The unfolding crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate headlines, with each passing day bringing with it more news of the destruction and devastation being brought upon the Ukrainian people.
Despite the numerous conflicts that have occurred throughout the Middle East and parts of Europe over the last decade, for many people, the current situation feels like the first major conflict to take place so close to the UK, where we are able to access updates so readily and instantly on news websites and social media.
The images and stories that are coming from the impacted regions are disturbing and unsettling, and many people will no doubt be experiencing feelings of upset, uncertainty, and fear.
Although their struggles and issues are incomparable to those currently experiencing the conflict first-hand, the events are still inevitably having a negative effect on the wellbeing of many of us within the UK – particularly those who have links to the countries in question, who may be fearing for the safety of their loved ones.
Although their struggles and issues are incomparable to those currently experiencing the conflict first-hand, the events are still inevitably having a negative effect on the wellbeing of many of us within the UK.
It is only to be expected that this fear and worry will overlap into work life. Employees may be struggling to stay engaged and productive at work, and their mental health will likely be suffering too.
Employers must take care to be mindful of this, and support staff through these tumultuous times.
How to support your staff
Communication is key
In the first instance, I recommend that employers issue company-wide communications to alert the entire workforce of the support options available to them. This will help to highlight the fact that the health, safety, and wellbeing of your staff is an utmost priority.
The message can be circulated via email, intranet sites, notice boards, or discussed during daily team meetings – but it is important that whatever method of communication is chosen, it reaches all of your staff.
This communication should entail ways in which staff are able to access support, whether that’s making staff aware that they can speak to their line managers and/or mental health first aiders confidentially, or signposting to any wellbeing services that the organisation might have in place.
Creating a culture of support
Creating a culture of support is instrumental in keeping your workforce engaged, productive, and positive. However, to achieve this you must ensure that there’s consistency across the organisation, and that all of your managers are on the same page.
Managers should be encouraged to regularly check in with the wellbeing of their teams. These 1-2-1 catch-ups will go a long way to ensuring staff feel supported, both inside and outside of work.
Knowing that a confidential listening ear is there whenever they need it will be instrumental in promoting wellbeing.
Knowing that a confidential listening ear is there whenever they need it, to alleviate concerns and provide adjustments where required, will be instrumental in promoting wellbeing.
In addition, an employee assistance programme (EAP) is key in situations like this, or any other circumstances where wellbeing is impacted. An EAP allows your staff and their families to access 24/7 counselling and support from professional, qualified counsellors, to assist with mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Being proactive not reactive
Employers should also seek to proactively identify workers affected by the crisis who may need help. In this instance, it is important to think in broader terms rather than just focusing on Ukrainian/Russian nationals.
Any member of staff of any nationality may still have friends, family, and loved ones in Ukraine. And even those who do not may still be experiencing mental anguish because of the conflict.
The nature of the conflict may result in Russian employees feeling victimised and fearing retaliation.
It is also important to ensure that any Russian employees are being provided with the same level of support as anyone else within the organisation, as the nature of the conflict may result in Russian employees feeling victimised and fearing retaliation.
It is the responsibility of employers to try their best to allay these worries, and foster a culture of communication and support so that issues can be raised and addressed effectively.
Diffusing employee conflicts
In these sorts of situations, it is expected that tensions will run high and heated discussions may occur, but it is vital that all communication remains civil and respectful. There is no place for bullying or harassment in the workplace at any time, and your zero-tolerance stance should not waiver.
If conflict between staff does arise, employees should be reminded that their first port-of-call should be to relay any concerns or issues to managers/senior staff.
In these instances, a mediation session between employees can often be very effective, and can go a long way in ‘humanising’ the person they disagree with. This may feel awkward at first, but it’s a conversation worth having, and can be beneficial to all parties in the long run.
Those with loved ones located near the crisis are likely to want to maintain regular contact with them. It would be reasonable to allow a temporary change to working conditions to facilitate this. These adjustments could include a change to start and finish times, more or longer breaks, or amended duties.
It is important to make allowances for those with loved ones located near the crisis.
In a worst-case scenario, the conflict could also lead to circumstances where employers may have to grant annual leave, sick pay, bereavement leave, and/or parental bereavement leave. It is essential that employers make themselves and their employees aware of the statutory or contractual rights available in associated circumstances.
Helping your employees help others
Another common situation that may arise is employees wanting to support those people being directly impacted by the conflict.
Managers and leaders should aim to provide and arrange practical ways for employees to help. A simple, yet effective and practical way to support those having to flee warzones, is to organise a donation drive where clothing and other provisions can be passed onto those in need.
It can also be useful to create a focus group where ideas can be shared, and projects can be set up during work hours.
We don’t know when this period of conflict and uncertainty will end, or indeed how. However, ensuring that you fulfil your duty of care for all your employees by providing a culture of communication and support, will remain essential both during and after the conflict ceases.