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Ukraine Crisis: Support and Coping Strategies for A Worn-Out Workforce

In yet another example of global connectedness, the Russian/Ukrainian conflict highlights how world events have an impact on organizations and their people, far and wide.

Most employees are exposed to non-stop coverage and breaking news surrounding this crisis. As a result, many HR and leadership teams realize the need for tactical plans to address and support employees who feel anxious, overwhelmed or uncertain about the current situation and possible future events.

Several high-visibility events from the past two years have illustrated an increasingly apparent truth: employees want and need leaders to speak out on social issues, as well as business objectives.

Below you’ll find several powerful ways to support employees in times of crisis, such as the current war in Ukraine. Use this guide for tools and communication tactics that demonstrate support, empathy and compassion for your employees.

1. Communicate Openly and Often

  • Acknowledge that uncertainty from political or social unrest can be disturbing, causing feelings of anxiousness and foreboding. Leadership which communicates at the beginning of a crisis, as well as periodic updates, can reduce unease by providing comfort in the shared experience.
    • Don’t know what to say? Keep it simple, a statement from leaders such as: “We understand that this situation may affect everyone differently and we encourage you to speak up and reach out for assistance,” will go far and show support. Keep in mind that opinions may differ. Don’t assume that all employees have the same view as you or each other.
  • Create the opportunity for engagement at work. When the world around you feels uncertain, chaotic, and out of your control feelings of helplessness can set in. Completing projects and tasks that fit into the organizations bigger picture can be fulfilling for employees and provide a sense of accomplishment and collaboration at a time when so much of the world’s news serves fear and uncertainty to our homes and smartphones.
  • Consider communicating resources for charitable support, such as the Red Cross, World Central Kitchen or UNICEF. The act of “doing something” can provide relief to employees who seek to take action in situations that are seemingly out of their control. A company-wide drive to support a cause can also help to connect your teams in a common positive solution. Additionally, consider a non-profit company matching donation as another way to help employees and the company make an impact.

2. Support Mental Wellbeing

  • This is a great time to communicate Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other counseling resources available to employees. Many services also offer text, App, or phone support. Whether your employees are geographically impacted, have affected family members who are affected or simply stressed due to the weight of yet another global crisis, your role in communicating resources is key.
  • Recognize that some employees may be at greater risk due for increased anxiety over the current situation. Employees of Ukrainian descent or with family members in affected areas may be particularly distressed, as well employees who are veterans, have family members currently serving in the military, or have been involved in combat previously.
    • Communicate resiliency and stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and healthy breaks while at work.
    • Remind all employees, especially managers, to be alert for signs and symptoms of distress or anxiety in their peers. Look for changes that are not typical for a person in appearance, behavior, mood and related issues.
  • Support psychological safety. A key aspect in reducing the stigma of talking about mental health is encouraging courageous conversations in the workplace. The war in Ukraine offers an opportunity to demonstrate a culture that promotes these conversations in an open and non-confrontational manner.
    • It’s important for HR or leadership to lead by example. If a leader shares their own feelings of anxiousness or a personal tip to manage stress, employees may feel empowered to take action. A useful tip to share is to avoid “doom scrolling” and non-stop news consumption to reduce feelings of impending doom, lack of control and global anxiety.

3. Align Support With Company Value Drivers

  • Demonstrate your organization’s commitment to employee support by a personalized approach that leverages Employee Resource Groups. ERGs are uniquely suited to support open dialogue and offer an impactful resource for employees who want to discuss the current concerns.
    • Set clear rules of engagement encouraging transparency, but also communicating a company policy on zero tolerance of discriminatory language towards team members national origin, political views, and veteran status. The ERG chairperson can guide the conversation, keep topics on track and identify employee support concerns that can be brought to management.
    • Form a manager’s ERG or roundtable, specific to the crisis in Ukraine or “activated” intermittently as crises arise. A manager’s ERG is safe space for managers to express unique challenges and gain insights from others. Consider bringing in an outside consultant to train on topics such as resiliency emotional wellbeing, leading with confidence, and strength during times of crisis.
  • Re-visit policies that allow or disallow flexible scheduling as needed, encouraging managers to consider employees that may need alternate arrangements, especially those impacted by over-seas family members.
  • It is said that managers feel a greater burden in times of crisis, due to concern for their team members, as well as managing their own feelings. Leadership should prioritize one on one meetings with managers, promote the use of training materials and encourage time for personal mental health.

The lines between work and personal have blurred over the past few years, making it necessary for leaders to take a holistic view of factors that may be affecting employee wellbeing, both in and outside of the workplace. Supporting your employees creates a culture of safety while also showing compassion and empathy.

Click here for more information about developing policies that create a supportive environment.