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114: ICYMI The Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative

As businesses begin to re-open, returning employees may struggle with addiction, mental health, and other issues. Matt McKenney of Hypertherm discusses a program that was shared in October 2019 at an ESOP Association conference.

The Recovery Friendly Workforce Initiative gives business owners the resources and support they need to foster a supportive environment that encourages the success of their employees in recovery. We talk about the early learnings from the program, and why sessions like this should be held at every ESOP/EO conference.

This interview in this episode was originally aired on Mini-cast 55: EO and the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative on October 11, 2019.

As mentioned in the podcast, the team was kind enough to share the NH Governor's Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) Initiative presentation with us. You can download the slide deck as a .PDF file by clicking the image below.

NH Governor's Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) Initiative Presentation

Episode 114 Transcript

Bitsy McCann: Welcome to The EO podcast, where we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. As we release this episode on June 9th, 2020, the United States has lost approximately 110,000 souls to the coronavirus and we've endured together approximately three months of business closings. All around the United States, businesses are starting to reopen and only time will tell how businesses will do moving forward. I thought it was a good time to visit our archives and bring you an episode from October 11th, 2019 called "EO and the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative." This was originally presented in Episode 55 of the ESOP Mini-cast and that episode, and all of our archives, are available at

Early Learnings from the 'Recovery Friendly Workplace' Initiative presentation by Matt McKenney of Hypertherm, Cameron Ford of Headrest, and Shannon Bresaw of Granite United Way and the Recovery Friendly Workforce Initiative shared on October 11, 2019 at The ESOP Association New England Chapter Fall Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Early Learnings from the 'Recovery Friendly Workplace' Initiative presentation by Matt McKenney of Hypertherm, Cameron Ford of Headrest, and Shannon Bresaw of Granite United Way and the Recovery Friendly Workforce Initiative shared on October 11, 2019 at The ESOP Association New England Chapter Fall Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Bret Keisling: I'm recording this at the final day of the New England Chapter conference of The ESOP Association and I'm pleased to be sitting with Matt McKenney. Matt, how are you today?

Matt McKenney: I'm good. Thank you for having me.

Bret Keisling: And you are with?

Matt McKenney: Hypertherm in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Bret Keisling: And Matt, I appreciate your time. The reason that we wanted to have this conversation is you presented today on a topic and we'll get to that in just a moment, but how's the conference going for you?

Matt McKenney: The conference is great. ESOP conferences are always some of my favorite conferences every year because everybody's here for the same purpose and they all really care about people.

Bret Keisling: And that's everybody's experience, Matt. And I've been for a couple of weeks now -- and, and if you and I have met in the past, it was kind of in passing -- but I've been saying what you were presenting about today is the most important session at this conference, and I happen to think should be at every conference. So I want us to tell us the topic that you presented on who your co-presenters were.

Matt McKenney: Sure. So, our presentation was titled "The Early Learnings of the Recovery Friendly Workplace." And my co-presenters were Shannon Bresaw from the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative. She's actually in charge of the effort, she reports to the governor's office, and Cameron Ford, who is the executive director of Headrest in Lebanon, New Hampshire, who is a partner organization to Hypertherm and they support people in recovery.

Bret Keisling: And the genesis, so to speak. Governor Sununu got elected in New Hampshire and decided for whatever reasons he had the workplace initiative for recovery was very, very important. And that led to, if you'd agree, mechanics being put into place that has led to this program. Is that right?

Matt McKenney: Yeah, I think that's right. I mean the initiative itself was founded in the fact that there is a challenge in the state of New Hampshire with employment. Unemployment rates are incredibly low. As my title would say, Workforce Development Manager, that's very important to me. I think the reason it resonates in New Hampshire, as we all highlighted, is having a real problem with opioids in the state. And we're a rural state. So having access to resources, especially in some of our more rural regions is difficult. Businesses were having challenges and we saw impacts on the workforce. And I think that's the driving force behind the initiative. Everybody that's involved, I think, would agree that it's just the right thing to do.

Bret Keisling: And one of the things that struck me on your slides, and we're going to make your presentation available it won't necessarily be with this mini-cast, but we're going to have it on our website because we think it's that important. But one of the things that struck me is the economic effect in New Hampshire is in the billions, plural. And as somebody from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire is such a small state, it almost seems like, wow, how can there be that much devastation? Is that just an indication of how serious the problem is for the rest of the country?

