Creating a recovery-supportive workplace through culture, policies, and practices

Creating a recovery-supportive workplace through culture, policies, and practices.

What is recovery?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes recovery as supported by these four major dimensions:


Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.


Having a stable and safe place to live.


Conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.


Having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

What does a recovery-supportive workplace look like?

A recovery-supportive workplace (RSW) is a work environment that values the experiences of people in recovery from addiction, and the unique perspectives and tools they bring to the workplace. And RSWs aren’t just for those who have a SUD or OUD. Recovery principles can help everyone in the workplace, by creating a safe, supportive, and even loving culture.

What’s different about a recovery-supportive workplace?

When people think about recovery from OUD or other substance use disorders (SUDs), they may picture traditional inpatient detox and rehab programs, medication for addiction treatment (MAT) methods, or twelve-step or other mutual support meetings. While those may be elements of some people’s recovery from OUD or SUD, recovery is a process of continual learning and growth – in all areas of life.


  • Recognize recovery as a strength in the workplace
  • Commit to hiring people in recovery
  • Train supervisors and staff about addiction, recovery, and recurrence of use
  • Educate employees on benefits and policies related to OUD/SUD
  • Develop return-to-work plans for employees in recovery
  • Provide flexibility to support employees and families of people in recovery
  • Reduce stigma of recovery by using inclusive, non-stigmatizing verbal and written language

Defining a recovery-supportive workplace:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines a recovery-supportive workplace as follows:

“A recovery-supportive workplace aims to prevent exposure to workplace factors that could cause or perpetuate a substance use disorder while lowering barriers to seeking care, receiving care, and maintaining recovery. A recovery-supportive workplace educates its management team and workers on issues surrounding substance use disorders to reduce the all-too-common stigma around this challenge.”

Recovery support as a whole-workplace benefit

While implementing RSW practices can take some effort, it can reduce challenges and solve problems across the entire workplace.

Why employing and supporting people in recovery is good for business:

Improve retention

Workers in recovery are the least likely to leave their employers, and have a lower turnover rate than their peers without SUD.4

enhance culture

RSWs create clear reasons for job satisfaction and workforce loyalty, by incorporating the experiences and perspectives of people in recovery.

Reduce Attrition

Employees who are in recovery have equal or lower health care costs, absenteeism, and job turnover compared to employees who never report an SUD.

Greater ROI

When employers help employees complete treatment, they’re likely to see a high return on investment as those employees achieve and maintain recovery.

Getting started: Creating a recovery-supportive workplace

Just like there are policies and best practices around workplace health and safety, there are guidelines around creating an effective RSW. These guidelines work best when employers encourage a culture that creates acceptance, reduces stigma, and increases inclusivity.

RSW Policies

Creating an RSW starts with developing and implementing policies that help the whole company support workers who are in recovery.

RSW Practices

Maintaining an RSW works best when all employees are educated and engaged, leading to a better workplace for all.

Know the law:

Employers have obligations under state and local laws

It is the employer’s responsibility to post, communicate, and educate their employees on the laws that can protect them and their jobs during a difficult time. Employment laws can also protect workers who have been injured at work and are in recovery from opioid use.

These are some of the laws, protections, and programs that can help employees get the support they need:

Did you know?

In Massachusetts, as part of the Workers’ Compensation program, the Department of Industrial Accident (DIA) runs the Opioid Alternative Treatment Pathway program for injured workers.

How to support employees with a SUD

It can be hard to talk with an employee about their possible substance use. But with the right resources and training, these conversations get easier – and are more likely to lead to positive outcomes.

Talking to Your Employees About Substance Use

Hampshire HOPE is an inclusive, diverse coalition that works to save lives and reduce the impact of the substance misuse pandemic. As part of their harm reduction efforts, they offer guidance and tips for talking with workers about substance use.

Training and Skills for Workplace Personnel

Many employers aren’t sure where to start in creating a recovery supportive workplace. It takes education and practice. We’ve developed skills-based training to help workplace personnel better support workers who may be experiencing OUD/SUD or who are in recovery.

Where: Connect with local groups supporting RSW in your region

Recovery supportive workplace practices are becoming more and more popular. There are numerous groups in Massachusetts working to promote a more proactive, constructive approach to substance use prevention and recovery in the workplace.