Many returning hostages struggle to know when and how best to return to work. Some may want a long period of rehabilitation, while others might want to go back to work straight away. This is a personal choice and everyone is different. Try to pace yourself and take notice of how you feel mentally and physically. You will need to liaise with your employer as both you and they need to make sure that you return to work when it is right for you.
Return to work interview
Prior to your return to work, it is advisable to request a ‘return to work interview’, where you can talk through issues, such as the number of hours you will work, the types of tasks you will do and any challenges you might face. Some former hostages want to discuss their changed levels of concentration, how they may deal with stress, or having to travel overseas. If having these discussions seems like a difficult task, ask if a colleague or friend can accompany you to the meeting.
Kidnapping is not a frequent incident that organisations have to deal with, so your employers may not be aware of the extent of the trauma involved or the long-term effects on returning hostages. You may have to give them an insight into what you have been through to help them understand. Writing some brief notes down beforehand might help.
Managing your return
When you have returned to work, try not to put too much pressure on yourself and be prepared for some things being more difficult than you expected. If you are having problems, talk them through with your manager as soon as possible so you can find a way through them. It might be a good idea to ask for your organisation to select a point of contact for you outside your management line. This might enable you to open up more about how you are doing.
Your employer has a say in when you return as well. If you do not feel comfortable with the time off they have given you, try and set up a constructive dialogue with them so you can understand their reasoning. If you do not feel comfortable having these discussions, ask if someone can accompany or represent you.
Handling the impact of trauma and physical health on your ability to work
You may encounter challenges that impact on your return to work. Your concentration may be affected or you may experience difficulty dealing with everyday stress, such as rush hour transport.
There may be physical triggers in the office environment that affect you, such as sights, sounds and even smells that take you back to your time in captivity. For example, if you were kept isolated or in a dark space you might find it difficult to work in a windowless office or travel in a lift. Perhaps specific noises trigger flashbacks. Open or closed plan offices may work better depending on your experiences.
You may need to ask your employer for flexibility to allow you to avoid rush hour traffic or public transport, which can cause heightened stress and anxiety. You might also struggle to sleep or have disrupted sleep patterns, meaning it would be better for you to work outside normal office hours.
You may have difficulty with tasks that were once easy, or find multi-tasking difficult due to your impaired concentration. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is understandable that your mind needs time to heal after being kidnapped. It will take time to get back to your previous levels of productivity, but be assured that most people do.
You might find it difficult or awkward to rebuild relationships with your colleagues. They won’t understand what you have been through and might find it difficult to know what to say or how to help you. Some might not have found out about your kidnapping until after your release because of the need to maintain secrecy around some cases. Even those who are genuinely supportive might end up saying or doing the wrong thing or ask you inappropriate questions. Most people find it difficult to talk about ‘sensitive’ issues and tend to say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing.
It can help if your manager briefs them ahead of your return and helps them to understand how you might be feeling and how your experiences might impact on your behaviour, your ability to do your job and your interactions in the workplace.