The JGM BitBlog: From crisis to everyday life - Navigating the reintegration process of crisis service employees.

Journal of Global Mobility

Vita Glorieux, Royal Military Academy, Belgium & KU Leuven, Belgium 
Salvatore Lo Bue, Royal Military Academy, Belgium 
Martin Euwema, KU Leuven, Belgium

As conflicts and crises continue to arise in the world, military personnel, non-governmental employees, and police officers play a crucial role in responding to these situations. Throughout their careers, these crisis service employees experience a back-and-forth movement of adapting to operational high-stress circumstances and readjusting to normal life at home. This process of re-adjusting to life in the homeland is called “Reintegration”. It entails the resumption of various social roles in the community, in the family, and at work. Understanding how crisis service employees successfully reintegrate and find a new balance after each deployment is crucial for a sustainable career, personal well-being, and resilience. 
However, research on reintegration is limited and fragmented. Scientific studies and even the sending organisations often presume that the challenges of reintegration are less important than those of the deployment, and hence deserve less attention. Additionally, studies tend to focus on a single aspect of reintegration, that is, on how employee reconnect with their family members. Researchers have also a tendency to focus on the negative experiences after return, and to consider reintegration as a kind of finish line to get to, rather than a process to go through. In our review article, we wanted to address all the different aspects of reintegration in one study, including the positive experiences of employees, their experiences outside the family circle, and to consider reintegration as a process rather than some desirable end-state. We conducted an extensive systematic literature review of 104 papers that addresses and answers our questions related to the different aspects, and timing of the reintegration process.  
While the starting point of reintegration is consensual in the existing literature – the moment the employee returns home - the endpoint is subject to debate. Based on our review, we suggest that the end-state of reintegration is when individuals reach a new homeostasis with (new) renegotiated roles, responsibilities, and routines in their personal, interpersonal, and professional life. Our work acknowledges that the reintegration process is different for everyone. Nevertheless, we have found that most crisis service employees go through three distinct phases. A first, celebratory, phase that is marked by joy and excitement. It is followed by a, second, transitional phase during which individuals must adjust to the changes in roles, responsibilities, and routines, and sometimes grief for their old self. Finally, the third, stabilisation, phase occurs when they acknowledge the changes and attribute new meaning to their experiences. 
In addition to exploring the different phases of reintegration, we also investigated the challenges individuals can face while reintegrating on the individual, interpersonal, and professional level. We also looked into how they both can have positive and negative effects. For instance, colleagues in the homeland can be supportive by showing interest in the experiences of the returning employee. Conversely, they might pressure the employee to quickly resume work tasks without allowing them enough time to transition back into their roles. Next, by using a social-ecological framework, we emphasized the interaction within and between individual, interpersonal, and professional challenges and how they can impact the reintegration process. For example, feelings of identity loss on the individual level can hinder interpersonal reintegration because the employee fails to recover their identity within the family. Conversely, individual resilience can facilitate the renegotiation of family connections due to the belief that these challenges are an opportunity to grow. Hence, challenges on one level of the reintegration process, can affect the functioning of the other levels, either positively or negatively. 
In sum, our article provides clarity on the conceptual definitions, the multidimensional aspects, and the phases of the reintegration process. This knowledge can help researchers, mental health practitioners, and organisational policy makers to identify potential risk and protective factors of returning crisis service employees. For example, we argue that homecoming events and psychological screenings immediately after returning home may not provide long-term help, as the most significant distress often occurs in the transitional phase rather than the celebratory phase. 

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication: 
Glorieux, V., Lo Bue, S. and Euwema, M. (2023), "Reintegration of crisis services employees: a systematic literature review", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 215-251.