Supporting Employees Through the Russia-Ukraine Invasion

What is the Russia-Ukraine War?

On February 24th, Ukraine came under attack after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced a ‘special military operation’ and invaded Ukrainian territory. In response to this unprovoked declaration of war, nations across the globe have condemned Putin’s actions as indefensible and an outright violation of international law. As of March 8th, there have been 406 confirmed civilian deaths (likely a massive undercount), and 1.7 million people have fled Ukraine, with food and other necessities growing scarce. The scale of destruction and loss being experienced by Ukraine is terrifying and unprecedented.

How Can This Affect Your Organization’s Employees?

There is no doubt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has evolved into one of the most deeply troubling crises in modern history. As the disturbing realities of the war continue to pervade social media and news outlets, unshakeable feelings of pain, unrest and sorrow overwhelm the Ukrainian diaspora. The collective pain felt by Ukrainian people worldwide is unquestionable. In the face of such trauma, it is crucial that individuals and organizations alike look inwards to see what they can do to support their Ukrainian peers. Institutions and corporations must step up and build support systems for those in need. Below, you will find some starter ideas of what you, as a business, can do to support your Ukrainian employees, both domestically and abroad.

1) Commit to Educating Yourself on the Current Crisis

The first step to showing your employees you stand with them,  is spending the time to educate yourself on the current crisis. We’ve done some background research to get you started, but it’s important to understand that this will be a continuous learning process.

Contextualizing the Current Crisis:

  • Russia and Ukraine have a significant amount of shared history, with Russians currently making up around 17.3% of the population in Ukraine. The two states share close cultures and can be seen as sister countries in many ways. Almost one in five people living in Ukraine speak Russian.
  • The power structure in Russian politics centers on President Vladimir Putin, but Russian politics can often appear inscrutable to Western nations. The Ukrainian invasion was decided by Putin, and there are currently many anti-war protests by Russians across many Russian cities. Such open defiance against the Kremlin illustrates the willingness of many Russians to risk jail in order to denounce the actions of their leaders. Many conscripted Russian soldiers did not appear to even know that they were going to war with Ukraine before being deployed

2) Devise New Policies to Accommodate Employees Based in Ukraine.

This goes without saying, but as your Ukrainian-based employees are watching their home country be bombarded by violence and destruction, you should show up for them in any way that you can. Starting with your company policies, devise tangible strategies to support your employees.

Take the Following Steps to Provide Immediate Relief to Employees in Ukraine

  • Immediately offer a paid leave of absence to all employees based in Ukraine. Some of your employees may wish to stay connected with their teams during this time, but make clear that you do not expect your Ukranian employees to continue their day-to-day duties and responsibilities
  • Support and respect all of your Ukrainian employees’ decisions, whether they are fleeing the country or choosing to stay and fight
  • To the extent possible, confirm with your employees the way in which you should continue paying their salary. Many employees will lose access to their bank accounts, so ensuring you send money where it is accessible is imperative. PayPal will likely be a good option.
    • Consider the internal processes associated with updating employee banking information (many of us are familiar with the gridlock often associated with bureaucracy). To that end, communicate quickly and openly with your accounting and administrative departments, circumventing typical processes when you are able (and when this does not pose a security risk). Requests coming from employees based in Ukraine should be expedited and seen as high-priority. Although the process will be different for each company, approval and execution for these payment policy changes should be enacted swiftly
  • Expect that employees based in Ukrainian will likely be unreachable for the foreseeable future. Communicate to your managers and teams that no one should be reaching out for work-related requests. That being said, emails, videos, and voice notes of moral support from peers, leadership and management should be strongly encouraged
  • Discuss cybersecurity and safety with your teams and work on locking down loose ends
    • Check for vulnerabilities and keep IT teams on high alert
    • Make data recovery plans with hard backups located outside of Ukraine

Create and Distribute a Company Protocol on the Following Matters:

