As the crisis in Ukraine continues, people professionals and business leaders are looking at how they can support those affected, whether that impact is physical, economic or psychological. Wider implications for organisations are also being anticipated, and it’s vital that people professionals are on hand to offer the right support to those affected.

Panelists include:

  • Peter Cheese, Chief Executive, CIPD
  • Tony Jamous, CEO, Oyster
  • Louise Haycock, Partner, Fragomen
  • Rachel Suff, Senior Employee Relations Adviser
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Charlotte Chedeville: Good afternoon. Welcome, everyone. OK, I can see most people are online. Can you hear me? If you can, can you please drop a note in the chat? Perfect. All right. Welcome, my name is Charlotte Chedeville. I’m the regional head of operations for CIPD in the Middle East joining you from Dubai and I’ll be your host today. Before we do start the session, I’ll start with some housekeeping remarks. So, this session is being recorded. You will be able to find a recording on our CIPD website and also some media channels afterwards. I know the team is quite responsive, so very, very soon thereafter. During the session we’ll try to make it as interactive as possible. We are focussing on giving information today and hoping to give you a couple of takeaways and trigger some thinking around how you, as organisations and leaders, can respond to the crisis but we would love to hear your, your thoughts and questions in the chat, so please do let us know if the session is being helpful, if you have any concern we haven’t addressed yet in the chat or the Q&A box. We’ll be checking both during the session. We’ll be taking questions towards the end. 

This webinar is one of our rapid response initiatives which continuously supports the applicant members and people professionals. We also have set up a Ukraine crisis hub, much like we have done during the corona crisis. You can find it on our website and I believe my colleagues will drop it in the chat box right down below right away. You’ll find guides and support around topics from managing conflict at work, social responsibility, mental health, wellbeing and much more. For CIPD members in the UK and in Ireland you also have access to two of our hotlines. For legal support call our HR forum helpline, which is available 24/7. And, of course, over the past two years with the global events impacting every single one of us and our mental health and wellbeing we have set up a wellbeing hotline, so everybody in the UK and Ireland can access it. It’s provided by us to CIPD members. It’s free, available 24/7 and 365 days a year via the phone or through online consultations, if you need somebody to talk to please do head out to them and again my team will, our team today will be dropping the details of those hotlines in the chat. 

So, today we’re exploring the implications of the Ukraine crisis for employers and how people professionals and leaders can best support their people through this difficult time. Just as we’re getting into a new normal, two years into the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine has definitely propelled us into a new uncertain, scary and worrying reality. For the first time victims, of course, with over 2,800,000 Ukrainians turned refugees overnight. For the people and residents of Russia being affected by severe economic sanctions but not just, the tensions between the West and Russia and the economic sanctions are having a very far-reaching impact on our societies, economics, leaders and workplaces. We’ll have friends, family, colleagues deeply affected by the crisis from worrying about direct family members to being overwhelmed by the news, which are, which is contributing to a worsening global mental health crisis that has over the pandemic as well. Economically the impact of sanctions will bite UK and EU nations with businesses that are already suffering resurging inflation, disrupted supply chains like we are starting to see in the car industry, oil and gas and (inaudible) which could definitely have an impact on the micro-economic outlook as it’s very uncertain. We will not be giving you predictions but we as businesses and organisations can expect a direct impact on our workforces even from the strategic planning standpoint having to have to resort to layoffs or, or certain measures. 

