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Ukraine conflict: how should HR engage with employees?

Amid concern over the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, HR can and should provide a steadying voice, according to experts.

Bathroom retailer, Victoria Plum, has many eastern European workers, and the conflict is affecting design work at the business’ third-party designer headquartered in Belarus.

This week, the company sent out a dedicated communications piece signposting where employees can get support if they need it.

The company’s culture team is also looking to launch an emergency collections plan across distribution centres so employees can send supplies.

Rachel Dackombe, Victoria Plum’s head of people and communications, argued it was essential that HR communicates with its people on such challenging and topical issues.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “It's better to talk about things that are happening in the world rather than pretend they don’t exist.

“It's human nature to want to discuss such situations. Talking about them is also a way to identify if something is of concern to a colleague and how, as an employer, we might help them."

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As part of its communications, Victoria Plum reminded colleagues they have free 24/7 access to a confidential helpline providing counselling for them and their families, including specialist support for children affected by what they see or hear. 

Dackombe added: “We're a very close business, but when things like this happen what I see is the business comes even closer together, and [employees] are looking out for each other.”

Ukraine, now the fourth largest supplier of tech talent to the world (after the US, Russia and India,) has in the past few years become a major site for IT outsourcing by western companies like Amazon and IBM.

Many companies with staff in the country are grappling with how to best support employees on either side of the border.

One Israeli tech firm, Wix, evacuated nearly 1,000 of its employees from Ukraine in early February as tensions mounted. 

Toy manufacturer Lego, on the other side of the border, has advised its Russian employees to stay away from protests and avoid public discussion of the invasion for their own safety.

Russian police detained thousands at anti-war protests over the weekend, according to Reuters.

Yetunde Hofmann, founder and director of executive leadership development agency Solaris, told HR magazine that companies should be talking to their employees about the situation in Ukraine.

She said: “Not doing so is akin to being an ostrich who puts its head in the sand, hoping not to be seen. We live in a global village now.”

A company’s inaction sends just as clear a message as action does, and Hoffman urged HR leaders to demonstrate a love-based leadership, where employees are encouraged to talk about their thoughts

She added: “The HR function should be role models in the demonstration of love-based leadership and, to this end, should be inviting employees and line managers to do the same – and let them know what support can be provided.”