Matt McKenney: I believe so. So nationally, I think the statistics tell us that about 10% of our workforce has a substance use disorder. So that means if you've got a hundred employees, likely there's 10 in your workplace that are struggling with some substance misuse issue. And that's people personally struggling. What the statistics don't cover is the families that are impacted by those folks that are out there trying to work through their substance use issues. And I think it's important to think, and the wonderful thing about this ESOP program and why we were talking about it here today, owners defines all of us in the ESOP world and people bring their whole self to work, right? It's their whole person. So if there's something going on in their lives as related to substance misuse, whether it's for them personally or for those that they love or live with or in their community, it has an impact when they come to work. So we are, as employers, keenly, uniquely positioned to help in that, in that space. And that's what the sort of intent of the presentation was to do, is to help employers understand, large and small, how they might impact and help in the epidemic.

Bret Keisling: And I do want you to share in a moment about what the program is itself -- either your company or that you can port out -- but the one thing that I think is very important to mention, the focus, at least a little bit, in the session today was on employee owners themselves who might have recovery issues. But what I love and you covered on it is that -- and I happen to be in recovery 29 years now -- but whether it's an employee who has the addiction issue or whether the employee has a family member with an addiction issue, in other words, we're educating the opioid crisis is not a nine to five or a first shift, third shift problem. And even if your employer and employee owner doesn't personally face the issue, chances are a friend, neighbor or family member does.

Matt McKenney: I think that's absolutely right. One of the questions I asked in the session today of the fellow ESOP companies that were in the room was whether or not they had wellness programs. And that's a trend these days. Many organizations have them and 90% of the room raised their hand. This is about wellness, right? Someone's wellness and health is related to recovery and it's not just physical wellness related to the impacts of the actual use of the substance. It's also mental wellness and financial wellness and stability in their lives that they gain at an employer. One of the things that we know about addiction is that people tend to isolate themselves. One of the things that we can help with as employers is by bringing people into our organizations and supporting them. Employment is a sense of community. It helps people come out of isolation, and many folks that are struggling, that's the only time they come out of isolation is to come to work. So if we can meet them where they're at and really provide support to get to help them in their recovery journey we see a lot of benefits as an employer to A, be part of that journey. It helps not just us from an employment perspective but it also helps our communities. And it actually helps shed light on some of the needs that we have. And that's where I would really give the Recovery Friendly, the state level initiative, the credit. It has really built a platform for us to be able to start to talk about this more broadly.

Bret Keisling: And you talked about health and wellness and for me, and for about two years now on the podcasts and in presentations I've done at conferences, I personally have been on a mission as one part of many people, but of saying this isn't feel good stuff, this isn't fluffy, it's important, but it adds to the bottom line. The health and wellness that we're talking about, if you have a healthier, in my opinion, a healthier well-adjusted team that wants to go to work and is more productive. This really has nothing to do with the kind of the wishy washy. This goes right to making the company, the balance sheet healthier. Correct?

Matt McKenney: You're absolutely correct. It does have an impact on the bottom line and we've seen positive gains. There's statistics out there that show that people in healthier active recovery are less likely to call in. And I think the statistics are somebody that's in recovery would call in an average of nine days a year. Your normal person would call in 10 to 10 and a half. The downside of that is somebody that's actively using or struggling with a substance misuse issue or substance use disorder would miss up to 30 days, right? So getting somebody through the recovery continuum and getting them on the right track, they're more likely to stay. So turnover rate is lower in that population. So there's a lot of upside. Employers shouldn't do it alone, right? It takes a community of people, including resources in New Hampshire like are offered by the state Recovery Friendly Workplace. But there's also local recovery organizations and people that are professionals at this. One of my favorite things that the founder of our company once said was that you know, we're in the plasma business, we make plasma cutters. Well, the takeaway here, is Hypertherm is not in the recovery business. We're in the business of supporting our employees and ensuring they're well, but we want to rely on the experts and the systems that already exist to help. We just have to find ways to remove barriers to get people to the help that they need, and support those organizations.