Today we will be taking a focussed look on social responsibility, vulnerable leadership, compassion, mental health, conflict at work, all of these issues having resurfaced with the crisis. We’re looking specifically at how you, employers and leaders, can tackle them. We’re hoping to, again, give you some thinking, trying and draw from the lessons of the pandemic and the previous crisis into how we can take them forward and, and hopefully, hopefully support you through this in, in a small way. My panellists today are Peter Cheese, our global chief executive at the CIPD, who will talk a little bit about responsible business and human leadership, Rachel Suff, our senior employer relations advisor at the CIPD, will focus on mental health and wellbeing. Tony Jamous, CEO of Oyster, which is a global employment platform that manages a group of companies with international employees. We’ll be talking about how they as an employer are responding to the crisis and giving us a couple of ideas on how we could do it. And finally, Louise Haycock, last but not least, who is a partner at Fragomen and give us insight from an immigration standpoint. I’ll let each of them talk and share a few viewpoints in the hope of, again, triggering some thoughts and, and getting us all to think and reflect on how we can best respond. And later on we’ll try and get into a discussion picking on some of your live questions, so please do drop them throughout the chat. Thank you again for joining us. So, Peter, over to you. Thank you.

Peter Cheese: Thank you so much, Charlotte, and lovely to have you all again with us on one these webinars. It’s incredible. As Charlotte said, I mean we responded hard to the pandemic, it hit organisations everywhere, of course, and we had to adapt very rapidly and the HR profession I think became very front and centre so much to the organisation response. And, as Charlotte said, we worked hard at the CIPD to support you and yet here we are again, you know, we’ve come through one big crisis and we’re now into another one of a very different nature. And again, it’s about, a lot about our people, about how we sustain and support them but across many other aspects of the response, which I’ll touch on in a minute. But it is extraordinary, isn’t it, to think about crises in, you think of them in different ways. Of course, they represent a real challenge to us, and they always do, but they also represent points of learning and stimulus for change and there’s a lot going on around us. I’ve talked for many years about all the big changes that are happening in the world of work, you know, all the political and economic and social and technological drivers of change and then the crises come along and accelerate so much of that change. And, indeed, if you go back to Darwinian evolution it’s the same in evolution in all forms and you have steady change but then along come crises, big existential stimulus for change. So, whilst this is hard again in terms of how we have to respond and all the operational tactical things we have to think about it’s also an opportunity again to learn. 

And the big things that I think, as Charlotte touched on, that we’re having to respond to in this particular crisis range from, of course, many of you with businesses with perhaps operations and employees in Russia and in the Ukraine and how you sustain and support them. The big debates for many businesses where you have live operations in Russia and what do you do? Do you pull, shut them down, pull away from them but all the legal constraints behind that? And even concerns, as I’ve talked to many businesses about this, are saying, well if I shut my operations in Russia the Russians may just take it over. So, there are, there are many, many of those sorts of issues as well. Supply chain issues. And, and of course, these big geopolitical shifts cause us to rethink many assumptions that we’ve had before and supply chain is a very good example, just as much as is movement of labour. And it’s incredible again to think back since the end of the Cold War, a lot of people then were even talking about, you know, this phrase of the ending of history, that all of a sudden we’d moved into this world of, of liberal democracy, everybody more or less in the same place, globalisation opening everything up. No barriers to movement of goods, labour and services. And yet steadily, not just the Ukraine crisis, that world has, seems to be changing. You know, Brexit and the, and the Trump era in America were also causing us to sort of rethink some of the geopolitics and therefore our assumptions about things like supply chains and who we’re really dependent on and who we can really trust and even the reshoring of, of our operations as a result of these things. 

And I know that Louise is going to talk about some immigration challenges and indeed what this crisis sort of adds to that. But we’ve got other things, how do we respond to sanctions? And we’ve, and indeed as we’ve talked about within the CIPD, things like cybersecurity. Now that has been an issue for a while but, oh my goodness, when you see a crisis kick off, and I’m not just saying it’s all coming from one place incidentally. Russia, it’s interesting, the cyber hackers are very smart and they pick up on any big news item and they will hide things behind those news items by saying, click on this, here’s an update on what’s going on in the Ukraine, and then before you know it you’ve, you’ve exposed your organisation. So, even things like cyber security we’re having to think about. 

