My inbox flooded when I challenged readers “are you brave?” writing about the woman who crashed Russia’s main state news broadcast to protest the Ukraine invasion, https://bit.ly/3N21Wot and then challenged employers with “what’s occurring in the Ukraine creates widespread grief. Are there ways you can channel your employees’ anger and sense of powerlessness by offering them avenues to respond in humanitarian ways that support Ukrainians fleeing the invasion?” (https://bit.ly/3MWBrRl)
Many employers wrote me and asked “what can we do as coworkers and employers? Individuals asked “what are the most credible organizations to which I can donate time and money?” Here’s how I answered:
Employee mental health, well-being and support are within every employer’s scope. As your company’s leaders, you can act with empathy and meaningful support to help your employees weather the emotional impact of devastation in Ukraine. Coworkers can reach out with care and concern.
Loved ones in the Ukraine
Employees with family members and friends in the Ukraine feel grief and despair. They may feel alone in their grief. Managers and coworkers who actively show they care can help mitigate those employees’ feelings of aloneness and powerlessness.
Employers can help affected employees by offering them unpaid and paid special leave, flexibility over work hours, and relaxed mobile phone policies. Coworkers can willingly pick up the slack to support their coworkers handling the crisis.
Media images of the Ukraine invasion may trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, refugees, immigrants, and others. Coworkers may be the first who see and recognize the problems their fellow employees are experiencing.
Employers can help by making sure managers are prepared to support triggered employees. In addition to listening and empathizing, managers can make sure employees in need are aware of employer-sponsored assistance programs, as well as community resources.
Employees may have family members who are expats and stranded in Russian. U.S. citizens have been advised to consider leaving Russia immediately because the American embassy may be unable to assist them if they choose to stay, but some haven’t left.
Why not before
Some employees feel shocked and angry that coworkers and many in the United States are treating the Ukraine invasion differently than other global conflicts or U.S. tragedies.
Senior leaders or HR professionals can lead all-staff town halls or discussion forums. Workplace discussions allow employees to talk about what they’re feeling. These discussions can give all employees a sense of comradery.
Before you create a forum, make sure you have a moderator who establishes establish meeting guidelines, so that all participants allow listen to and respect coworkers to hold divergent views.
Employers can match employee pledges to humanitarian organization such as the International Committee of the Red Cross that protects the lives of victims of armed conflict. This combats powerlessness with action and unites employees in contributing to a common goal. I’m personally committed to Covenant World Relief that helps refugees in Poland and Slovakia with food, transportation, housing, hygiene supplies, trauma counseling and medical care.
Employers can train their managers to be aware of and to help employees who need assistance. At the same time, not every manager knows how to handle grief, and don’t ask managers to take on the role of mental health counselors.
Employers also need to be prepared for employees to ask what happens to their job if they want temporary leave to fight in Ukraine or help refugees in Poland.
Finally, employers can commit to a company culture of empathy and compassion. As one small example, employers can create a paid time off (PTO) lending bank so that employees can offer PTO to those who need it.
Problems to avoid
Employers need to maintain confidentiality over what employees privately share with them. Allow employees to opt out of any of the above endeavors as not everyone wants to talk in a discussion group or offer a coworker PTO. Maintain a company atmosphere in which no one discriminates against or harasses employees of Russian heritage.
Finally, the horror of the widespread destruction and the deaths of innocents impacts us all viscerally. Employers need to realize employees are people, and not just workers. Coworkers can be the first to lean in with understanding.
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