Crisis responder Jacob van ’t Slot of Expat Preventive

The family liaison officer is key to solving a crisis

Crisis responder Jacob van ’t Slot of Expat Preventive
Crisis responder Jacob van ’t Slot of Expat Preventive

When an employee is involved in a calamity abroad, there is a big impact on his or her family and friends. On behalf of the organization, Family Liaison Officers are responsible for contacts with family members. Expat Preventive Crisis responder Jacob van ‘t Slot coaches and trains them.

Why is it sometimes hard for organizations to deal with families?

Because the interests of families and a crisis management team may conflict.

See, when a Dutch employee gets injured in a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, the family often wants to go there straight away. We advise against it, because the first days after a disaster usually are utter chaos. The safety of the family is then at stake. The organization often already has a hard time dealing with an injured person, let alone with a family member getting into trouble.

Or suppose there is a violent coup in the news and some nasty images can be seen on television. Because of emotional involvement, there often is a wish to bring the affected home. Also the company wants to get their people to safety, but as crisis management team, you have to strategically consider what the best option is. Sometimes this is hibernation: for local employees to temporarily keep quiet and stay off the grid. Or it might be relocation within the country or region.

The Family Liaison Officer is the person who is able to explain the considerations of the crisis management team to the family in the right way. When the persons involved feel that every possible action is being taken (provided this is actually the case), it gives more comfort than empathy alone.

What profile should a Family Liaison Officer have?

Good Family Liaison Officers are people with empathy and the ability to clearly indicate to a family the boundaries of what the organization can do. Someone, therefore, who can manage expectations. Furthermore, it is important that this person understands the considerations of a crisis management team and knows how to articulate these.

In many organizations, the Liaison is an employee of an HR department. But this is not required. Preferably, it is a person high up in the organization. The family wants to be taken seriously and not be fobbed off with a secretary or intern, no matter how capable those might be.

How many persons should a company or organization train to be a Family Liaison Officer?

Companies that send out groups of employees cannot suffice with one contact person. Think about companies staffing ships. When 30 staff get send out and something goes wrong, they will have to contact at least 30 families and will have a multitude of incoming calls to respond to.

For businesses that deal with group dispatches, we arrange the first assistance through an alarm center, which has been equipped for this work in terms of capacity and expertise. For organizations sending out 1 or 2 people at the same time, one Family Liaison Officer and one back-up usually are enough.

What is the most important advice that you want to give to a Family Liaison Officer?

The Family Liaison Officer is key to solving a crisis. The task is not easy and emotionally demanding. Make sure you have a safe space to blow off steam, where you can get adequate feedback from your company or organization. And also: always be punctual when dealing with family; make that phone call at the moment you promised. And do not make promises to them that you cannot keep. Do not say: I will take care of that. But: I will discuss it with the crisis team and get back to you.

Crisis Management for HR and family support officers

Crisis Management for HR and family support officers

If one of your staff members is involved in a critical incident abroad, this also affects the family. Providing the right family support can be vital in the resolution of... Read more

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