The Russian Invasion of Ukraine is Impacting Employees. How Should HR Respond?

March 07, 2022

Contributor: Teresa Zuech

You play a critical role in safekeeping your organization during times of geopolitical disruption.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to develop on the world stage, HR leaders around the globe must consider its impact on their workforce, no matter their geographic location. Alexander Kirss, Principal at Gartner, weighs in on how you can better assist employees during times of major crisis — like this one.

Read more: The Top Business Questions About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate every day. What role does HR play during this geopolitical disruption? 

Businesses today are more likely than ever to face geopolitical crises that affect their basic operations. While chief human resource officers (CHROs) and other HR leaders will rarely be directly responsible for guiding their organizations through these types of events, they do play a number of significant supporting roles in helping employees. These include ensuring employees’ physical, mental and emotional safety, monitoring and mitigating talent-related risks and assisting with crisis management and communications.

During times of crisis, the performance of each HR role is intrinsically linked to the success of other roles and responsibilities. For instance, HR leaders won’t be able to effectively ensure employee safety if they cannot send timely internal messages and key information to the right people.

Employees in Europe, in particular, face considerable uncertainty. How can organizations make sure their employees are safe? 

Employee safety should be the first concern during times of war. While many organizations narrowly focus on physical safety, it’s important not to overlook how geopolitical shocks might impact employees’ mental and emotional well-being. They may have family in the affected area, connect the situation with past trauma, be challenged financially by sanctions, or see existing mental-health conditions exacerbated. Especially when you look at a holistic picture of well-being, even the safety of those employees who aren’t physically located in the affected areas is not ensured.

That said, organizations need to prioritize employees who live or work in Ukraine or nearby regions and face a physical threat. Consider using third-party safety and evacuation services to extricate them. And, no matter the employees’ location, remind those struggling with mental and emotional health during these times of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that could be of use.

Read more: 5 Things Marketing Leaders Must Do in the Wake of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Managers are also overwhelmed. How can HR leaders equip them to support their direct reports? 

It’s important to remember that people are already tapped out physically, financially and emotionally after two years of back-to-back disruptions. The Russian invasion of Ukraine may take an additional toll on employees’ — and more specifically managers’ — lives. Managers carry a significantly higher level of burden as they juggle their thoughts and feelings with those of their direct reports.

Your role is to help managers support and empower those around them without overlooking their own health and safety. This means providing adequate training and support. Send messages that highlight manager-specific support systems and ideas for assisting their direct reports. Surge training material and resources to help managers find the right balance between being empathetic and understanding, without trying to take on the role of a mental-health counselor, which they are not trained to do. 

Finally, highlight the challenges that employees are facing to senior leaders to remind them that employees are not just workers — they are people, too. It’s an organization’s duty to support its employees as best it can while trying to cope with these events, since neither employees nor the organization can solve the crisis directly.

Many employees want to get a better idea of how their organization is responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. How can HR help identify and communicate key information? 

With world events developing continuously, effective communication to both internal and external audiences is essential. Key points to share include:

  • Messages to employees located in affected areas — in this case, Russia, Ukraine and surrounding countries — whose physical safety may be at risk 
  • Messages to employees about support systems available to them
  • Messages that inform employees more generally about actions the organization is taking in response to the crisis 
  • Messages to family members or other emergency contacts of employees who may have been impacted

Work with your counterparts in communications to identify exactly what information employees need to hear and to develop this messaging.

Although there is a need to focus on immediate employee and organizational needs during this time, you should also plant the seed for planning to help the HR function better prepare for future disruptions, whether they be social, economic or geopolitical. A key lever for all organizations, especially as things change by the hour, will be the flexibility to adapt their response as this situation evolves. 

Clients can access Gartner's full suite of resources for navigating the Russian invasion of Ukraine here.

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