But, of course, what we’ve learnt through many of these crises, and there was some great work we did during the course of the pandemic on trust, is that one of the things that becomes absolutely essential in an organisational response is trust. We have to learn to trust each other. People have got to trust leadership and we’ve got to be able to trust our employees as well. And we know through the, through the previous crisis of the pandemic the organisations that seem to respond best and fastest you could absolutely say, yes, they had trust embedded in how they work. They gave to their employees. They talked openly about the things that they knew and the things that they didn’t and they engaged, as I said, their people in that overall response. Because what emerges also so much as part of these crises is all this uncertainty and then recognition of leaders that, the world of leadership that so often was part of the past, and indeed I still see too much of it, a sort of command and control. I’m the leader so I know what’s going on so I will just tell you. That world has long gone and we’re never going to create agile and responsible organisations if we don’t engage with all of our people. 

But I’ll tell you a rather amusing anecdote that I heard yesterday from one of my directors. One of his members of staff said, said to him, OK, so, so what have we done in this situation before? And he said, what do you mean what have we done in this situation before? We haven’t been here before. So, it’s interesting also, of course you can get people in your organisation that are looking to us and say, well give me all the certainty, what are all the rules and policies I’ve got to abide by now? And the answer is we have to be honest. We’ve got to say, well we’re working it through and we need to engage with you to understand those things as well. Then, of course, another very critical part of engaging with our people, and Rachel will talk more about this, is absolutely understanding their wellbeing. There’s no doubt that crisis and uncertainty create a lot of stress and we all deal with that in different ways but it does, it creates lots of uncertainty. People worry about everything from the future of their organisation and their job to, you know, perhaps they have relations and connections into, into the Ukraine and into Russia and what does that mean for me? So, so wellbeing comes again very much to the fore in that sense of building connection to our people, engaging with them effectively and helping again, as I said, to really engender that idea of trust. So, these, as I said, are unquestionably challenging times and it’s just remarkable to think, as you said Charlotte, we came out of one big pandemic, big crisis around the pandemic, we’re all sort of learning how to adapt and what we’ve learnt from that and I’ve been working on actually some really exciting things now and then we’re faced with this. And it feels like, I think overall, when you look at the sort of geopolitics, as I said, not only is it not the end of history and we’re all in liberal democracies again, this is setting the clock back in so many ways and therefore the retrenchment of organisations and countries and, and national, you know, national sort of supply chains, the retrenchment back from these more globalised models is extraordinary and it’s happening very, very quickly. So, as I say, lots to think about and I’m just delighted to, that we have on the panel today James and Louise and Rachel to share in a bit more detail on some of those thoughts and I look forward to contributing to some of the other discussion. So, back to you, Rachel, sorry, back to you, Charlotte.

CC: Thank you, Peter. So much to unpack and this is just a one hour session so we’ll try to stay focussed but if there is anything you want us to come back to later in this session please do let us know through the chat. So, you’ve, you’ve given us, you’ve focussed, Peter, partly on, on the, on the wellbeing and mental health impact of this crisis, which has come into sharp focus already throughout the pandemic where organisations have admittedly made progress yet so much remains to be done. Rachel, I’d like to, to call on you to give us a couple of thoughts around how this crisis is affecting mental health. What can organisations do to support employees in general or those who might just be watching the news and feeling overwhelmed and in particular our Russian and Ukrainian employees who are directly affected by the crisis and having to perform a job?

