Ukraine Conflict: What’s the Impact on HR?

Ukraine Conflict: What’s the Impact on HR?Welcome to this HR Blast reflecting on the potential impact of the Ukraine crisis on HR teams and our wider businesses. If we can do some thinking and planning now, then we will be better positioned for the future.

In the UK, we might feel somewhat insulated from the fall out of the conflict in Ukraine. We don’t have refugees arriving in their tens of thousands at our border daily (or even hourly) as Poland does, we don’t have a Russian gas pipeline running down the Pennines, and we don’t have our citizens taking up arms to defend our country. It feels like a world away, but at the same time the impact on us is going to be severe just at a time of rising inflation, worries about heating and other bills for our staff, the great resignation ongoing which has prompted huge workforce changes for many and, of course, weary staff trying to find their feet after a 2-year emotional hit from Covid.

Here are some of our ideas for you to reflect on and consider for your own organisation. A little planning and thought now, might save you a lot of stress further down the line…

HR Challenge #1 – Food, heating, shelter

The Maslow pyramid level 1! The cost of living is going up, significantly for many people meaning that instead of focusing on their jobs, being productive, engaged etc. they are instead worrying about bills and the essentials. Some might ask for a pay increase which might help a little, but never forget those who quietly worry, absorbing the stress and probably losing sleep too. Productivity will go down, quality of work down, happiness at work down. This is when it becomes an HR issue. Maintaining a High Performing Team is just not possible when team members are worried and anxious.

Possible actions:

  • Get your mental health first aiders active in the workplace/train up some mental health first aiders.
  • Regular (monthly) team surveys to ensure you understand the ‘pulse’ of the organisation.
  • Put staff representatives in place or use your existing employee forum to ensure people have a voice, are being listened to, can express their views and have them passed up the chain.
  • Uncertainty is often worse than bad news, so don’t fudge your thinking around pay reviews this year, as people need to know how they can pay their rising household bills. Be upfront about what you intend, so at least people don’t get frustrated with you not making a timely decision and communicating that.
  • Understand what your HR response will be if someone says they simply cannot pay their household bills/understand what your HR response will be if someone asks for an early salary payment to support with household bills.

HR Challenge #2 – Bias and discrimination

Already we hear of Russians in workplaces being asked if they are ‘spies’, have any hidden ‘nukes’ under their bed to use on people they don’t like etc. Nasty playground type behaviours that are bullying and that open businesses up to claims of discrimination. Equally we have heard of Ukrainians being given honorary positions, opportunities as a means of showing support. But be careful, different treatment of people from different places is likely to be found to be discriminatory, even in the case of positive support of Ukrainians, and even if done with the best of intentions. In respect of bullying Russians, there is no excuse and an intervention from HR reminding staff of the need for respect for colleagues, for being sensitive in a time of heightened emotions for many, may be no bad thing.

Possible actions:

  • Consider, as one of our clients has done, running a ‘respect in the workplace’ D&I session, bringing in ideas about the value of talking to each other, respectfully expressing how we feel when we are upset etc. Contact us if you’d like more information on this.

HR Challenge #3 – Offering employment to Ukrainian nationals

What are the rules and can we sponsor Ukrainians?

The UK will launch two new Visa routes to support Ukrainian nationals fleeing the conflict.

‘Ukraine Family Scheme’ – set up to allow Ukrainian refugees, who have family settled in the UK, to apply to come to Britain for up to 3 years. The scheme allows refugees, who meet the set criteria, to live, work and claim public funds in the UK for up to three years.

Employers will need to ensure they carry out the correct Right to Work checks in their recruitment process.

Employers should be mindful that the Ukraine Family Scheme has removed the requirement for successful applicants to meet the minimum salary and English language requirements that are usually compulsory when other refugees come to the UK to seek asylum. It’s important employers remain vigilant in their recruitment process and beyond to ensure they don’t directly or indirectly discriminate a Ukrainian refugee on these grounds.

Note: Employers are required from April 6th, 2022, to carry out all Right to Work checks on migrants online. The manual process is going.

In addition to the above, the second route in which UK employers can support Ukrainian refuges is via the ‘The Humanitarian Sponsorship Pathway’.

