July 15, 2016 | Addiction & Recovery

Hiring Employees in Recovery

By Theresa Lewber
Burlington Labs Director of HR & Patient Services

David Sack, M.D., CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, posted an article on the Addiction Recovery blog about the benefits, and the risks, of hiring employees in recovery. We shared this blog post widely on our social media channels, and asked our Director of Human Resources, Theresa Lewber, to share her own thoughts on Burlington Labs’ longstanding practice of hiring employees in recovery. 

Dr. Sack set up this discussion well in the opening of his blog:

“It may seem counterintuitive that people whose lives were once dominated by drugs or alcohol could turn around and become a company’s most valuable asset. Yet many corporate executives have discovered that giving recovering addicts a second chance at success is more than charitable outreach to a disadvantaged group; it’s good business.

“People in recovery are a tremendous asset in the treatment community. They have firsthand knowledge of the disease and a great deal of passion for helping others. When combined with professional training and education, these individuals develop the skills to understand the complexities of addiction and co-occurring disorders and meet the demands of working with addicted clients.”

Here at Burlington Labs, we couldn’t agree more. As we’ve grown from 2 to 180 employees over 10 years, we’ve worked with upwards of a dozen employees during that time who were following their own personal paths of recovery. Out of all of those people we took a chance on, we have had very few situations where the employee was unable to make this a successful employment opportunity. In fact, there have been employees who have used their experience at Burlington Labs to further their careers because of the fair chance they were given.

Those employees in recovery – starting with our Co-Founder and CEO -- are some of our strongest leaders and most visible spokespeople. They include our Chief Financial Officer, several of our Sales Representatives and Account Managers, members of our Patient Services, Finance, and Billing departments, and our Addiction Education Specialist, Ed Baker, who travels around the country educating groups about the mechanics of addiction (and writes the “Continuing Ed” newsletter column and blog). Their firsthand experiences as patients and as treatment providers help us connect more deeply with our customers, deliver outstanding service that understands and often anticipates patients’ and providers’ needs, and keep us focused on our mission.

As far as supervising and mentoring these employees on a day-to-day basis, my HR team has found that they are among our most motivated team members. Oftentimes, landing their job at Burlington Labs was what gave them an opportunity to get their lives back – and it was an opportunity most other companies were not willing to extend to an applicant with long lapses in their work history or, in some cases, criminal records. These individuals are loyal and committed to the company that was willing to take a chance on them.

And it’s certainly no accident that the words we often use to describe these employees closely mirror the 12 principles of recovery: integrity, honesty, excellence and humility. Not only do these principles form the cornerstones of most treatment and recovery programs, but they’re also the traits of a true professional.

There are, of course, risks associated with hiring someone in recovery – but there are risks associated with any new hire. We follow a rigorous interviewing process that devotes a good amount of time to exploring the applicant’s relationship to issues surrounding addiction. For employees who are not personally in recovery, this portion of the second interview allows us to explore their attitudes about those suffering from addiction; individuals who blame the patient or believe addiction is a sign of moral failure do not fit in with our company culture.

For employees who do have personal experience with addiction, that interview becomes an opportunity to self-disclose. Those who are comfortable taking that risk of opening up to their potential employers and co-workers about their experience, and how they grew from it, are soon rewarded with a response from our company leadership that immediately communicates our culture of acceptance, understanding and compassion. And those applicants tend to be great fits for Burlington Labs.

We’ve found, in our experience, that the extra support and mentoring that may be needed at the beginning of these employees’ tenure, to make sure they have the stability and self-confidence to succeed at their job, as well as allowing scheduling flexibility over the course of their employment to allow them to attend meetings and practice self-care – is an investment that almost certainly pays off.