2020 has made a lot of people feel isolated in ways they’ve never felt before. Just as COVID-19 knows no bounds, the grip of substance abuse doesn’t care who you are or how many accolades you have. For those in recovery, isolation during the pandemic represents an even deeper challenge. Beginning in September 2020, Rhino Foods introduced a new initiative offering Recovery Coaching for those dealing with substance abuse, held at Rhino HQ during normal working hours.
Our very own Naomi Wright, People Partner of Employee Experience at Rhino Foods, has been a major driver of this initiative. “When COVID hit, we were seeing that people were being impacted in a way that was causing them to isolate more and since they didn’t have access to their usual social connections and support structures – people were struggling.”
To figure out how to tangibly support those struggling with recovery-related issues, Naomi connected with Burlington-based Turning Point Center, whose stated mission is to be “a dedicated, compassionate community that provides recovery support services in a safe, substance-free environment for individuals and families on multiple paths to self-discovery and sustained recovery.” After discussing what options would make the most sense for Rhino, Turning Point Center Recovery Coach Cara Behm accepted the new task of serving as an onsite resource and presence, to work smack dab in the middle of the Rhino campus.
Since her introduction to staff in September, which is National Recovery Month, Cara has set up twice a week in the new Crash cafe for an hour and a half, during shift change to maximize her exposure to staff that want to talk and ask questions. “I love this cafe and know that it was purposefully designed to be an open space, which makes it easy for people to commune together. That’s the same heart we have for the work we do at Turning Point, so to genuinely acclimate into the Rhino community, I think it’s been crucial to be as visible as possible and just be really, really present.”
Cara describes the pace of the program and the types of conversations she’s able to have with people as a slow burn. “It is slow going. You have to build relationships with people. And then from there, people tend to gradually open up a little more and usually once they start to open up, everything comes out. It’s about meeting people where they’re at.”
So what does that look like, practically?
Cara says her conversations with people typically involve:
- Listening to people first and only then asking questions based on what they’re telling you
- Using lots of open-ended questions and rephrasing things back in a specific way
- Guiding people to find their own solutions
And perhaps more importantly, Cara says her work is not simply telling people what to do by doling out a bunch of advice. “For instance, somebody may be still drinking and trying to slow down. If that’s happening, we would work on harm reduction and being safe. I wouldn’t tell them what to do or throw them a bunch of advice.”
“Another big part of it is providing resources for people. For example, if housing is an issue, it’s very hard for somebody trying to quit drinking. It’s really difficult when you have these satellite issues, so we provide resources where they can get help for whatever they may be dealing with.” It may be offering support if a family member is struggling, or access to counseling services if that is where they are at.
Cara said one of the most critical pieces for people in recovery is in continuing employment. “The wonderful thing about providing this type of service onsite is that the employees know that they’ve got that extra support at work. That’s a massive edge and is going to make them all the more successful. So the impact is twofold. First, it’s a benefit to the employer in that employees are more engaged and know that Rhino truly does care. And second is it’s a benefit to the employee because if they’re already at work, the stress of having to fit in one more appointment or one more place to go is taken off the table. It’s convenient. It makes sense.”
For supervisors and managers, Naomi recognizes the partnership as an additional resource to continue learning in support of being better equipped to handle sensitive situations. “It’s a really great opportunity for all of us at Rhino to become a bit more informed and educated about how substance abuse issues might show up in the workplace and how we might be able to identify them earlier to help get people the support they need before they are in a situation where they’re considering relapsing or struggling to maintain their employment. If we start learning what those signs are, we can hopefully learn to help employees course correct and get them to a better place before their employment is affected.”
What does the future hold for the recovery coaching program at Rhino?
Naomi remarked, “As an employer that believes in giving people second chances and the opportunity to show up in a way that may be different than they’ve shown up previously in their lives, I feel like it’s a responsibility to continue the partnership. It’s now part of the fabric of Rhino. It’s a small financial investment to be able to provide such an invaluable resource. We want to be more educated. We want to serve our people better. We want to start to break the stigma and start to shine the light of awareness on the issues surrounding substance abuse and let people know that we value recovery and applaud the courage it takes to take those steps.”