Policy Recommendation
Length of time your company will provide paid leave of absence to your Ukrainian employees Connect with your financial teams to understand how long your company can offer employees based in Ukraine a paid leave of absence. If fiscally feasible, your organization should try to offer paid leave for either a) the duration of the invasion or b) until your employees are able to flee the country. Strongly consider continuing to offer paid leave to employees who have fled Ukraine until they are able to settle down, find permanent or semi-permanent lodgings, reunite with their family and at least somewhat emotionally recover.
Additional monetary relief for families of Ukrainian employees Allocate a designated amount of funds to be made accessible to the family of each Ukrainian employee in the event that the employee has been separated from their loved ones (e.g. employee has remained in the country and family was able to flee). You will need to be flexible when it comes to how you make this support available since many individuals will not have access to their bank accounts. PayPal can be a good option in this case.
Company commitment in the event an employee loses their life Create an official policy outlining your commitment to your Ukraine-based employees, in the event that they should lose their lives. Consider committing to continuing to pay out the employee’s salary to their next of kin including children, spouses, parents, or other close relatives for several months after their passing.
Benefits and supports your company will provide to Ukrainian employees and their families Offer supplementary benefits in addition to standard coverage. Provide full coverage of costs associated with healthcare and therapy needed by your employees to recover from the crisis. Consider offering the same to employee family members, if you are able.
Policy on employee loans Provide your employees with interest-free loans to help them get back on their feet and secure new housing, clothing, furniture, and other basic living necessities for themselves and their families. Remember, employees will likely lose access to existing bank accounts, so a loan from you may be necessary for survival. Ensure loan repayment schedules are employee friendly and only begin after the employee is able to return to work. Loans can include additional funds for employee families in situations where the employee has been separated from their family for a prolonged period of time.

3) Supporting Employees Outside Ukraine

It’s important to recognize that the effects of this war are widespread, and that millions of people have been affected by the crisis, including those with family in Ukraine or Russia, those with Ukrainian or Russian roots, those with Ukrainian or Russian friends, and even those with no ties to that part of the world who care deeply about the unfolding tragedy. As an organization, you should understand how this impacts your employees, and work to support the people you work with:

  • Provide educational resources for all employees on the conflict, as well as training on disinformation and recognition of propaganda
  • Offer no-questions-asked paid time off and counseling for employees identifying as Ukrainian or strong connections with the country (this can include Russian, Belarusian, Serbian, Latvian, or other Eastern European individuals). Do not question whether an employee is “affected enough” to take time off. If an employee says they need time, believe them
  • Encourage managers to have discussions with their teams and maintain an open-door policy for those who wish to have a conversation about the war. At the same time, never pressure employees to share their feelings, and do not put your Eastern European employees on the spot around their colleagues
  • Remind employees to remain conscientious when discussing the war, as they may not always be aware of who is personally affected / what others are going through emotionally
  • Understand that there may be tension in your office dynamics if you have employees who identify as Ukrainian and Russian. If you feel tensions rising or witness a confrontation, offer mediation and counseling
  • Recognize that Putin’s actions are not reflective of the entire Russian population, and implement a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate or shaming of Russian individuals. Communicate widely that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is condemned by your company but make it clear that no one should ever blame all Russian people for what is happening
  • Understand that employees identifying as Russian or having connections to Russia may also need time away to check on family or friends. With the majority of world countries and multinational corporations imposing economic sanctions and other restrictions on Russia, Russian people are also experiencing many disruptions to normal life (e.g. banks running out of money, resource shortages)

As the situation in Ukraine continues to evolve, it’s important to remain diligent in understanding and addressing any other complications that may face your employees. As aforementioned, this means committing to continuous learning as a leader. Listed below are some credible resources where you can continue your learning.

Further background readings:

A Statement from Anya Klimbovskaia, COO and Co-founder of Diversio:

“The world can feel like a dark place. And if you’ve spent your entire life fighting for something better, something different, it can be hard to not give up when you’re faced with new tragedies and injustices almost daily. It’s also easy to become desensitized to what’s happening around us; to emotionally check out. On an individual level, I understand this and I feel this. But as employers, we are not just individuals—we are leaders with tens, hundreds, thousands of people depending on us. It’s our responsibility to show up now, for our employees in and out of Ukraine, and support them through this war. Some can do more than others, but each of us can do something. I hope we all rise to this challenge together.”

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