Help wisely – how to support employees from Poland and Ukraine in the long term

There are as many different emotions, needs and fears as many employees. The reality of the ongoing war in our closest neighbors, so close to the border, arouses fear and uncertainty. We all need support, understanding, and a sense of community. We also want to help refugees from Ukraine who will adapt to our labor market.

After the ad hoc measures are taken, it is time for medium and long-term strategies. Our help compass should turn to people of Ukrainian origin and their families, as well as to those who are in the first line of contact in the company: HR specialists, leaders and managers.

What can we, as HR, do to turn the aid sprint into a marathon and keep the energy of people involved in supporting? How to take care of yourself in all this?

Help inscribed in the shape of letter T

This time we present to you an operational and support scheme created by WNCL team. Actions taken in response to the situation in Ukraine can be organized in the shape of the letter T.

The horizontal line covers all implemented initiatives and strategies in the short, medium and long term, support for employees and adapt the company to the new situation on the labour market.

The basis of the letter, in turn, refers to the well-being of people who are on the first line of aid, i.e. HR people, leaders and managers – especially line managers.

If we thought the pandemic was the most difficult test of our adaptation – the war crisis showed that the difficulty level is even higher. Today we can proudly say that so far HR in this test is doing really well.

Not a sprint, but a marathon

The natural, first stage of the aid was intensive activities aimed at ensuring the safety of refugees from Ukraine. After a strong reaction from businesses condemning the Russian attack, a moment later uncertainty and confusion in companies arose. Owners, leaders, managers and HR specialists were not sure what to do in the face of the war crisis, what actions to take, and what communication to conduct.

Among the WNCL team, we wondered what – as an HR consulting company – we can do to support people in this difficult situation. We decided to offer free HR support and consulting for those who needed it or did not have an HR department in their companies. In a crisis situation, the initiation of reliable and intensified internal communication is the basic and most important activity – and the first step, we encouraged the companies that turned to us for support.

Be transparent and speak out

The military crisis is an unprecedented situation for us. People are really worried about their health and life – they feel lost, they often struggle with shock, trauma and enormous stress. We should remember that in extreme cases, these symptoms may also apply to people who have not directly experienced the war situation – so let’s be especially careful about how our employees react to what is happening. As soon as we notice disturbing symptoms – we should immediately react, talk and if necessary, offer professional support.

In such circumstances, information transparency of the company is particularly important. It is not only about taking a stance on the military actions, but also about presenting the full, up-to-date financial situation of the company. We shouldn’t forget that people are worried about the future and their sense of security is greatly shaken. The economic situation, continuity of remuneration, employment stability are the basic aspects of the organization’s operation that generate anxiety today.

What can HR do today?

Tell the truth. Assure that the company’s position is stable (if it is true!), convey to your employees that you continue to operate without changes or with what specific changes (and how they will affect them). Describe everything in a clear and understandable way. This is not the time for showing eloquence, verbal games or intricate elaborations. Use facts, provide specific, reliable information, and present an idea for the functioning of teams and organizations in the near future.

What’s next? Let employees know which programs you as an organization have prepared and encourage them to participate. Show what you have already managed to do for refugees as a company- let joint action connect and support building strong relationships in teams.

It is definitely worth highlighting all bottom-up initiatives, providing them with communication and coordination support. Maybe the company can offer ad hoc benefits? Or can the family of a Ukrainian worker rely on pre-paid accommodation? Whether it’s fundraising in cash, material collection or mental support … without dialogue and exchange of thoughts, we will not involve anyone in action.

When it comes to communication, let’s also plan a coherent narrative in the case of national conflicts or discriminatory behavior. For example, let’s prepare a Q&A for employees, a storyline or a mini-glossary of phrases that we use within the company, especially in terms of cultural differences. It may look a bit unnatural, but it will be a rescue in many stressful situations that require a quick response.

Medium and long term HR projects

In the first month after the outbreak of the war, the invaluable resources were used on a large scale. This effort was and still is so enormous that people who provide help also need support. We have to look wider and further.

So how is HR supposed to work from now on? What can we do for refugees and what for Polish workers?

First of all, we must realize that long-term help for people who have fled Ukraine will now consist in supporting them in becoming self-sufficient and trying to settle down in Poland.

For how long? A few months, years, forever?

No one really knows, but we have to prepare for new challenges related to recruiting employees, their diversity in the company and difficult emotions while working with the war in the background.

Medium-term HR actions

In the horizontal line of the T model, there are medium-term actions that we should start implementing now. These are for example:

  • support in finding one’s place on the labor market: creating a CV, career counseling, simplified employment procedures,
  • overcoming the language barrier – ex. providing Polish lessons,
  • support in acquiring competencies needed on the labor market,
  • consistent communication strategies in companies with different nationalities
  • psychological assistance for employees and their families, legal assistance
  • support for leaders, HR specialists: mental, tools, competence

Long-term HR actions

Planning the next steps must go even further. It is worth developing a system that will support employees at all levels, regardless of their origin. Long-term activities – because we are talking about them – include, among others:

  • support refugees who have decided to stay in Poland in terms of independent functioning (housing, educational institutions, labor market, language skills, competences),
  • scholarships and / or assistance programs for the families of people who died in the war,
  • well-conceived D&I programs that address, among others, the issue of cultural differences, debunk popular myths, implement a culture of inclusiveness and differentiation,
  • building a culture based on transparent communication and respect for cultural differences,
  • permanent mental health prevention programs for employees, with particular emphasis on leaders and HR specialists (people who work directly with people),

Do you want to help? Take care of yourself

Time for the base of the letter T, the oxygen mask for those who support others, even though they are struggling with their own fears. Provision of psychological care is necessary from the very beginning, but the more necessary the longer the effort and the more burdens there are. Support and prevention of mental health of all employees, especially leaders and HR specialists, should be included in the organizational culture of the company as an important point, and not only an intervention and crisis.

Is this an exaggeration? We answer in accordance: no!

We may not have experienced the war trauma ourselves, but every day we take on the emotions of the entire team. We also have to cope with extremely difficult professional challenges that may simply overwhelm us. After all, no one expected a war to break out, and no one was prepared to react effectively in this situation.

In order to be able to work effectively among employees, we must first take care of ourselves. Tool and competence support is equally important – we don’t have to be experts in everything.

Let’s think about the means that will help us, let’s ask others what they need. Perhaps a solution is at hand, and we have not even thought about it?

There is another difficult exam in resourcefulness, empathy and cooperation ahead of the HR industry. HR Business Partners, like never before, can now turn out to be irreplaceable. Let us help, but also let us not forget about ourselves! In the face of the humanitarian crisis, the evolution of the labor market and the challenges that await us, we must have the strength and energy to effectively support others.

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