Joe Tlustos has been a peer coach in Sioux Falls since 2017. He coaches members with the disease of addiction and specializes in mental health issues, opioids and a wide range of professions.
What are some common characteristics of the FIT @ Work members you coach?
I have a hard time describing a “typical” FIT @ Work coaching member, because I see such a wide variety of people. I often think of addiction as the great equalizer. Where you grew up, how much money you have, what your job title is – none of that matters. In the FIT @ Work population, that means I see everyone from warehouse workers to company owners.
Thankfully, regardless of industry or job rank, the majority of the FIT @ Work members I’ve worked with have had great success in getting well and getting back to work re-energized.
What are some lessons you've learned over time about the FIT @ Work program?
The first time I ever visited a FIT @ Work workplace was a couple years ago. I knew almost immediately I was being viewed by employees as “the cops.” I could tell they were very hesitant to meet with me. I understand that feeling – even if you're struggling, it can be hard to trust someone to help.
Despite that initial uncertainty, I’ve managed to connect with and help employees once they know my personal story. The power of the peer can’t be understated – it’s at the center of why Face It TOGETHER is so successful in helping people get their lives back. The same applies when an employer or executive openly shares their experiences with addiction. People are more likely to seek help when they know their own boss has overcome addiction, either personally or within their family.
How did addiction previously impact your work performance?
In my case, my addiction came as a result of unknowingly self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illnesses. My use only made the situation worse. It was like I was in the middle of the lake trying to keep my head above water while trying, and failing, to sew together my own lifejacket. I was very good at keeping my disease hidden from others, including my coworkers.
What would you tell an employer who’s unsure of the need for FIT @ Work?
The math doesn’t lie. Take most any group of people and you’ll find at least two in 10 are either struggling with the disease, struggling to help a loved one at home or both. Those struggles are real and detrimental to companies of all sizes.
You may think your business is immune to addiction, but the math says otherwise. Healthy employees are happier, more productive and often do better work. FIT @ Work is an investment in your employees’ wellness, but also your company's bottom line.