Mental Health Support For Employees In Times of Crisis and War

Mental Health Support For Employees In Times of Crisis and War

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it sent ripples around the world. As the conflict between the two countries continues, many in HR are already working outside of company boundaries to provide some form of support to their employees and employee mental health.

The war unfolding in Ukraine has many people on edge. Some of your employees will likely feel shocked, saddened, and powerless to help. The constant stream of war images flooding the news and social media may also be triggering past personal trauma. Circumstances like these create the potential for high rates of stress, heightened emotions and anxiety that leave employers wondering how they can genuinely be of support in times of humanitarian crisis and war. 

Over the past few weeks, Onebright has received several enquiries from employers concerned about the mental health toll this is having on their employees. Some have friends or family in Ukraine or Russia, and others want to help their migrant, refugee, or veteran employees who could be experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or a range of emotions, including grief, stress, despair or even anger. 

The source and severity of reactions will differ between each individual. Still, these events have provided a chance for employers to reach out and acknowledge that their people’s concerns are shared by the organisation.

It can be helpful to consider how you might bridge any gaps with your employees during these uncertain and sensitive times. You could follow some simple steps to begin the conversation and consider adding professional mental health awareness training or additional therapy services to provide extra levels of support.

Address the situation

If you haven’t already, consider issuing a statement acknowledging how the crisis may be affecting employees. As business leaders, it is essential to communicate that you are aware that some people have elevated levels of stress, anxiety and depression associated with news updates and employee mental health is a priority for any company. 

Every workforce will have a range of different expectations. Some workers may be looking for understanding or flexibility, with others looking for employers to provide a channel for employees to contribute humanitarian assistance. At the same time, others may be looking for employers to implement a more practical solution with tools to help them manage their emotions. 

Create a psychologically safe work environment

Encourage constructive conversations about real-world issues affecting employees, rather than focusing solely on the events reported on the news. It can be helpful to set clear time limits and boundaries beforehand in terms of being respectful of other people and their opinions. Actively acknowledging that there are likely to be multiple different points of view. Discouraging misinformation and providing good sources of information to reduce the risk of discrimination

Consider also creating specific communities for communication or encouraging connection within identity groups. Particular groups may feel most comfortable engaging when they have opportunities to process challenges that are unique to the group’s shared identity. If in doubt, reach out and ask people from different communities what kind of support they need or would like at this moment. 

Recognise signs of distress

Paying more attention to the people around you and their appearance, mood or behaviour might help you to notice possible signs of distress. In the workplace this might manifest itself in a number of ways such as withdrawing from work colleagues or meetings, being late for scheduled events or general issues with timekeeping or concentration, increased conflict with colleagues, or a drop in the quality or quantity of someone’s work.

If you notice these signs, check in with the person and let them know you care. Ask for their consent to connect them with internal resources or professional mental health support to explore what might best help them. 

Provide additional mental health support to managers

For employees with friends or family in the affected areas, remind your managers to recognise an employee’s need to put personal or family needs first and provide them with relevant support.

Managers can make a huge difference if they are afforded the time and space to listen and empathise with team members directly impacted by the conflict by validating their experiences and concerns. Managers can do this with support from the organization’s mental health resources or signposting them to their GP or local services if this is not available.

Remember to check in with managers, too, periodically. Ask them how you can support them while they are giving additional support to their teams during difficult times.

People will remember how their employer supported them or if this was lacking, especially in periods of crisis. It’s not just those in Ukraine who need support: the country has a significant diaspora, including 20,000 Ukrainians living in the UK. There will be employees who will be impacted because they are Ukrainian, or because they are Russians who are anxious and fear reprisals, and individuals without a direct connection who are still deeply affected by the war and all its implications.

Onebright is here to support you and your team in any way we can during these unprecedented times. Please get in touch with us for employee mental health support.


Good to know

Communicating which benefits are available and how they can be used is the first step. Employers can highlight how employee mental health programs work by providing examples of the types of mental health support they offer and the value they can provide, as well as describing how they can be used.

Often, employees think these services are only available for crisis situations. However, mental health benefits can help employees navigate stress and anxiety about general concerns they encounter, such as creating limits on news updates, stress triggers or trauma responses.
In times of war, people can be exposed to many different traumatic events, which can raise the chances of developing mental health problems—like anxiety, depression and sometimes PTSD.

Researchers found that acceptance and support from employers and families may lessen the toll of mental health conditions experienced by veterans or people caught in a war conflict.
Everyone is affected differently by the events in Ukraine. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with a humanitarian crisis happening in Ukraine because it impacts everyone differently.

If you or someone in the workplace is feeling distressed as a result of the events unfolding in Ukraine, consider talking to mental health professionals or to your company’s mental health first aiders. Upskilling mental health first aiders in how to respond to and signpost employees in times of crisis and war will pay dividends in supporting your workforce.
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