Sometimes the first step in becoming a recovery friendly workplace is the hardest one. Business owners often do not know where to start.
On October 6, in Routt County, Colorado, six local businesses took that first step.
An essential aspect of a recovery friendly workplace is an environment that supports worker mental health and provides policies and programs to support individuals. As part of our Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) Initiative, we are promoting the Health Links® Workplace Mental Health Module which begins with an organizational survey to better understand how businesses support employee mental health. The survey helps assess existing mental health benefits, programs, and policies and inform initiatives.
This October, at the Steamboat Springs Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative Assessment Lab, we partnered with the Health Partnership to host an event where local business owners received an introduction to the RFW Initiative, registered for Health Links, and took the Workplace Mental Health survey right then and there.
Thank you to the organizations that took this first step at this event, Trouvaille Consultants, Dusky Grouse Coffee, Primrose, and Steamboat Fit!
This event was made possible because of the dedication of Health Partnership peer recovery specialists Christopher Ray and Nele Cashmore. In addition to inviting local organizations to learn more about RFW practices through ongoing presentations, they connect with businesses through networking, building relationships, and being present with local leaders.
Much of their time is spent helping business leaders understand how approachable and beneficial it is to become a RFW. “I think that's one of the misconceptions around recovery friendly workplaces,” said Ray. “Business leaders get overwhelmed thinking they have to figure out how to help people in recovery. And it's quite the opposite. We actually help them figure out how to keep running their business while directing people to the right resources.”
Ray takes many work meetings for the Health Partnership at Dusky Grouse Coffee. “We found this hub and people started asking, ‘What are you doing here? What is a recovery friendly workplace?’ They see one in action. Even if it's not perfect, they see people are trying. It takes curiosity on the part of a business before we bring in our RFW presentation. It gives them more of a concrete idea of what the next steps are because if we don't have a tangible way to move forward, it's just an idea,” said Ray,
What does it take to make a RFW accessible? For Ray, it is examples of people and businesses that have recovered. “When you have peers that are recovering and working with the community, you start trusting the examples. That's why I think peer work in this RFW space builds trust and community and can get more businesses involved,” said Ray.
What does a RFW look like in reality? We asked Stephany Traylor, owner of Dusky Grouse Coffee, one of Ray’s prime examples.
How are you involved in the recovery space? Was there an event or personal connection that generated Dusky Grouse’s passion for this workplace issue?
We committed to being a sober space upon opening. In the business planning process of Dusky, the idea of serving alcohol had come up many times, often recommended to us to increase our bottom line. But from a personal perspective, I recognized that there is a lack of sober spaces in Steamboat. I came directly from the ski industry, where the consumption of alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism to stress was such a normal thing and I had personally had enough.
I had two small children and went deeper than I liked with my own drinking habits during COVID. Coming out of COVID and building a shop from scratch seemed like a wonderful opportunity to support what I think not just the community needs, but also what I needed at the time. And what we needed was a healthy, supportive space and team that isn't afraid to talk about our community’s struggles and our own struggles.
Why is Routt/Moffat County a prime location for recovery friendly practices or initiatives reaching the business community?
I think you can do what we've done anywhere. It seems to be a ski town challenge without a doubt, with its seasonal extremes, party industries (bars, ski shops, river recreation, etc.), but I do believe that substance use disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are on the rise across state lines and county lines and across demographics. As a local food/beverage business in Routt County, I think it's our responsibility to recognize substance abuse in our community and identify ways that we can offer alternatives and not add to the problem.
I understand money is tempting and to sell six beers to one 22-year-old kid seems like a win, but it's literally killing people and feeding a community-wide problem. Instead, we need to challenge our staff, customers and partners to understand their own mental health and educate them around resources that are available. We have the potential to both make money and be a proactive part of harm reduction, as a local business community. But you must buy in completely and invest first in your team.
How did you hear about the October event? What was the most impactful part of it for you?
Chris Ray from the Health Partnership emailed me about it. The most impactful part was the survey and understanding that, sure, we do a lot of the feel-good things around substance use disorder, however we have a lot of work to do when it comes to harm reduction and getting people stable in our community. This comes in the form of health benefits, free therapy, paid time off, mental health days, etc.
What specific ways are you working to make your workplace recovery-friendly?
The most visible piece is our selection of nonprofit resources and the events, organizations, and meetings we host for the local Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Alanon groups. We also have Narcan and test kits visibly available, no questions asked. Beyond that, we host CHOW meetings weekly, a local life-coaches group monthly, and a death-cafe (a support group for people grieving or who are curious about conversations regarding death, loss and trauma) monthly.
We also have monthly one-on-ones with each team member, behind closed doors. This is not a "here's what you need to work on" kind of meeting but is instead more of a check-in. How do you feel, how's your housing (this is a big one), how is your stress and finances, is your schedule accommodating, is your pay fair, do you feel safe, is our team functioning well, etc.
Becoming a RFW is simpler than you might think, and our center is here to help. Schedule a free advising session and see what it might look like for your organization. There is a strong community of experts and business leaders only a few steps ahead that are ready to come alongside you and start making a change for individuals in your workplace and community.