According to the United Nations, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion in late February.
Many of those people, now refugees, are also members of the workforce. While the Russia-Ukraine conflict has prompted a humanitarian crisis, organizations that employ the people affected by the war now also have a role to play in rendering aid to their workers.
Your team’s engagement with employees during geopolitical events is something that can, and should, be included in your crisis communication plan. If you haven’t already, be sure to implement a proactive, empathetic and always-on messaging approach when reaching out to affected workers.
Here are four ways organizations can support their employees affected by the Ukraine crisis.
1. Promote safety & security with messaging.
Comms pros should let employees know their health and safety is the organization’s top priority. If your workers are based in an active conflict zone, it’s important to keep lines of communication open. Try establishing an email or text system to check in on employees at periodic intervals.
Also consider what additional resources and training your employees will benefit from most. Protocol reports that San Francisco-based tech company JustAnswer is providing medical training to its 200-plus Ukraine-based employees.
Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount, stressed the importance of health and safety in a recent memo to employees:
I want to be clear, the safety and security of employees and all those who work with us is, and will always be, our top priority. We continue to offer specialized support services to hundreds of staff, freelance and fixed term employees in Ukraine, Russia, and Poland whose lives are being impacted by this crisis.
“Specialized support services” can include advancing paychecks, granting extended leaves of absence or providing access to free mental health resources.
2. Provide and promote relocation assistance.
Many companies have already helped Ukrainian employees leave the country.
Wix evacuated employees to its offices in Krakow, Poland, and a location in Turkey. Lyft is also financing employees who want to relocate, and offering mental health resources as well as increased time off. Uber’s doing the same, and told its gig-working drivers to stay home. Ring didn’t share its relocation plans for employees with Protocol, but said it is “closely coordinating with the leadership of the team we work with in Ukraine.”
Relocating employees can mean dealing with a lot of red tape, especially when the process requires more than just bringing workers who are U.S. nationals back to the States.
Tony Jamous, CEO of employment platform Oyster, told HR Dive that just getting workers out of danger isn’t enough.
“You’re going to [want to] think about compliance,” he says. “When they land, do they have the right to work there? Do they have to apply for a work permit?”
3. Stay informed, keep employees informed.
You can most likely use the internal messaging platforms already in place your organization to communicate relevant updates to employees.
Studies show that people trust their employers more than most other institutions, including the news media and government entities. You can maintain that trust during a conflict by providing timely, accurate updates to employees about government policy changes or refugee assistance.
Marcelo Lebre, co-founder and COO/CTO of global workforce company Remote, says employers located outside Ukraine are in an ideal position to help relay important information to employees still in the country.
“Keep an eye out for news that may be helpful to your team in Ukraine, especially if they lose internet access,” he writes in a blog post. “Share information you come across that may be related to providing food, water, shelter, or transportation in the areas where your team members live.”
4. Provide mental health resources for all your employees.
While ensuring the immediate safety of any workers on the ground in Ukraine should be an organization’s top priority, employees that aren’t in physical danger may be feeling the effects of a geopolitical crisis as well.
Jen Porter, managing director at mental health nonprofit Mind Share Partners, says the trauma of the Ukraine crisis could be affecting employees in ways that managers don’t see. She told CNBC that workers could have friends or family members in Russia or Ukraine, or experience effects of PTSD prompted by a similar experience in their past.
“Companies are made up of people, and people are impacted by events like this,” Porter says. “You can’t just separate them.”
Consider how current events can be a catalyst to step up wellness initiatives for employees based in places other than Ukraine. While they may not need medical support or evacuation assistance, witnessing major world events unfold can take a toll on their mental health.
Communicators, what steps are you taking to support your teams in Ukraine and elsewhere as the war continues? We’d like to know—share your tactics with us on Twitter @RaganComms.