Supporting Employees Through The Ukraine Crisis

“Can it get any worse?” I gasped, watching the news unfold, and as the days went on various news channels were constantly on in the background to ensure I kept up to speed with the developing story. Having supported many clients through the last two, really tough, years in what we termed an ‘unprecedented situation’, now we face the real prospect of being in military conflict with Russia, which I find genuinely frightening and never thought this would be something I would see in my generation. How much more can we and the economy withstand?

My heart feels broken watching the situation unfolding for the Ukrainian people and those in the surrounding countries trying to support and care, yet fearful of what might come their way. I work in HR because of my values around trust, fairness, justice, equality, voice, dignity and respect and this goes against everything I believe, live by and trust in. I was particularly saddened by Putin’s International Women’s Day speech and of horrific pictures of needless death and destruction and babies and children being injured, killed or stuck in basement shelters unable to flee.

So, what can we do?

Well of course we can donate money or needed supplies to approved charity organisations, we can now offer to house refugees and we can show our support by riding out the effects of sanctions, because it will no doubt affect many of us financially on top of an already tough economic time, and we can help to keep the pressure on the government to make sure we deliver what we promise as a country.

But what can you do as an employer during this difficult time?

  • Be mindful – you may have employees who have links to Ukrainian family/friends/colleagues or are Ukrainian with family still in Ukraine or in shelters in other countries. Perhaps ask employees that may need additional support to come forward so you know who they are and how they are affected, they may specifically need:
    • Time off at short notice – relax rules around booking leave at short notice, extend compassionate leave or dependent leave policies to give them some breathing space to do whatever they need to do,
    • More time off than the standard two week block – discuss what is needed and see if you can work something out to keep their job open but let them take the time out that is needed. Some employees are returning to their home country to help and even fight, they could be gone for some time, they may be able to return. This will be an upsetting but real prospect for all involved, it is unbelievable we find ourselves in this position as employers, friends and work colleagues.
    • To follow news feeds and social media channels – relax rules around using mobiles or following social media feeds during worktime, or perhaps allow them to follow unfolding situations on work devices.
    • Someone to talk to – brief line managers on how to support employees and what company resources and measures are in place so they share the same messaging. If you have an employee assistance programme remind employees it exists and what sort of support they can get from it, many schemes offer confidential counselling. If you don’t have a scheme in place, perhaps find out what support services might be available in your locality so you can signpost people if needed.
    • You to cut them some slack – they may be not sleeping and tired, worried, anxious, frantic for news and they may be distracted and on not their ‘A’ game here and there, which is understandable. So if you have someone who seems to be falling behind in terms of their performance or that seems distracted, find out why and provide appropriate support.
    • Your professional opinion/brain power – Immigration paperwork is difficult to understand and never as straight forward as it seems, perhaps you can offer assistance with complicated paperwork and applications forms to help employees bring family to the UK.
    • Do you have job openings? – Perhaps you can offer employment to refugees on a temporary basis while they find their feet.  Under the ‘Homes for Ukrainians’ Scheme refugees can work in the UK for up to 3 years.  A coalition of 40 companies in the UK have already pledged to offer jobs to refugees (usual right to work checks will apply).
  • This is worrying for everyone, not just those directly affected – be aware that all employees, even if they haven’t got links/ties to the Ukraine are finding this worrying. I have at times had to curb my interest in the news channels and feeds having sat watching the news with tears rolling down my face and a bit of anxiety creeping in. I can’t imagine the horror of leaving my 19 old son and husband behind to fight and leaving with my 15 year old and a few belongings in a suitcase and carrier bags or sending my son in to conflict under false pretences and based on propaganda with the world watching– in fact it makes me well up typing it out. Again remind all staff of any support available such as employee assistance programmes.
  • Find out what is happening in your area in terms of support for the relief effort, e.g. collection points, donation points and tell your employees what is nearby, they may want to support a local organisation or take donations there.
  • Perhaps enable employees to take a volunteering day to help a charity supporting the relief effort.
  • Let’s not forget about our Russian employees. There may be the risk of conflict between employees with Russian and Ukrainian links, this will need to be carefully managed. You may have Russian employees who are equally as conflicted and horrified at what has unfolded, they may also have family, friends, colleagues that have been put in dangerous and precarious situations and may be experiencing similar issues and need similar support. They may also be the subject of discrimination and poor behaviour because of their nationality. Remind all employees of company policies around bullying and harassment and maintaining dignity at work. Encourage a culture of unity and support, it is illegal to harass someone because of their race or nationality.
  • Finally, put financial wellbeing on your agenda. The pandemic alone has caused financial hardship for many, but with the general increase in the cost of living, which is now going to be escalated further by the unfolding situation in the Ukraine we are all feeling the pinch, particularly in relation to gas prices, petrol prices and food prices. Money worries can be very challenging and are often a taboo subject which can drive mental health issues. Encourage employees to let you know if they are really struggling. If you have access to a financial planner or adviser that might offer some free financial planning sessions in house (some offer this for free in the hope of future business following the free review), then book in regular drop in sessions that employees can book to attend to discuss their situation. Alternatively find out about local support services to signpost to, check if your employee assistance programme (if you have one) includes financial advice and tell employees. Organisations like The Money Charity provide financial wellbeing sessions that you can book for your organisation, they aren’t free but are a good feature to add to your wellbeing programme and are very informative.

I hope these ideas help, but if you have any specific concerns you want to chat through, then get in touch hello@metrohr.co.uk

You can also download our free HR Self-Audit Checklist here

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