Ukrainians applying for this Visa will not have to have a family link – but instead can be sponsored by a community organisation, business, local authority, or church. They would then be matched with a family and can live and work in the UK for 12 months. The scheme has not been officially launched, and no further details have yet been released. Watch this space.

For Ukraine nationals already living and working in the UK, they can apply for an automatic extension to their current Visa until 31st Dec 2022. UK employers should demonstrate further Right to Work checks on any Ukraine national whose Visa is about to expire in 2022 to ensure they have extended their Right to Work status accordingly.

HR Challenge #4 – Costs and profit margins

With the cost of energy going through the roof plus key Ukrainian and/or Russian exports being held up for an indefinite amount of time (steel, iron, wheat, fertiliser, sunflower seeds and oil, lithium etc.) there are going to be a lot of industries facing supply chain issues that will create both cash flow issues for businesses and, in all likelihood, higher prices for customers. Whether it is a breakdown in supply or the rising costs of supply, the knock effect to our own businesses and almost all organisations across the UK is likely to be high. We are likely to see some businesses failing too as many have been weakened already by Covid and this further financial hit may be too much to bear.

This comes of course just at a time when many staff are looking for pay rises and asking their employers to support with the huge increases in home energy, food etc.

So… what impact will a costs squeeze for you have on recruitment plans, what you can pay in respect of a salary increase, bonuses, what impact on employee morale and engagement, investor relations etc in your organisation and which issues do you tackle first? You might even need to think about a restructure or downsizing if the cash impact is severe in which case our advice is, as always, act sooner rather than later, putting staff representatives into place for consultation purposes, training them up now, and rethinking your resourcing plan.

Note: many staff who recently changed jobs during what has been dubbed ‘the great resignation’ may now suddenly realise that in looking for more money or greater flexibility they have given up accrued employment rights, just at a time when redundancies in many sectors may become necessary. All these new starters will not be entitled to redundancy pay or extended notice pay. This will come as a huge shock to large swathes of the population who just a month ago were finding themselves in high demand. You will need to manage the employee relations aspect of this carefully.

HR Challenge #5 – Wellbeing

It is a continuing challenge for many employers to encourage staff to return to the office due to ongoing fears about Covid. Mental wellbeing in our experience, across the board, seems to be an at all time low, with little professional support available to those seeking it. But now we add financial worries and of course worries and fears arising from the conflict on top of it.

HR might feel powerless to support when this is a further big hit to mental wellbeing, but our recommended first step is to better inform staff about mental health and how to best support themselves and their friends and family. Please do ask us about our training or support on this topic. A recent delegate said, ‘I had no idea how little I knew or understood about mental wellbeing, this session has been eye opening’.

Interesting Facts

Ukraine…

  1. Is the worlds 2nd largest exporter of sunflower seeds – second only to Russia!
  2. Is 4th largest supplier of tech talent to the world – how can we continue to tap into this talent when everyone is so dispersed?
  3. Is critical for electrical vehicle powering as its eastern region holds reserves of lithium oxide (for lithium batteries) to the tune of 500,000 tones. To put this into perspective Australia is the biggest global producer currently but only exporting 42,000 tonnes a year. You might think that Russia in invading the Eastern region is keen to gain control of such valuable reserves.
  4. Is second largest global exporter of iron and steel.
  5. Is one of world’s most important manufacturers of fertiliser essential for our crops – and without which we will see crops failing and/or producing a far lower yield than previously expected.

How can Jaluch support?

We deliver training sessions for employee representatives every week of the year so please do ask us if you are setting up a group or looking to train up existing representatives.

We can support with training such as mental wellbeing, managing conflict, building resilience and accountability etc. – why not take a look at our training courses page to give you some ideas.

We can support with any one off HR issues that arise should you not the internal resources to manage them.

Our Docs Wizard website that holds hundreds of HR templates for all kind of letters, policies, contracts etc. is continually updated and if we are in need of any conflict specific templates, will create those for all our members to access. If you would value access to professional, regularly updated template letters, forms and policies from Jaluch please do take a look.

Additional resources

HR for Ukraine resources from the HR community to help support the people of Ukraine (including relocation, policy, and counselling information)

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