Like many across the U.S., when we first began hearing threats of Russia invading Ukraine, I didn’t think it was going to happen.
Life was starting to feel more like “pre-COVID” times as restrictions were lifted. People seemed happier and excited for spring, as a new beginning of sorts.
My husband is an active duty military officer and has been deployed in combat areas, so we keep a close eye on what’s happening in the world politically. I also have a personal connection to Ukraine because my Dad immigrated from there when he was three years old, and my Ukrainian heritage is near and dear to my heart.
This war is weighing heavily on me, and I know that people around the world are hurting too—including your employees. They all have different backgrounds and perspectives. Some may be experiencing varying degrees of trauma, and others may be feeling the mental health impact of this war more deeply.
As an HR leader, you have a unique opportunity to support your employees, identify those who may need a greater level of support, and provide the resources they need during times of war.
As a Spring Health therapist, I wanted to share how to do this in a meaningful way that can create a culture of connection and belonging.
Ask your people if they’re okay
Although it may be talked about less in the news these days, it’s essential to acknowledge that a war is still happening and affecting your employees. And one of the most powerful ways to do this is to ask if they’re okay.
Being genuine and authentic with your teams shows that you care and understand that their personal lives, and everything that’s going on in the world, impacts their work lives. And this is both normal and okay.
If asking your employees if they’re okay is a bit taboo in your company’s culture, you have the power to change that. Showing this kind of care and concern matters—and often carries more weight than many of the logistical aspects of an HR department.
Informally check in
There are many ways you can do this with your team and those you regularly interact with, like a phone call, email, instant message, or even asking for people to briefly (but honestly) share how they’re doing at the start of a meeting,
I encourage you to invite the other leaders within your organization to do the same.
Taking an informal approach can create a more comfortable space for employees to be honest, and know they’ll be heard and supported.
Be genuinely open to their response
Listening carefully to their response and making sure you validate any feelings that are shared is as important as asking the question.
It’s okay to not be okay, and as we discussed earlier, people are going to be feeling a wide range of emotions right now, at varying levels. It’s normal to feel shock, sadness, exhaustion, or nothing at all. Communicate this.
Next, ask what you can do to help, and give them the option to get back to you. If someone is experiencing a flood of emotions or trauma, they may not be able to identify what they need yet. It can be very difficult to problem solve or make decisions in this mental state.
As we shared in a recent webinar, you can say, “What can I do to help you? You don’t have to respond now, but think about it and let me know.”
Offer resources and permission
Many employees won’t even think to take time off for personal reasons, or feel like that’s okay. Giving them permission to take a mental health day and even encouraging this can be extremely helpful. You could also let them know how to ask their manager for this time.
If it seems like they could benefit from speaking with a therapist, remind them of the benefits your company offers. Also, provide any internal resources you have that may be helpful.
Support military families
We don’t know how or when this war will end, or what will be required of those on active duty in the U.S. You may have some employees with loved ones who could be deployed, and this uncertainty adds an extra layer of weight.
If you discover that someone has a spouse, family member, or friend in the military, you may want to check in with them more often, and encourage them to take time off and use their mental health benefits.
Cultivate connection and belonging
Your work family is your family away from home. You want to feel connected, valued, supported, and respected.
When employees feel fully supported, they can show up as their best, whole selves at work. They know they’re valued, and feel connected to their employer and their coworkers. And when they know that what they’re going through personally matters to their employer and coworkers, they feel connected, and know they belong there.
Watch this webinar on demand to learn how to prioritize your mental health during the invasion of Ukraine.