the State of empathy at work in 2021 A study conducted by BusinessSolvers revealed that more than 90% of employees, HR professionals and CEOs consider empathy important. And 90% of Gen Z employees are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. Clearly, younger employees are looking to work with companies that embrace person-centered, empathetic work cultures to support their overall health and wellbeing.

The value of creating and sustaining an empathetic work culture was championed by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of SHRM during the State of the Society 2020 Meet. Around this time, Taylor challenged HR leaders to “do something to reverse the empathy deficit in the workplace. Being empathetic can be as simple as a manager showing compassion for personal loss, encouraging personal achievement, watching for signs of overwork, and showing genuine interest in the people they supervise.

There is growing evidence that fostering a people-centric culture is key to creating and sustaining a healthy and thriving workplace. In our increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (VUCA) worldcompanies must embrace innovative ways to become more resilient and empathetic to the needs of their employees, their most valuable asset.

Read more:

Comments are closed.