Geopolitics and the Protection of Your Employees - No Matter Where They Are
January 15, 2019
Most companies have protocols in place to protect employees at work and even when they travel. But sometimes, situations occur that are difficult to predict—ones that put your employees at physical and emotional risk. When that happens, it helps to have experts who can stand with you, your employees, and their families, to provide the skills and experience to help navigate the situation.
It was a normal day in the Mumbai, India office, with a senior executive who was making a regularly scheduled semi-annual visit from the corporate office in the U.S. Without warning, multiple police officers came into the office, arrested the visiting executive, and hauled him to jail in handcuffs. The executive was understandably confused, angry and afraid. Why was he being arrested?
The police chief alleged the company was involved in illegal investments and wanted to hold the company—and the executive—responsible. The police and courts quickly placed the executive in a detention facility.
For several weeks, the company’s attorneys tried to get the executive released. Employees were shocked and worried, not only about the executive but about themselves and their jobs. Were they safe? Could they be targeted next? Not being able to get answers created anxiety among the employees, who talked about quitting. Many started seeking other employment. Even when employees weren’t in the office, it was difficult to escape the situation, since it was covered frequently in the news, with the local media providing an unfavorable view of the company.
With three crises at hand: getting the executive released, protecting the India operations, and addressing local employees’ reactions, the company realized they needed help. They called R3 Continuum (R3C) to come to India to assist corporate and local management with crisis leadership services.
Within hours of obtaining expedited visas, our R3C team, consisting of skilled counselors and crisis management professionals with both crisis leadership and crisis counseling skills, were on the way. Even as our team traveled to assist the executive and local office, we did not forget the executive’s family, which was still in the U.S.
As you can imagine, everyone was distraught—sick with worry about the wellbeing of the executive, the company, and their jobs. The family was getting angrier by the day at both the foreign judicial system and the corporation, which was unable to provide the answers or resolution the family sought. R3C assigned a family representative who was available 24/7 who assisted with communication and emotional needs. Through this representative, the family felt they were kept up to date on any news and that the company was dedicated to helping their loved one. Having this resource helped the family stay calmer during this trying time.
Once our R3C team hit the ground, they quickly organized employee and management meetings to assess and address the concerns of the employees and leaders at the office. Other members of the R3C team traveled several hours away to another city, to the prison where the executive was now held. There, the team quickly built a relationship with the key decisionmakers at the facility and were allowed to meet with the executive. This meeting was invaluable in determining the executive’s health and wellbeing and in reassuring the family and employees that the company and R3C were steadily seeking release.
Ultimately through the crisis management process, the company agreed to certain operational changes and in exchange, the executive was released. His passport was retained until his court hearing that allowed him to leave the country. Creating an environment where a mutual benefit was possible, became key, especially since the local office would still need to have interactions with law enforcement after the crisis ended.
Upon release, our team coordinated employee and management debriefing meetings to address the uncertainty and stresses felt by all in the aftermath. We also helped the executive emotionally and logistically prepare to have a smooth family and work “reentry” after the several weeks ordeal.
A detention of a senior executive is difficult, but that is the nature of most crises. And in many cases, crises require skills and experience that are not in your repertoire. Yet, acting quickly, decisively and correctly is critical. Usually, there is only one chance to “get it right.” By finding the right partner, the executive’s company got the expertise needed to navigate uncharted territory, address employees’ practical and emotional concerns of local and corporate leaders, employees, and the family. In volatile geopolitical circumstances, managing travel risk, understanding duty of care, and knowing where to get valuable crisis management resources remains vital.