How Employers Can Support Their Staff Affected By The Ukraine Crisis

The Ukraine Conflict

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February it sent shockwaves around the world and created a humanitarian crisis. Images of conflict and refugees are traumatic, even for those who aren’t directly caught up in the conflict. 

War is an emotional and traumatic experience that creates fear and anxiety, especially for those who have friends or family directly caught up in the Ukrainian crisis. 

As the pandemic has shown, resilience and wellbeing should be at the forefront of how companies manage their employees. These concepts are crucial for developing a compassionate approach to how business leaders help employees address their concerns and anxieties about the war in Ukraine.

The psychological impact of the war can have a serious impact on the workplace, and employers should take the necessary steps to help in any way they can. This article outlines the support and access to resources employers can offer staff who have been affected by the Ukraine conflict.

It’s important this support is communicated clearly and concisely throughout the organisation. 

Employers should make it clear that managers and HR leaders are available to discuss any issues employees are having. If employees have friends or family living in Ukraine, consider asking them to reach out to their managers so they are fully aware of the measures and resources available to help them.

Supporting Employees With Family In Ukraine and Russia

While the Ukraine crisis is traumatic for many, it’s especially hard for those with family in Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian cities where combat is occurring are constantly changing, with Eastern Ukraine already suffering from heavy fighting. 

Employees with family in the war zone will understandably be anxious to know their relatives are safe. Their employers should consider offering time and space away from their work obligations to deal with emotional stress.

Offering spaces for employees to make personal phone calls

Making sure employees have access to private spaces to make phone calls to friends and relatives in Ukraine is a simple step businesses can take to help. An unused office or meeting room can be set aside for personal phone calls whenever these are necessary.

This space can be especially useful for employees who otherwise work in open-plan offices, and are unable to get any privacy at their desks. The locations of these spaces can be included on the company’s office map, so everyone is clear where they are.

Offering counselling

If an employee is experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety because of the Ukraine crisis, employers should step in to offer them counselling. 

Fast-tracking a meeting with the Occupational Health nurse is one way to achieve this. Occupational health nurses are often trained to deal with psychological stress as well as physical ailments and are in a position to guide them towards additional resources and programs.

Alternatively, employers can help employees connect to external counselling services. If you’re uncertain how to proceed with assisting an employee in this regard, you can refer to the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive Management Standards for more information.

Time off at short notice and extended compassionate leave

The worst-case scenario for employees with connections to Ukraine could require employers to grant compassionate leave or time off at short notice. In these situations, companies should be ready to process annual or bereavement leave and make sure any statutory sick pay is arranged if appropriate.

Employers should ensure their workforce is aware of their statutory and contractual rights in order to facilitate this process as smoothly as possible.

If An Employee is Called to Active Duty In Their Home Country

As the Ukraine crisis continues, it’s possible that Ukrainian or Russian citizens may be called back to their home country to take up arms. Companies that have Ukrainian or Russian citizens working for them need to be aware of the steps to take in the event of this occurring. 

Under UK law, companies are not obliged to release employees should they be called to military action by their home government. As such, it is at their discretion how to respond should this happen. 

They can refer to their internal guidelines to see if they have a policy for reservists. This may only apply to British military reservists or could be phrased in a way that makes it applicable to those called for other countries.

There is no legal obligation to keep the position open should an employee return to their own country. If possible, employers faced with this scenario should consider placing the employee on special leave for a period of time, before reviewing the situation at a later date. It’s important to note, however, that every situation is different and you should check official gov.UK guidance.  

Identify Employees Who May Need Additional Support

When disseminating information relating to support and resources to staff, it should be made clear that managers and HR leaders are available to help in any way they can. This means openly encouraging employees who are struggling to cope to come forward and arrange a meeting.

To further help employees who may need additional support, you can:

Set up emergency one2one check-ins

If an employee needs to meet to discuss any issues they are facing due to the Ukraine crisis, managers and team leaders should set up one2one check-ins as soon as possible. The focus of such meetings should be on wellbeing and making sure the employee is aware of all the options available to them.

Put measures in place to support mental health and wellbeing

Any resources at the company’s disposal to support mental health and wellbeing should be easily accessible. Use check-ins and other channels of communication to reiterate any mental health benefits or EAP resources available. 

Help employees manage their workload

Reducing an employee’s workload can help them to alleviate some of the stress associated with the war in Ukraine. Managers can review their KPI objectives and see where there is room to extend deadlines, adjust goals, and take other measures to minimise pressure from their roles and responsibilities.

Prepare For The Unexpected

As the crisis in Ukraine continues to unfold, business owners should prepare for all eventualities. War can have a range of unforeseeable consequences, impacting supply lines, communications channels, and global finance.

Additional Support

While there are steps employers can take to help employees who are affected by the Ukraine conflict, they can be limited in their effectiveness. Fortunately, there are a range of additional resources and charities set up to specifically deal with these issues. Employers should act as a conduit for these resources so that employees are fully aware of all the options available to them.

Resources and contacts employers can share with their staff include:

UK Government support for asylum claimants and refugees

The UK government has announced measures to help both British nationals and Ukrainian family members find safe passage out of the country. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s statement to Parliament explains how the government has:

  • supported hundreds of British nationals and their families resident in Ukraine to leave – UK Visas and Immigration staff continue to work around the clock to assist them
  • enabled dependants of British nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa to apply through the temporary location in Lviv or through visa application centres in Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary

Employers can help their staff by providing them with the details of the government’s support for asylum claimants and refugees. This resource includes contact details for asylum support, refugee integration loans, and more.

Humanitarian appeals and charities

There are a wide range of humanitarian appeals and charities accepting donations to help support the people of Ukraine. Providing employees with contact information will help them to contribute to the Ukrainian crisis in meaningful ways.

Here are some charity and fundraising resources you can share with your workforce.

Direct employees to Defend Ukraine, a repository for a range of charities and fundraisers established to assist with the conflict