HR Management & Compliance

How Can HR Head Off the Opioid Crisis?

Yesterday we heard from Ian Cook, Head of Workforce Solutions at Visier Analytics, about handling the opioid solution in the workplace. Today we’ll look at some of his suggestions including fact based conversations and planning ahead.

Step 2: Have fact-based conversations

While the current spotlight on the opioid crisis in the media is raising awareness of the issue as a systemic problem, you may still have employees who hold certain prejudices towards people struggling with addiction. Data points that illustrate where addiction-related absences are impacting your organization will enable you to have conversations that are rooted in fact.

For example, if you see signs of addiction in the absenteeism data, you can then go to a supervisor and say: “You manage a population where we are seeing an increase spike in absences. Be aware that some of this may be due to addiction.” A manager will pay more attention if he or she understands that this problem is likely impacting his or her group than if he or she is simply presented with general statistics.

You can then provide information about the supports that are available and the organization’s related policies and emphasize that the manager has a responsibility to handle it in a certain way, regardless of how he or she personally views addicts.

Beyond educating managers and determining which populations take priority, HR also has a role to play by working with their insurers or third-party administrators in helping alleviate the risks associated with opioid dependence. To achieve this outcome, I recommend reviewing the specific interventions—such as changing benefit designs—outlined in this SHRM article.

Step 3: Plan ahead

Once you have started addressing the problem, the reality is that it will take time for the situation to improve. In areas where you currently appear to have addiction problems, you will likely experience many more months with higher levels of absences. These may be covered by sick leave or PTO benefits, but at the end of the day, the work still needs to be done so the business can survive.

To mitigate the risk of skills shortages, take a look at the populations you uncovered in Step 1. If you know where you are affected, you can then make more accurate projections about potential lost productivity, and your hiring plans can take this into account. To manage the gap, ask questions like: Do we over-hire for a period of time? Do we set up more casual contracts? Is overtime the answer? Do we need to add more people?

This is where it can be helpful to take a collaborative approach. When workforce planning is done in a vacuum, HR and senior leaders can miss crucial feedback from line managers and other subject matter experts about key skills gaps that are on the horizon.

Even without the opioid crisis, the current business climate can be unpredictable (business leaders have taken to using the term VUCAvolatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—to describe it) so you will need to plan on a frequent basis and adjust as the situation changes.

Blending Empathy with Analysis so that Everybody Thrives

“Answers that have the force of emotion behind them, but are not based in fact, rarely provide strategic and effective solutions to nuanced problems,” writes research professor Brené Brown in her book, Braving the Wilderness.

Addressing opioid addiction can be an overwhelming process, one that is riddled with anger, sadness, and despair. The key for HR leaders looking to untangle the issue? Maintain a focus on the hard facts and the overall business goals, while understanding the needs of people struggling with addiction and their coworkers. When HR takes a fact-based approach to a complex issue, everybody benefits.

Ian Cook is the Head of Workforce Solutions at Visier Analytics.

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