BEST PRACTICES FOR EMPLOYERS
Having a staff member kidnapped is a disruptive and challenging crisis to navigate. Not only will you need to deal with the kidnapping itself, but you will also be required to support the employee’s family, other colleagues, and stakeholders as well. When your employee returns home, you will need to help them to reintegrate on their return.
With years of experience of supporting hostages and their families, Hostage US is here to help you and your organization if you are faced with a kidnapping of an employee. Below, we outline the basic best practices for organizations going through a kidnapping. For more information and advice on managing the human aspects of a kidnapping, contact us and we will discuss what you are going through.
FAMILY LIAISON DURING THE KIDNAPPING
Organizations experiencing a kidnapping will work closely with the hostage’s family – to keep them involved and up to date on the case, offer them support and access to services, such as counseling, and offer help with some of the practical challenges that arise. Be prepared to select someone in your organization to act as the Family Liaison Officer throughout the kidnapping. Fulfilling this role can be difficult without prior understanding of what to expect and what families need and not everyone will make a natural family liaison officer, but we have some suggestions for selecting a strong family liaison officer within your organization.
Family liaison officers could be close with the employee taken hostage, but this could cause issues if they are not able to perform their duties as the officer because of their close personal relationship. It is best to select a person for this role based on their personal qualities. The best people for this role are active listeners, patient and empathetic. They are comfortable dealing with emotionally stressful situations and deliver bad news clearly and without evasion. They are adept at gathering information effectively and sensitively. It is important that these individuals are not in a personal crisis themselves.
FIRST CONTACT WITH THE FAMILY
First contact is essential. You only get one chance to make a first impression. It is important to demonstrate that you are prioritizing the time and resources of your organization to secure the safe release of their loved one, but be careful not to set expectations that you can’t deliver. Ensure that a senior manager is present to represent the organization, but have the day-to-day contact lead the conversation.
ONGOING COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE FAMILY
At your first meeting, ask the family how they want to handle communications with you and how often would they like contact. Do they prefer communication to be in person, over the phone or via video call? Who should be included in communication? Each family is different–you need to be flexible and work around what is best for the family. Bear in mind that their communication preferences might change over time.
Create a communications plan with the family and stick to what is promised. Even when there are no updates, be sure to call or visit when you planned. This will build trust and improve the relationship.
Wherever possible, follow up conversations and meetings with a written record. It is widely understood that stress and trauma negatively affect our ability to concentrate and retain information.
Families are likely to have recurring questions throughout the kidnapping– both because they are struggling to come to terms with a particular decision or because they are having difficulty remembering information. Be patient with them and be ready to repeat your answers and have conversations over again.
In your communication and in your actions, be sure to be consistent and follow through on your promises. Do not make promises that you cannot keep.
Families are complicated- understanding and managing family dynamics can be difficult. There may be separations, divorce or step-children. There may be family feuds which mean that some members will not communicate directly with others. There may also be disagreements within the family about how the case should be handled and how you as an organization should communicate with them. Tread carefully, create a mental map of family members and any dynamics that you need to be aware of, and do not make assumptions about family relationships.
ASSISTING FAMILIES WITH PRACTICAL CHALLENGES
One of the ways you can best assist families is by helping them to resolve some of the practical challenges that can arise as a result of a kidnapping. They might be struggling to access the hostage’s bank account to pay household bills and require legal assistance. They might be struggling to communicate with young children and need help from a child psychologist. They might need your help shielding them from reporters or other interested parties.
Families will face a myriad of practical problems throughout the kidnapping – help them however you can. You might review your insurance policies to understand what resources there are to help the family outside the immediate organization. Hostage US can also help you find specialist services and professionals to help in these areas.
DELIVERING BAD NEWS
While most hostages return home safely, you need to be prepared for the worst. This is a difficult job, but an important one. How this news is conveyed can have a significant impact on how the family copes.
This news is best delivered face to face. Only under the most exceptional circumstances should it be delivered over the phone or via video call.
Be prepared for the conversation. Be clear about the facts and what you don’t you know. Try to have a second person with you, whether to support you or to assist with practical challenges, such as if there are children at home.
When you arrive, identify yourself, ensure you are talking to the correct family member and speak calmly and clearly.
Don’t ask the family to fill in forms or make decisions at this stage. Come back another time to do this. Children should not be left out of this, but if they are young, be sensitive that they may need looking after separately as your visit continues.
See our resources for more information on breaking bad news.
REINTEGRATION TO THE WORKPLACE AFTER RETURN
Download our guide Getting Back to Work: An organizations guide to reintegration
The hard work does not end with a successful release. The employers can be a significant part of a returning hostages reintegration back to life and back to work as quickly and easily as possible.
Returning home is the start of a new challenge for hostages. They are likely to be suffering the impacts of their captivity including but not limited to struggling to sleep, experiencing nightmares or flashbacks and having heightened emotions. As a result, many find it difficult to return to work. As an employer, there is a lot you can do to make this transition easier. See the Hostage Support section of our website to better understand what a hostage might experience after a kidnapping.
Return to work interview
Conduct a return to work interview. This is a conversation with you as the employer and your employee to talk about their individual needs and share what you can do to help them. You can discuss various aspects that might need to be adjusted in the short term including their working hours, their role, or their physical work environment. Create a return to work plan and review it together on a regular basis.
Single point of contact
Designate a single point of contact for the returning hostage. They are likely to be overwhelmed and might struggle to retain information. A single point of contact will streamline communications, minimize stress and help the rest of the organization to understand the individual's unique needs. This person should be different than the family liaison officer appointed to help the family through the kidnapping.
Assisting with practical problems
They may need your help managing practical problems arising as a result of their captivity – filing tax returns, fixing their credit rating, navigating their healthcare needs, dealing with legal fall out, or simply getting everyday things in place at home. Hostage US can help you to assist your employees with these practical needs.
OTHER STAFF aftercare
Don’t forget the hostage’s colleagues. They might struggle to know what to say or whether to ask about what happened. With a sensitive briefing and advice about how to handle things, their peer support can be invaluable to the returning hostage’s recovery.
Many hostages return to work successfully. Others need more assistance and will take longer to adjust. Stay engaged for the long-term, ensure the single point of contact maintains contact over a prolonged period and do not be surprised if problems occur long after the individual’s release. This is normal.
Hostage US can discuss your engagement with the family or employee during or after the kidnapping. This is a difficult crisis to manage and ensuring you are supporting the family and your employee when they return home is imperative to demonstrate your commitment, values and carrying out your duty of care for your employees.