How can HR, leaders and managers best support team members who are responding to the war, or have been affected by it? In a recent webinar, we asked a panel of Thrive psychosocial professionals who have lived and worked in Ukraine to share their answers. Here’s some of what they said.
Don’t underestimate the value of just listening. Often HR and leadership want to do something to fix a situation, but the war is of course not in their power to fix. What they can do is be present for others. Sitting with staff, letting them talk, and listening to them can be very powerful, even if it might not feel like it.
Remember that emotions are not medical conditions. If someone’s emotion is an appropriate response to a situation, it is not something to be ‘fixed’. In a war it is only right to be sad and angry. And so when considering the emotions in your team, first ask ‘is it an appropriate emotion?’. Only then ask, ‘is their functioning reduced or compromised?’. To find that out, it is best to come alongside your staff, not in a therapeutic sense, but as one human to another.
Two key factors can keep a team resilient in a crisis. The first is a consultative leadership style – a leader that genuinely listens to their team, and factors what their team says into their decision-making. The second is team cohesion – team members that like and respect each other.
Tensions between HQ staff and frontline staff may worsen at a time of conflict. Historically, these two groups get on badly. They see different things: one sees the frontline, the other sees the bigger picture. Though it might seem odd, at a time of crisis a good relationship might best be preserved by reducing points of contact between the two. This reduces the chance of mixed messages being passed on. Clearer communication makes it easier for a team to execute a plan.
Some Ukrainians will find it hard to put words to their feelings. This may be in part a legacy of living under Soviet rule, in which sharing honest thoughts and feelings could be met with harsh punishment. And so if a Ukrainian co-worker talks about history and geopolitics instead of how they feel, be patient and listen to them.
Staff should rest and take care of themselves, even if it might feel wrong for them to rest now. A good leader or HR representative should ask their staff what might help them find balance, resilience and strength. Some might need time off, others might want to work more flexibly.
Physical or virtual team check-ins are beneficial. Spending time as a team ‘checking-in’ with each other is a good way to find out how people are doing, help people realise they are not alone, and find out how you can all support one another. You can do these as a team, or with the help of a Thrive facilitator.
Share success stories and small wins. When a person starts to burn-out they often feel what they do ‘doesn’t matter any more’. They then might only look for evidence that proves them right, ignoring good news in the process. As a leader, you can look for good news and small wins, share them with your team, and encourage others to do the same. For example, some workplaces have a jar in which staff can place a marble each time they want to say ‘thanks’ to a co-worker. Symbolic acts like this have a real impact.
A good leader is a non-anxious presence in a crisis. If the CEO or HR team run around panic stricken, it will not instil confidence and calm in others. If you are in HR or leadership, try to panic out of sight!
If any of this blog post resonates, we can help. We can equip you and your team to respond well in a crisis on our Psychological First Aid and Family Liaison In A Crisis courses. Take a look at our upcoming events page to see when the next courses take place. Also, Psychosocial professionals have regular supervision sessions, in which they can ask their peers for advice and support in their work supporting people going through a tough time. Managers don’t do this, but they should. That’s why we offer supervision sessions – contact us to ask us about them.