Bret Keisling: And it would seem to me that where we talk about the benefits of being an employee owner and a lot of that has a loyalty to the company and a better space if somebody has recovery issues or chronic health issues or mental health issues. And I don't want to conflate the three or even LBGT issues and then say fourth category, but if they feel supported in the workplace, they're going to have loyalty to the employer. Which I think you've mentioned some of your positions at your company, it might take you two years to find somebody and then train. So you don't want to cast somebody out unless they have to be.

Matt McKenney: Right. That's absolutely true. So, you know, inclusion and diversity in its purest sense is about letting people come to work as they are and providing value at your organization. And somebody with a chronic health issue, substance use or not, sort of in the modern workforce, we have levers or programs that allow people to go get the care they need. You know, somebody that's potentially or unfortunately has cancer and is receiving treatments. They, you know, workforces these days are flexible to somebody's going to the chemo sessions that they need, and we absolutely should be. So if part of somebody's healthy recovery is to go to a meeting that's in the middle of the day or they have a counseling appointment and we need to flex their schedule as result, we should be thinking the very same way. You know, respect for somebody is, well, it's a given in ESOPs, right, it's what ESOP's are all about. We respect and value everybody's coming...

Bret Keisling: ...We're all in this together...

Matt McKenney: ... and we share rewards as result. You know, and, and we also share in successes and losses and we all understand that. So the human aspect of that translates very well to this and it just makes sense. You would, you would want to help somebody be well and oftentimes the stigma associated with substance misuse that gets lost in the message. So we're not doing anything different with this population. The real effort is to make sure that we're treating them the same as we would anybody else that has any other chronic disorder.

Bret Keisling: So somebody, and you've mentioned, somebody who has the illness, or what have you, accommodations are a scary word. "Oh, we have to make accommodations!" But if you don't get frightened by the word itself, it really is -- a lot of the stuff, first of all, is not hard to do. And the other thing that I've come to notice, and when I sold my last firm this summer, and I've focused on The KEISOP Group so I can write the rules in real time. I have an understanding that a lot of the rules I've relied on in business my whole life are kind of BS, self-created rules that you know as recording this podcast with you, we are at a conference center in a wide open space so people will hear background noise, but I can also do it on a deck in a restaurant in Illinois. I have a podcast studio, but it's having the flexibility and I understand me as a very small company, it's different. But understanding we don't have to get locked in. If you're a machine operator and your machine weighs six tons and it can't move, yes, you have to be on that machine. But there's flexibility.

Matt McKenney: Right? Right. This is, right, this is where we get all of the disclaimers out from a legal perspective...

Bret Keisling: [Laughter.] Which we won't even go that far now.

Matt McKenney: But, you know, reasonable accommodation there it's very important that when you talk about the word "reasonable" and the dialogue between an employer and associate is critical. And I think that's in many cases where people, not intentionally, get hung up -- is organizations are afraid to have the conversation and they're not transparent about what's reasonable. Right? Because if an accommodation that somebody is requesting is not reasonable and that logic would be consistent with anybody with a similar type of situation. Like the CNC machinist somebody has to be present. You have to be present to run it. So, you know, a reasonable accommodation can not be that you're not here all the time. If we have to adjust your schedule, we can do that. But I think having the conversation coming from a place of care, training your organization and leaders to have that conversation sooner rather than later is really the way around this. Right? Because most accommodations are very reasonable. You know, people in places of need very rarely are asking for the world. They're just asking for help.

Bret Keisling: They're not trying to take advantage.

Matt McKenney: That's right.

Bret Keisling: They're trying to go to work like you and I are. And the one thing, Matt, if you could help with, and it's to my own bias because a lot of the clients, when I was a trustee were the C-suite, you know, the CEOs, or the board of directors, or that sort of thing. And I haven't really personally been involved in, for example, planning the workplace experience for a machine operator. But am I correct in assuming that if folks in any company for any job have a mind to find a way to make things work, that it's not, you know, obviously a CEO can take an hour out of his day or her day and nobody may even notice, I'm not being unfair. But where it's a little more challenging with other options, if people have an open mind, you can figure it out, right?

