Easing Post-Deployment Reunions: EA Professionals Can Play Critical Roles in Helping Supervisors, Co-Workers, and Family Members Adjust to a Deployed Person's Return from Duty

By deLong, Paula Thomas | The Journal of Employee Assistance, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Easing Post-Deployment Reunions: EA Professionals Can Play Critical Roles in Helping Supervisors, Co-Workers, and Family Members Adjust to a Deployed Person's Return from Duty


deLong, Paula Thomas, The Journal of Employee Assistance


Due to political and military conflicts, American military and civilian personnel are being deployed to near and remote parts of the world. When a person is deployed, s/he is not the only person who undergoes changes. Co-workers have to assume additional duties, children are challenged by new family roles, and spouses find their time and energy taxed and their responsibilities greatly magnified.

At the end of a tour of duty, the returning person and those at home look forward to the reunion. Reunions carry with them high expectations for relief and joy as well as worry, anxiety, tear, and disorientation. After all, during the deployment, the world continued to turn and many changes occurred--some small, some significant. All parties involved will need time to adjust to a slightly different world with slightly different people.

REUNIONS AND WORK

The returning person may be concerned about fitting back into the workplace. S/he may wonder, who performed my duties during my deployment? Was the job done the way wanted it to be done? Do I simply take over again now? Who are these new employees in the workplace?

The returning person and his/her co-workers may find it awkward to get reacquainted. An example of this is a returning military man with medical training whose assignment was stateside, working with injured returning troops from Iraq. His co-workers told him he had not experienced "real war," which he felt minimized the disturbing sights and stories he saw and heard during his tour of duty.

A returning person also may need to readjust to the work environment and pace of the job. The demands of the workplace--policies, deadlines, and responsibilities--may be radically different from those of active duty In addition, managers and co-workers and even the job itself may have changed during a soldiers time away.

If the returning person was a supervisor, s/he may need to live with decisions about job processes and personnel matters made by others during the deployment. The workgroup may now include people the returning person does not know, and building relationships and a productive work team with these new individuals may be his/her first task.

Colleagues at work may expect that the returning person will be the same as before, but this may or may not be true. Co-workers may not understand that a returning person might well need time to recover from possible war trauma. There may need to be a phasing-in period or a vacation between active duty and the return to work. Be aware that this can cause resentment among co-workers who had to "pull together" during their colleague's deployment and assume extra duties. They may want a break from work themselves and feel they deserve it.

The key to re integrating a returning person into the workplace is to go slowly. EA professionals should advise employees returning from deployment that they would do well to inquire about, rather than criticize, changes at work. Similarly, encourage them to respect the views and experiences of coworkers who remained in the workplace during their absence. Returning personnel may feel the need to talk about what they saw and did while away, but they must recognize that those who stayed behind have interesting things to tell about their lives as well. Renewing relationships is a process that requires mutual respect and tolerance.

EA professionals also need to communicate with workplace leaders about smoothing the reunion process and preventing issues from arising. For example, you may want to encourage a supervisor to debrief the returning person prior to the actual return to work. This will allow the returning employee to learn about the formal and informal changes that took place during his/her deployment. As part of that conversation, the supervisor can remind the employee of EAP services that might assist in meeting immediate as well as long-term readjustment needs. …

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