How to Support Employees Who Are Concerned About the War in Ukraine

3 Nov ‘22
4 min
Stress and anxiety
Editorial Board OpenUp
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Ida Dommerholt

We all know about the war in Ukraine. But while some can easily detach from the situation, for others this triggers feelings of stress, tension and anxiety. It is common for employees to bring these feelings into the workplace. In this article, we’ll explain how to support your employees through challenging times.  


We’ve already written about how you – as an individual – can deal with your own feelings of anxiety related to the war. As the war in Ukraine enters a new phase, more people are concerned and unsure about how to deal with their feelings. What does this mean for you as an HR professional or manager?


The impact of the war on your employees


Based on psychological consultations with employees, it’s becoming clear that people are feeling powerless and anxious in response to the nuclear threat. In addition, people with Russian family or friends are suffering from anxiety, shame or uncertainty about the (possible) mobilization of their acquaintances. 


The French newspaper Le Monde carried out research amongst readers and psychiatrists and reported common feelings of alertness and vigilance, fear about the future, anxiety disorders, and insomnia.


There’s a lot you can do as an HR manager. Below we take you through some of the possibilities:


1. Normalize everyone’s reaction


Although the war feels far for some people, for others, it hits extremely close to home. The first step is to provide space for different reactions and recognise that every (non-offensive) reaction is valid. As psychiatrist Victor Frankl beautifully puts it: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.”


You can let everyone know through different channels – email, intranet, screensavers for laptops, etc. – that you, as an employer, understand that the war is bringing up difficult feelings. And that it’s okay if you’re feeling less focused, creative or efficient than usual. These are all natural consequences of underlying stress.


2. Protect vulnerable employees from being excluded


“We hear in our consultations that Russian employees are sometimes put under pressure or excluded”, explains psychologist Ida Dommerholt.  “Set a standard within your company: exclusion, rejection and bullying are never okay.” Communicate actively about this.


Ida continues: “When doing this, it’s important to emphasize that Russian colleagues are not the personification of this conflict. They aren’t more responsible for what is happening in Ukraine than any of your other colleagues. And they have just as much right as anybody else to not want to talk about it.” 


 3. Offer tips related to news consumption


News about the war is overwhelming. Help colleagues by providing them with the following tips:

  • Minimize your news intake to once a day. Decide one moment and stick to it (for example: every evening I’ll read my news app for ten minutes). Maybe even set a timer on your news app.
  • Go for textual news (a newspaper, app or website) over the news on TV. This way you can choose which reports you will or won’t read and whether or not to watch those videos. 
  • Select a news channel that you feel comfortable with and only follow this news.
  • Obviously, it’s also an option not to follow the news at all. Would you still like to stay up to date? Have a short catchup with your partner or a colleague in the morning or evening. This way you’ll still know what’s going on, but you’ll be less caught up in all the details and you’ll learn the news in a gentler way. 


The war in Ukraine might be a cause of financial stress. Here’s how to support employees with financial worries.


 4. Check in with your colleagues


Communication is key. We’d always recommend that you check in daily, or at least weekly, with your employees to see how they’re doing, but if something in particular is going on, such as the previous COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, it’s important to be extra vigilant.


Advise managers and team leaders to check in regularly with team members and colleagues. Ask them how they feel about the situation in Ukraine during both formal and informal moments.


Encourage them to point out that the door is always open for a conversation, whether with the managers themselves, HR, or with a counselor or psychologist. 


 5. Don’t focus too much on the situation itself


When you’re having a conversation with somebody about their difficult feelings related to the war, it’s better not to talk about the situation itself – even if you’re trying to be reassuring.


Instead, focus on the person’s feelings. This is where you can make a difference – which is not the case for the situation in Ukraine. Ask genuine questions and listen with an open and empathetic attitude. Why does the other person feel the way they do? What effect is this having on the person’s daily life? What can you do to assist this person? 


 6. Bring people together


Knowing that you’re not alone and that other people are struggling with similar thoughts is a relief. Bring people who want to talk about this issue together – with their permission, of course.


Make time for an hourly get-together each week where people can talk about their feelings and share tips. Make it clear that everyone is welcome: Russians, Ukrainians and people of other nationalities. 


Not sure who would like to get together? Facilitate the session and make sure everyone knows that anyone can join. Send out an email to the whole company where you explain where and when you’ve reserved time and space for people to get together and talk. 


It might help to have  a counselor present during these discussions. If necessary, this person can guide the conversation and direct it so that people don’t leave with even heavier feelings than when they arrived.


7. Offer long-term support


It’s not always easy to keep your finger on the pulse with all of your colleagues. It makes sense that you might need a little extra help here. OpenUp can offer a solution by giving employees the opportunity to discuss their feelings with a psychologist whenever they choose.


Our psychologists conduct many consultations with people who are experiencing stress and tension related to the war situation. Whether it’s Ukrainian or Russian people who feel directly connected to the situation or people who aren’t directly involved. Consultations with our psychologists are available in nineteen languages, including Ukrainian and Russian.


The bottom line? Some situations are inevitably beyond your control. Fortunately, you can do your best to help your employees as much as possible during difficult times.

👉🏼 Discover what OpenUp can do for your organization.