Having a staff member kidnapped is a disruptive and challenging event for any organization. Not only will you need to deal with the crisis itself, you will be required to support the family and colleagues, too and help the hostage to reintegrate on their return.
Download the Hostage US guide Getting Back to Work: An organization’s guide to reintegration
Good family liaison
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. Fulfilling this role can be difficult without prior understanding of what to expect and what families need.
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 don’t set expectations 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.
At your first meeting, ask the family how they want to handle communications with you- how often would they like contact? Would they prefer that in person, over the phone or via Skype? 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 preferences might change over time.
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.
Bear in mind that 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 have conversations over and over.
Be consistent and follow through on your promises. Do not make promises you are not confident of keeping.
Families are complicated- understanding and managing family dynamics can be difficult. There may be separations and 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.
Helping families with practical challenges
You can greatly assist families 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.
Hostage US can help you find specialist services.
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 Skype.
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, satisfy yourself that you are talking to the correct member of the family, and speak calmly and clearly without delay.
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.
Selecting the right person as family liaison officer
Not everyone will make a natural family liaison officer.
They are patient, empathetic and active listeners. They are comfortable dealing with emotionally stressful situations and deliver bad news 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.
The hard work does not end with a successful release. There is much that employers can do to aid the reintegration of a returning hostage, helping them to get back to work and back om their feet as quickly and easily as possible.
Getting back to work
Returning home is the start of a new challenge for hostages. They are likely to be suffering the impacts of their captivity, they may be struggling to sleep, experiencing nightmares and flashbacks, or have a heightened sense of 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.
Provide a return to work interview. This offers an opportunity to talk about the individual’s needs and anything you may need to help them manage, such as working hours, their role, or their physical work environment. Create a return to work plan and review it together on a regular basis.
Allocate 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 person’s unique needs.
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 with these practical needs.
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.