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Returning to Work After You Serve

With awareness and preparation, you can ease your way back into the workplace.

Your experiences in service as a National Guard member may change you in ways you might not recognize until you are back in your workplace environment. With awareness and preparation, you can ease your way back into the workplace.

Expecting the Unexpected

Upon returning to your routine duties, you may notice changes in yourself, your coworkers or your work environment. The following tips from the Department of Labor can help you anticipate difficulties and reintegrate in your work environment after you’ve deployed or served in a disaster relief mission.

  1. Pace change: The disaster environment often moves at a pace that is much faster than the normal workplace. After working in a disaster response environment, this begins to feel normal. When returning to normal work, it may appear that people are moving at a much slower pace than you remember. It is easy to misinterpret this as laziness or lack of caring or motivation. Remember that it is probably you who has changed, not them. Be slow to judge, criticize or make assumptions.
  2. Unrelenting fatigue: Even with what seems like sufficient sleep, you may experience chronic fatigue. This may be a result of several factors. You may need more rest than you realize. Sometimes chronic stress results in never feeling rested. Chronic fatigue may also be a result of a medical condition. See a doctor if chronic fatigue persists.
  3. Cynicism: Typically, during disaster work, you see the best and the worst in individuals and systems, and it is easy to become cynical. This is expected. These feelings often diminish over time once you are able to focus on the positive results of your work.
  4. Dissatisfaction with routine work: It is very rewarding to be involved, directly or indirectly, in saving lives and protecting our fellow citizens’ health and safety. Most work does not provide such dramatic and immediate reinforcement. You might start seeing your daily work routine as lacking meaning and satisfaction. These feelings are normal. To counter these feelings, incorporate the positive things you have learned during disaster response into your personal and professional life.
  5. Easily evoked emotions: Sometimes the combination of intense experiences, fatigue and stress leaves you especially vulnerable to unexpected emotions. For example, you may cry easily, be quick to anger, or experience dramatic mood swings. These are normal reactions that typically subside over time. In the meantime, be aware of your reactions, discuss your experiences, and be sensitive of comments that might be hurtful or upsetting to others.
  6. Relating your experiences: While you may want to share your experiences with others, you may be unsure if it is appropriate. This is normal. Exercise care when discussing your disaster relief experiences, especially graphic and disturbing topics while in the presence of children or others who are emotionally vulnerable.
  7. Difficulties with colleagues and supervisors: You may not experience a welcome back from your colleagues and supervisors that meets your expectations. Coworkers may resent having to assume additional workloads, may not understand the difficulty of the work you did, or may resent the recognition that you are receiving as a responder. In response to any negative feelings, express appreciation for their support during your deployment and take care in relating your experiences.
  8. Cultural issues: Culture affects how an individual reacts to trauma. For example, showing emotion, discussing problems with others or touching is acceptable with some groups and not with others. On the basis of this understanding, it is important to appreciate and respect these differences.

If you are experiencing any of the issues above, signs of distress, or other employment difficulties, the National Guard Bureau provides programs and services to help you cope. Among the issues NGB addresses are:

Installation Program Directory

Find programs and services at your local installation.