Employers worldwide have mobilized to get employees and their families out of Russia and Ukraine according to the results of a new survey of nearly 200 business leaders by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp).
Of those surveyed from larger organizations (those employing >1,000) who reported that they have employees and/or operations in Ukraine and Russia (we asked about employees, contractors, corporate offices, retail spaces, production, warehouses, and distribution centers) the reported breakdowns are:
- 6.5% have people or operations in Ukraine
- 15% have employees or operations in Russia
- 34% have employees or operations in both countries.
While many survey participants say their organizations have been actively involved in some way in getting their people out of Ukraine (70%) and Russia (36%), many have already completed the evacuations; others reported that they are still making plans to do so.
Some limitations to evacuation assistance were mentioned in write-in responses—one reported that their organization is only assisting U.S. expat employees to leave Russia.
In contrast, another said their organization has managed to fly all Ukrainian and Russian employees who wanted to leave their respective countries to safety in Armenia.
Organizations that don’t have employees or operations based in Ukraine or Russia are nevertheless helping employees who had traveled to the region for personal reasons to get out safely. Others are helping the family members and loved ones of their employees to evacuate.
Employee volunteerism is at the forefront of many corporate humanitarian responses.
“We don’t have offices in Ukraine or Russia, but employees from our Poland office are assisting refugees at the Poland/Ukraine border and helping with translation and support to access donated supplies. We are supporting our Poland-based teams to do this by uncapping volunteer hours, so they can help and prioritize this over work without any impact,” one participant wrote.
What else can employers do? Start by acknowledging what is happening in Ukraine.
Silence can be interpreted in many ways; acknowledging the war and the stress and worry it’s generating worldwide is a simple, powerful, but sometimes overlooked action.
i4cp’s research has consistently shown over time that both employees and customers want to know where companies stand on social and political issues. Acknowledging the war and all the emotions that go along with it—fear, anxiety, helplessness, despair—is a simple but incredibly important thing for organizations and leaders to do. What is potentially damaging to the culture is avoiding talking about it.
“There has been no acknowledgement or communication about any of these events, despite having employees of Russian/Ukrainian descent,” one survey respondent noted.
Some leaders may understandably feel at a loss for words. Our collective nerves are shot from two+ years of pandemic-driven upheaval, uncertainty, and grief. Stark images in the media of the destruction of towns and cities, terrified families, separations at the border, and people who have lost their lives are too much to take. But acknowledging the unfolding of this surreal event and the uncertainty of what’s ahead is incredibly important.
As one survey participant noted: “We don’t have units in the countries directly, but we still some communication internally to signal that management shares and understands our concerns and worries.”
The most commonly mentioned supportive actions large organizations are taking are:
- Encouraging managers to do wellness check-ins with teams and / or individuals as needed (53%)
- Providing updates enterprise wide re: impact on operations and employees located in Eastern Europe (48%)
- Leaders have made internal statements about the company’s stance on the war (46%)
- Supporting vetted non-profit organizations that provide relief / aid in the region (42%)
Rallying resources and people to assist in whatever ways are possible, and communicating supportive messaging is no doubt positive for most organizational cultures. But there are other factors that leaders should be on the lookout for in terms of impact on the culture
The war’s impact on corporate culture: anti-Russian bias in the workplace.
While a small number of survey respondents (12%) reported that they are aware of incidences of bias or divisiveness in their organizations related to the war in Ukraine, this is an issue that should be monitored and addressed immediately if it arises.
“There appears to be a growing expression of Ukrainian pride including the raising in the volume of discussions about how Ukraine is destined to defeat Russia when in the proximity of Russian colleagues,” one noted.
Descriptions of incidences survey participants shared:
- “Aggressive comments on internal social media platforms and inappropriate comments on external social media.”
- “Nasty messages sent via social media.”
- “Clients asking for Russian employees to be removed from projects.”
- “We have employees who refuse to join a team meeting if a Russian national is in it—even if the meeting is held in the UK, for example, in multi-country teams. We also have employees refusing to join if a Russian is in that meeting even if the person is clearly anti-Putin and expressing how sorry they are.”
- “Some colleagues are flagging not wanting to be in conversations with Russian colleagues—mostly Ukrainian, or of Ukrainian decent.”
A message of zero tolerance for bias or exclusion must emanate from the top of the organization and repeated often. Leaders should reinforce to their workforces that even in an emotionally charged time, individuals, most especially colleagues, cannot and should not be held personally accountable for the actions of political leaders.
The things leaders are losing sleep over this week:
In addition to destabilization and uncertainty in Europe, the top factors those surveyed cited as presenting the greatest potential disruption to their business/organization (we asked them to select their top three) are:
- Labor/availability of skills (54%)
- Inflation/ cost pressures (42%)
- Supply chain concerns (32%)
- Geopolitical instability (30%)
- Cyber risk/security (23%)
Narrative responses to this question reflected the duality of concerns—humanitarian and economical:
“First and foremost, the safety of our employees and the support to help them and their families escape the country and find places long-term to stay; impact on our operations in Russia and especially the future of our Russians employees; the cost pressures, commodity issues and supply issues it creates disrupting the business across all of Europe.”
“In the short-term, we worry about the safety of our colleagues, then safety of our assets. In the long-term, decrease in consumer confidence, supply chain challenges that impact consumption and business growth.”
“Safety of our teammates in other European countries. We have operations all over Europe including Poland, Brussels, etc. The volatility of the situation has everyone on edge.”
“The humanitarian crisis for everyone directly impacted, and the negative impact on employees’ mental health and well-being worldwide.”
Lorrie Lykins is i4cp’s Vice President of Research
Check back next week for more analysis of the data from the HR in Wartime: Responding to Ukraine Pulse Survey.