Matt McKenney: You can always figure it out. And sometimes what figuring it out looks like isn't exactly what the associate's asking for. Right? And, and, and where I think this gets really difficult is it depends on the size of your organization, right? So if I'm a machine operator or I own a machine shop, but I only have five employees, that's a very different conversation that an organization that, that, that may manufacture a product that has 1500 employees, right? In that situation, you'd likely have multiple shifts and enough critical mass from an employee standpoint to be really flexible. In a smaller situation, you might have to get more creative, but you can often find a way. And like I said, that's where the dialogue about what is reasonable. It's a give and take conversation. The best solution is one that, you know, the, the, that you find in that conversation and can make work.

Bret Keisling: And that's my goal of having brought up this little segment of it is people shouldn't listen and say, Oh, it doesn't apply to us. We are different or whatever. What I am saying is there are resources that are available, and you and your co-presenters have made yours available, and I'm going to help share them. There are resources out there and if you look at it and say, "Oh, this doesn't apply to us," ask some questions of the right people, they'll find a way to help it apply to you.

Matt McKenney: Right, right.

Bret Keisling: Can you explain a little bit about what the workplace initiative is, like the program itself, at your company?

Matt McKenney: Sure. So, Hypertherm is a "Recovery Friendly Workplace." We were an early adopter. But you know, that's a state supported program that that provides resources for any organization in New Hampshire as related to substance misuse and it's sort of informational, right? They, they connect you to resources. They have coordinators that come onsite. But, Hypertherm journey's looked a little different. And I think the reason it's important to sort of differentiate the two is Hypertherm is really sort of had this as a focus to try to change or move the needle for the last five years. And it started very small. It started with us forming a steering team that actually I wasn't even part of. And another important note in this story is that these things take a village, right? So, I'm the person at the front that's talking about it today, but there had been a hundred people that have invested time and worked on this to make it as successful as it is.

Bret Keisling: Yeah, and I think you just said this, but to, to dot the "i", so to speak. What you presented at this conference is on the shoulders of many, many people who came before and who's going to be presenting off of this 5 or 10 years from now, whether it's you or whether it's built on this work. That's the village approach that even now you're not saying, "Hey, we've got all the answers..."

Matt McKenney: Because we don't...

Bret Keisling: ...You're saying let's have the conversation, which is important.

Matt McKenney: And our first efforts were resource cards. So we thought, okay, we'd develop and publish some business size resource cards that had all the resources we knew of and make them available in sort of unconspicuous places at Hypertherm so associates could access them, hand them out to their families.

Bret Keisling: It's almost you go into a restaurant -- and I just traveled across the country to get here -- and there's a little, "are you in need of religious help?" Or "Are you in need?" And so just literally around your offices or around your plant...

Matt McKenney: In bathrooms, cafeterias, places where people gather....

Bret Keisling: ...There's help you can get. And it's not pushy. They see this, they pick it up, they reach out.

Matt McKenney: When we first launched them five years ago, we had bracelets attached and the bracelets were related to another campaign. We launched it during International Overdose Awareness Month. And what was really telling in our organization is all of a sudden everybody was wearing them. We didn't ask people to wear them.

Bret Keisling: Whether they were in recovery or not, whether they had substance issues, they were just supporting the cause.

Matt McKenney: It meant something, it resonated with them. So the work has built from there. And today at Hypertherm, we have a substance use disorder task force, the Hypertherm Hope Foundation, which is a Hypertherm's nonprofit philanthropic grant making organization, funds organizations so we, so we grant funds to recovery organizations in our community that support and help people. We have recovery coaches onsite on all three shifts that we've brought people in and trained. So if, if somebody needs to walk up to someone and say, "Hey, I need help," you know, HR, they're a critical piece of our organization, but they, they're not limitless, limitless resources, right? They're not there 24 hours a day. They try, but they just can't be. So we wanted to make sure resources were on shift. So if somebody had a crisis and was in need, they could go talk to someone and say, "Hi, I need help. What resources can I be connected to?" We've partnered with the state and a local treatment provider, Headrest, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and the CDFA, which is the Community Development Finance Authority in the state of New Hampshire to pilot a program through the use of some grant funds to provide onsite licensed drug and alcohol counselors in our workplace a couple of hours a week across all three shifts. So if somebody needs to talk to a professional getting assessment and evaluation or be recommended the treatment, they don't even have to leave work now. They can just make sort of an anonymous appointment, meet in a discrete place, ask questions about them, family members, brothers, sisters, children, whoever it might be in their life that's struggling and it's, it's, it's, so, it took us five or six years to get there, right? It's a long journey between resource cards and having a lay DAC on site available. And we learned a lot along the way. We changed policies along the way and our practices and we did a lot of walking the talk to make sure that people understood that we really meant to do what we set out to do.

