The Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene (IIOSH) is advising employers on how to safeguard the mental and physical health of security personnel and reserve duty soldiers returning to their duties after fighting against Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
Dozens of police officers and border patrol soldiers have fallen during the war, alongside hundreds of reservists. Sorrow, emptiness, sleep problems, and breathing difficulties affect those returning from combat to their routine work. They may suffer not only from physical but also psychological injuries due to their experiences. The process of returning to their jobs can be challenging for them and their workplaces, and it is important to support them effectively to ease their recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration, said IIOSH.
Employees facing grief, loss, and uncertainty, those who knew citizens or soldiers killed or injured, and those with family members or friends missing or abducted may experience the most serious symptoms.
As the war continues, the scope of loss, pain, and grief may increase. Workplaces employing affected individuals are expected to welcome them back into their ranks.
Grief and sorrow can manifest in different ways: Physical symptoms may include decreased appetite, sleep problems, dry mouth, breathing difficulties, sensitivity to noise, and more. Mental symptoms may include emotional numbness, a sense of meaninglessness or emptiness, lack of concentration, difficulty in making decisions and more.
Recommendations from the Institute’s Psychologists
Emotional support – Convey messages of emotional support, encourage quick healing, and reinforce the employee’s sense of contribution to the organization at every stage of the return-to-work process. Emphasize the benefits of returning to work and the disadvantages of not returning, such as the impact on financial status, social relationships, and mental health.
Communication Adaptation: Suit communication to the characteristics of the affected employee, considering their readiness to return to work, communication style, and understanding of the return-to-work plan.
Clear Information Accessibility: Provide all necessary information to the employee clearly and in accordance with their ability to understand it.
Flexible Return Plan: Develop a flexible return-to-work plan based on the employee’s preferences. The plan should include flexibility in working hours and task adjustments to accommodate the employee’s functional ability that may change throughout the process.
External Assistance: Offer employees access to external support resources such as psychologists or mental health assistance lines and allow them the time needed for this.
Supportive Environment: Allow employees space for supportive conversations among themselves, creating an environment that eases the difficult situation and trauma. Encourage them to talk to colleagues and supervisors, seeking help without judgment.
Security and Safety Protocol Training: Update security, safety, and emergency protocols to boost the employees’ sense of security and promote safety in the workplace, especially in locations vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
IIOSH director Dr. Michael (Miki) Winkler concluded that “the IDF is the people’s army, and naturally, Israeli society is greatly influenced by the war, not only economically but also mentally. It’s important that managers recognize the safety and conduct guidelines for employees returning from the battlefield. This can assist in the employee’s productivity and, most importantly, in preserving their physical and mental health.”
Abie Moses, the national chairman for the Organization of Victims of Terrorism, who in 1987, lost his pregnant wife and mother of four, Ofra Moses and their five-year-old son Tal – murdered by a Palestinian terrorist – commented that the need to preserve the mental health of people who have experienced terror events and murder is critical.
It is important to support them in real-time during the rehabilitation and reintegration process into the workplace,” he said. “Some may experience mourning, trauma, and deep emotional wounds. There is no doubt that the activities of organizational psychologists at IIOSH can assist in the return-to-work process. As someone familiar with the wounds of terror and coping, it is necessary to create a supportive environment for employees experiencing grief, trauma, and this process is correct and necessary for their reintegration into the workplace. This is social solidarity, and I expect Israel to encourage such actions.”