Sobriety at Work: Why Employers Should Address Substance Abuse

Employees supporting each other with sobriety at work

Substance use and abuse costs businesses $81 billion a year. Here’s what you need to know and how to address it in your workplace.

When we think of mental health at work, we often think of burnout, stress, depression, and anxiety. But too often, we overlook another major factor: substance abuse. Yet, it’s a prevalent and costly challenge that affects employees, managers, and the overall success of a company. As we shine a spotlight on mental health this month, it’s worth re-evaluating how substance use and abuse affects employees and employers — and what companies can do to address the issue.

The Challenge

According to a Harvard Health study, it’s estimated that 1 in 12 American adults struggles with substance use disorder, and more than 70 percent of those employees who engage in substance abuse are “functioning” while able to maintain employment. However, more than 42 percent report feeling reduced productivity due to their addictions. This has become an ever-growing discussion amongst organizations, especially as it costs $81 billion annually in lost revenues. Plus, the stigma associated with being in recovery can make those suffering with this disease feel alone, ostracized, and different from their peers, ultimately jeopardizing bringing their true authentic selves to work.

At UKG, we recognize that this is a complex issue affecting many employees and have made it a priority to create more awareness and inclusivity around the topic. Read on to learn more about how we’re addressing this challenge — and ideas to implement in your own workplace. 

An Employee Perspective

“I kept thinking about our core values and behaviors and the deep importance of inclusivity,” says Amanda P., an executive relationship manager at UKG. “However, the culture of drinking alcohol at events or having happy hours to celebrate special occasions can (unknowingly) exclude a large portion of employees. This, in conjunction with the isolation people have experienced during the pandemic, as well as the rise in alcohol-related deaths, made me realize that I had to do something more.”

Compelled to act, Amanda reached out to the Chief People Officer at UKG to gauge support and open the conversation. The result is Sober U Krew, a UKG community support group led by Global Wellness Manager, Sarah G., in conjunction with Amanda, to create a safe space for employees to share their own stories, as well as generate more widespread belonging in the workplace. The group kicked off with an expert panel discussion on “The Stigma of Sobriety and Substance Use Disorder,” and now holds bi-monthly meetings for those who are in recovery, as well as those supporting a loved one or team member in recovery, those who are sober curious, or those who are an ally. “Our hope is to expand and reduce the stigma — because people die from this disease,” says Amanda. “If we can help one person on their journey, it is successful.”

What’s Next?

The UKG Wellness Team, which recently earned a 2022 Best Employers: Excellence in Health & Wellbeing award from Business Group on Health, is partnering with Sober U Krew to identify ways the company can improve inclusivity for the sober community, such as varying the types of social outings and events offered, supporting continued meetings, and developing more educational opportunities.

“Health is so much more than eating healthy and exercising,” says Sarah. “Holistic well-being involves self-care, nurturing your relationships, and taking care of your mental health. We’re grateful to Amanda for sharing her story and championing this group.”

Adds Amanda: “I am a firm believer that other employees need to see people like me — someone who has quit drinking and lives an amazing life.”  

Learn more about mental health in the workplace.