- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2003


  With the combat in Iraq over, many small-business owners are looking forward to the return of employees who have been deployed to the Reserves.
  But once the “welcome back” cakes have been cut, reservists and their co-workers may find a painful period of adjustment, and company owners should be ready to deal with a variety of problems.
  For example, some reservists may have trouble settling back to work. Or co-workers who have been given greater responsibilities in a reservist’s absence may balk at giving them up. There may be anger in the office because a temporary staffer, no longer needed, is being let go.
  Employee assistance professionals suggest that employers meet with the reservists before their first day back and also meet separately with the rest of the staff. This will help the owner anticipate any problems.
  In meeting with a returning worker, the boss needs to ask, “How can we best integrate you back into your role?” said Pam Ruster, president of Supportive Systems, an employee assistance program provider in Indianapolis.
  Employees will have different reactions to getting back to work.
  “Some may welcome the familiarity of coming back and doing something that’s quite predictable,” Miss Ruster said. “Others may come back to an experience that is not comfortable. They may have grown in ways in which they’re no longer comfortable with what they were doing before and are ready for new challenges.”
  Meanwhile, the office might have changed while the reservist was away. There might be new co-workers, customers, procedures and equipment to which the reservist will have to adjust.
  It’s important to prepare an employee for such changes. Christina Kominotch, a counselor with the Washington, D.C.-based employee assistance provider Cope Inc., said the reservist’s response might be, “‘They changed the way I’m doing it, and I’m not happy about it.’ It’s a normal reaction.”
  Moreover, co-workers often have adjustments. For example, one staffer may have been promoted in the reservist’s absence, and now resents having to return to a lower rank.
  Miss Ruster noted that in many cases, companies hired workers to fill in while the reservists were away. Maybe those temporary staffers are now being let go, a situation likely to stir up emotions in the rest of the office. That is especially true if the workers liked the temp better than the reservist, so the returning worker isn’t receiving a wholehearted welcome.
  One question is how long an adjustment period a returning employee should be given.
  Coming back to work can be a case of culture shock. Miss Ruster said of some reservists, “They did not have the everyday responsibilities of taking care of a family. And coming home, they’re being asked to multitask instead of focusing on the war.”
  Such a worker probably needs more time to settle in, perhaps even being allowed to work part time. That can be hard for a company owner who is trying to be sensitive to the employee’s needs but also must tend to the requirements of the entire business.
  Another issue is whether, and how much, the reservist wants to talk about the experience of war — and whether co-workers want to hear about it. One problem that can occur is that the reservist spends a lot of time each day sharing stories with co-workers, and everyone’s productivity drops.
  Professionals suggest scheduling a time when the employees can meet as a group and ask the reservist questions — if the reservist wants to talk. Co-workers need to be sensitized to the fact that the reservist may not want to discuss life in the military.
  Perhaps the most difficult problem a business owner might face is the employee who is depressed or suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a serious problem, and one that might not show up for weeks or months.
  “Just to be in war is traumatic. They’ve lived on the edge,” said Bruce Cedar, president of Newton, Mass.-based CMG Associates.
  Mr. Cedar said business owners can tell returning employees upfront, “We’re so glad you came back safely. We know it must have been difficult. We want to be here to support your re-entry, so please come to me if there are things we can do and there are services to help you.”
  
  ASSOCIATED PRESS
  

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