Bret Keisling: And how many employees do you have?

Matt McKenney: So we have 1800 globally in the Upper Valley or in New Hampshire we have about 1100.

Bret Keisling: And I just wanted that for perspective. We're not necessarily suggesting that a 10 person firm would make counselors available...

Matt McKenney: No.

Bret Keisling: ....a couple of times a week they're there. There are certain things that are brilliant and groundbreaking [but] because of your size that may not port exactly. But at the same time, smaller companies could, for example, find the resources that are offsite.

Matt McKenney: Absolutely. Or contact Recovery Friendly Workplace and understand what the landscape is and find resources in your community and get a start. So if somebody came to your one person HR staff or if you're a small business, you're the owner or trying to fulfill that HR role, you at least have some answers and a place to start. Because I've been in this seat too, it's hard if somebody comes forward and you don't have answers, like you desperately want to help them, right? They've trusted you, they've come forward. It feels like your credibility is on the line. So just being prepared with resources is a huge, huge game [changer].

Bret Keisling: Yeah, but if you don't, and this isn't even meant to be devil's advocate. If you're an HR person and you don't have the confidence of the resources, be honest about it and seek the experts. In other words, don't fake it till you make it. If somebody is in crisis, there are actual resources that if you're not comfortable enough, steer them in the right direction.

Matt McKenney: Right? That's another, you know, a health reference or a reference to other health related issues is, makes sense here. Because if, if somebody came and told you that they had cancer, you wouldn't diagnose them or try to provide treatment. So somebody with a substance use disorder comes to you. Their life is on the line and it's not up to you to help them. It's up to you to connect them to resources. And really get them in front of a professional be empathetic care, right? Want to help, but it's ultimately not your responsibility to shoulder their challenges.

Bret Keisling: And not healthy for the HR person to take them on.

Matt McKenney: Empower them to make good choices and have the, you know, understand the resources of the landscape to be able to do it.

Bret Keisling: Matt, I really appreciate your time today. This was very helpful, very educational. What we're going to do as soon as we're able is we'll get ahold of your presentation, the original one that you and your colleagues had done outside of the Association. And we're going to put that on our website [you can download it here]. From my personal experience, again, I've got 29 years of recovery. I'm not an L-DAC, you know, I don't do counseling per se, but if anybody's listening and say, "Hey, we don't know where to go for the resources I'm willing to point in a couple of directions and I suspect, I don't want to put you on the spot, but I suspect if people reached out to you, you'd be willing to direct them on some resources companies could do.

Matt McKenney: Absolutely. I the, you know, the place I'd start is Recovery Friendly Workplace in New Hampshire. If you're not in New Hampshire, those resources would still help. But I would also rely on EAPs if you have them and I can do the best I can to connect you with any resources. Just starting the conversation is important. So having somebody to help point you in the right direction, walk through a thought process on how you might find resources, anything is better than feeling like you have to feel around in the dark with no flashlight.

Bret Keisling: All right, Matt, I want to give you a couple of very sincere thanks. First of all, thank you for your time today, but I want to thank you, your co-presenters at the conference. Shannon Bresaw and Ford. Shannon is with Granite United Way and Cameron Ford is the Executive Director of Headrest. Not sure if it came out on the podcast, but you're actually on the board of Headrest as well. And I just want to thank you because what you're doing is very, very important. And as I've said, I think this kind of thing should be required at every single ESOP conference. So I just want to thank you for, for sharing your firm's success and illuminating the path for others who might be interested.

Matt McKenney: Well I can't take all the credit for that, but thank you very much!

Bret Keisling: You were the guy sitting here so you get the credit. Thanks, Matt.

Matt McKenney: Thank you.

Bret Keisling: Thank you so much for joining us. If you know of any programs, similar to the one we talk about in this episode, please drop me a line. We'd love to share with our audience, all of the great steps companies take to protect their employees. And please join us Friday for the ESOP Mini-cast. I'm Bret Keisling be well.

Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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