How to support each other at work with the attack on Ukraine ongoing

How should you treat the crisis at the workplace? And how should the work community relate to Russian and Ukrainian colleagues? Psychologists Liisa Puskala and Barbara Bergbom from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health answer these questions that are relevant for many workplaces.
Puskala Liisa
Liisa Puskala
Barbara Bergbom
Barbara Bergbom

Should the Ukrainian crisis be dealt with at the workplace?

Humans are complex. During times of crisis and shock, it can be difficult to maintain separate professional and private roles. People must be allowed to have emotional reactions.

Supervisors need to be very attentive and ask people what their wishes are. It might be a good idea to gather together to talk about the issue. On the other hand, taking part should not be mandatory, because some people may want to protect their ability to cope by managing the flow of information and stimulus related to the war.

How should you react to the emotions war causes?

This calls for empathy. Be respectful of different kinds of reactions and try to understand other peoples’ situations.

Anyone who has relatives or colleagues in Ukraine may feel worried as a mother, colleague or sister. Over the course of a working day, their thoughts might return to their loved ones several times. That could make it difficult to concentrate on work.

As the crisis fills the news headlines, it will also effect all of us. It may cause people to reflect on the meaningfulness of their own work. Does it make sense to stick with your own tasks when there is war nearby? This is a natural reaction related to ethical stress. Aim to maintain your daily routines, such as rest and diet during these times. Routines also promote a sense of safety.

How to support employees?

Provide flexibility in work tasks and working time, as necessary. 

Encourage employees to utilize measures of psychological support. If worries fill your mind or disrupt your sleep, you may want to talk with your occupational psychologist.

During COVID-19, many workplaces put in place low-threshold support mechanisms, such as remote consultations, which can also be put to good use now.

How to acknowledge Russian or Ukrainian employees at the workplace?

You should remember that at the workplace everyone is first and foremost an employee – regardless of their background. You cannot know how someone feels or reacts to matters based solely on their name or background, but rather you should ask how they are doing.

Most people do not want to be defined at the workplace  based on their ethnicity or national background. It can be tiresome to be constantly asked for an opinion regarding the situation or requested to interpret Putin’s actions. Some people keep up to date on the situation in Russia and want to engage in discussion, while others do not. 

Individual people are not responsible for acts of war, even if they are of Russian background. People also have a right to their political opinions, and no duty to share them at their workplace.

What to do if they Ukrainian crisis has a significant impact on the activities of the workplace?

The situation calls for intensive strategic consideration by the management of any company that does business in Ukraine or Russia.

The management must consider if critical operations have been secured. During a crisis, it is also of key importance to ensure the flow of information and clear division of responsibilities and tasks.

It is important to invest in long-term work ability support if there will be significant changes to work. How do you monitor and support the ability to cope of employees?

Work communities that look after employees’ well-being at work recover best from crises.

Psychologist and Senior Specialist Liisa Puskala and work and organizational psychologist and Leading Specialist Barbara Bergbom were consulted for this article.

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