Even if you don’t have operations in Ukraine or Russia, your workforce may be distressed by the conflict. Add to it a pandemic, inflation, and other stressful concerns, you may be wondering how your organization can help employees through the world crisis.

People around the world are deeply affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The 24×7 news stream and social media activity is serving up unprecedented instant immersion in the escalating conflict – and in the resulting shock, sadness, concern, and anger that’s rippling across the globe. Even if you don’t have operations or employees in Ukraine, your workforce may be distressed by the disruptions. Coming on the heels of the global pandemic, our country’s racial unrest and awakening, growing inflation, an increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, escalating climate changes, and more, these world events are taking their toll. How can your company help employees through another world crisis?

Review and Revise Company Policies

Gather your senior leadership team to review your current company and human resource policies. Knowing what you know about the Russo-Ukrainian situation, your business, and your workforce, walk through situations your company could face.

  • Do you have operations or employees in Russia or Ukraine? Business partners there?
  • Do you have employees with close ties to Russia or Ukraine? Do you have employees who travel to that region for business?
  • What communities and charitable organizations do you support? Do you operate in areas where refugees may resettle?
  • What are your paid time off and remote work policies? What wellness benefits do you have in place?
  • Which of your company values guide how you respond to situations like these?

Together, make decisions about whether to revise your business continuity plan or company policies – temporarily or indefinitely – in response to the world crisis.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

One leadership best practice is frequent and transparent communication when times are tough. In a series of all-staff meetings, emails from your CEO, small-group discussion – or a mix of those over time – communicate to employees what your leadership is thinking and what your company is doing in the face of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

  • With compassion, acknowledge that this Euro-centric conflict is affecting us all.
  • If your company is making changes as a result of the war – closing operations in the region, withdrawing from business relationships, stopping shipments or services to the region – be clear about what’s happening and why.
  • Share any updates to company and HR policies.
  • Encourage employees to use the mental health and wellness resources available to them.
  • Share your company’s social media policy, so employees know whether there could be consequences for posting controversial opinions or disrespectful statements on their personal social accounts.
  • If your company is taking a stand on the conflict, share your perspective and what the company stands for in this moment. Follow up words with actions.
  • Remind your workforce of the company values that must guide the company’s – and employees’ – actions.

Encourage Employee Wellness

Employee wellbeing is now a business issue. When you remind employees of the mental health and wellness benefits available, outline how to use them. Share best practices for supporting oneself, one’s colleagues, and manager’s direct reports who are distressed.

  • If you have an employee assistance program (EAP) or other counseling services, provide examples of the types of support offered and how they can be used. As the Society of Human Resource Management reminds us, “It’s also important to emphasize the confidential nature of mental health programs accessed through an EAP so employees feel more comfortable using them.”
  • Create a quiet space for employees to contact friends or relatives in Ukraine – or in other countries, if they are among those leaving Ukraine.
  • Educate your workforce on identifying signs of distress in colleagues – and what they can do about it.
  • Talk to your company’s HR team and managers to find out how to best support them as they support your employees. Practical videos and tips for supporting employees through the world crisis may help them feel more confident about what to say and do. Small group check-ins may be beneficial for managers to work through challenging situations together.
  • Especially if your teams are working remotely, consider wellness check-ins for those most closely tied to the war.

Clarify Time-Off Policies and Plan for Absences

For employees who are directly or indirectly affected by the world crisis, be clear about your time-off policies. Be proactive in thinking through how to handle time-off requests for unrelated reasons as well. There is no one “right” set of policies, but your leaders will need to ensure that you’re treating your workers in ways that align with your legal requirements, company culture, and brand.

  • Will your company support an employee who wants to take time off at short notice because they are distraught? What if it’s because they are helping a friend or family flee Europe? Or they want time off to care for an ill family member, unrelated to the Russo-Ukrainian crisis?
  • Though the U.S. does not have forces fighting in Ukraine, some people with military backgrounds feel called to go to that country to fight. Do you hold their job while they’re gone?
  • Also, should the conflict escalate, U.S. forces may be called into action. Have you identified the military reservists in your workforce?

Use your competency management system to do a skills assessment now, and to track the skills and competencies of your employees. Then, if you need to, you’ll understand the skills lost when employees are called for military duty and be ready to identify those who can step in while the others are away.

Prioritize a Culture of Respect and Compassion

Unfortunately, just as Chinese Americans faced harassment at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Middle Eastern community was discriminated against after 9-11, employees with close ties to Russia may also be subject to hostility by their communities. At your company, emphasize a culture of compassion. Insist on respect.

  • Assess whether diversity and inclusion training for employees and managers would be helpful to reinforce your culture of respect and compassion.
  • This Lewis Skillman article urges employers to “Remind staff of policies on bullying and harassment. Be prepared to deal with potential conflicts between employees who may have opposing views on the events in line with these policies, including taking disciplinary action if necessary.”

Make It Easy for Employees to Help Others

“Helping others has been proven to improve mental health and well-being,” says Melissa Swift, U.S. transformation leader at HR consultancy Mercer. Make it easy for your employees to do something to help with the crisis in Ukraine.

  • Compile a list of credible charities and organizations. Charity Navigator, a trusted nonprofit evaluator, has compiled a list of highly rated charities involved in humanitarian relief, recovery, and peace-building efforts for Ukraine.
  • Offer extra paid time off for people who want to donate time to Ukrainian relief efforts in their communities.
  • Match employee donations to the organizations they care about most.
  • Lead the way with a corporate donation to local, national, or international charitable organizations that align with your company’s brand.

It’s natural to feel distressed by the crisis in Ukraine. The most important thing that employers can do is support employees through this time of unrest, so no one is experiencing the burden alone.

 

Are you focused on supporting distressed employees through the Russo-Ukrainian crisis? Read our Solving Workforce Issues with a Competency-Based Approach white paper to see how competency management can help. Or contact us to learn how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support your efforts.

 

RELATED RESOURCES

Avilar | 3 Tips for Implementing a Wellness Program in the Workplace
Avilar | How to Model Great Leadership in Tough Times
Avilar | How (and Why) to Build a Culture of Respect for Your Service Workers
Avilar | How to Update Your Business Continuity Plan in a Time of Crises
Charity Navigator | Charities Involved in Ukrainian-Russian Crisis Relief, Recovery, and Peace-Building
SHRM | Resources and Tools for Navigating International Crises

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