Rachel Suff: Thanks, Charlotte. Yeah, as Peter said, I think he’s given us a glimpse of the huge complex issues for many organisations they’re facing with, with the conflict in Ukraine and as well, I think, as organisations, as Peter also said, the starting point has to be encourage and understanding and considering people’s wellbeing. And, of course, that means considering ways to support any Ukrainian or other Eastern European nationals that you might employ or who have family over there at the moment who could be based here or could still be working in Ukraine or, or close by in a neighbouring country, and also if we have people from Russia as well will be affected too. But also support for employees from any nationality who feel affected by what’s happening at the moment because even if people don’t have direct ties in terms of nationality family to Ukraine at the moment, on a broader level many of us will be feeling deeply affected by the shocking images that we’re seeing, by the distressing human stories that we’re hearing. And, of course, as Peter said, the timing of this crisis comes on top of two years of the pandemic where many people will already be feeling they’re living in an uncertain world. This is another overwhelming event to cope with over which they have no control and it can feel very destabilising in terms of our wellbeing. And, of course, that doesn’t stop when we go into work or when we switch on our laptop to work from home, our feelings go with us and the backdrop of this is people’s mental health and how we’re coming through the pandemic as it is. We’ve just had some findings back at the CIPD from research of the UK workforce, almost one in five in the workplace describe their mental health as poor or very poor at the moment. Of course, not all of those have a diagnosed mental health condition. Our mental health fluctuates but we do need to be mindful that some people will be particularly affected by the events that we’re seeing unfold on our TVs and especially, for example, if you’ve got a mental health condition already it can be very triggering. So, without singling out people or being judgmental do try and identify people who might, might need help. 

It’s important to send out those organisation wide messages as well offering the support that you’ve got available, be very proactive. If you’ve got an employee assistance programme, employee networks, you know, opportunities to come together and so on, because if we didn’t fully appreciate it before the pandemic it has taught us how crucial communication is with people during a crisis. It’s even more important when there are challenging issues and people want to discuss those, so we need to acknowledge that they’re happening, provide opportunities for people to share their thoughts, discuss, reflect and so on. It can be very hard to make sense of what’s happening on a daily basis at the moment. And at the heart of that is fostering caring cultures where compassion really prioritises people’s wellbeing. Compassion isn’t fluffy, it’s about kindness and empathy but it’s about action as well, so it’s about thinking about what action you can take as an organisation. And line managers as well, that might be on a small level offering flexibility and so on but some people, especially if they’re directly affected, if they are of Ukraine or Eastern European nationality and so on they could be needing time off at short notice, for example, to try and check on the safety of loved ones and so on, to track people down. They could need paid special leave, for example. It really will depend on people’s circumstances at the moment. But compassionate leave, even bereavement leave as well, think of the different scenarios and the different groups of people who might be affected in your workforce. 

In terms of wellbeing as well, we can’t overestimate the importance of self care at the moment. We should be doing this anyway but I think this crisis highlights that again, having that healthy routine, and I’d start with the news. It’s on a 24/7 loop, there’s social media as well, it can, we want to be informed but there’s a balance because it can feel very overwhelming. We knew this during the pandemic as well. So, do encourage people to step away, take a break, get outside if you can. 

And line managers, we have to talk about line managers. There is so much responsibility on them. There has been right throughout, even before the pandemic. They can be the only link that some people have got with the organisation in terms of accessing the support that’s there. They’re like a gateway in that sense and they also hopefully have that one to one relationship where you can have that more personalised support where your manager will say, how are you, I’ve noticed this or I’ve noticed that, you know, how are you feeling, and so on. And they, of course, will be affected as well possibly, directly or otherwise in terms of their wellbeing. It isn’t a sign of weakness to access support, so they need to know that and the boundaries of their role in terms of support and wellbeing as well. 

I think we’ve got to talk about inclusion, really important at this time. The pandemic, of course, had a very unequal impact on different groups and individuals and whenever there’s a crisis, the same is true now I think with what’s happening in Ukraine, we can have great potential for unity but also divisiveness. And that’s especially true as well where there’s emotions that could be running high understandably when people feel personally affected by what’s happening. So, HR, it is HR’s responsibility, managers as well, to sort any tension, if there’s any hostility, even bullying and harassment. People could have quite different views based on their own circumstances and nationality in terms of what’s happening at the moment and, of course, we’ve got to remember that this is a war that’s led by politicians not by people, ordinary people. So, we do need to foster that tolerance, acceptance, respect, openness, sharing, all those things, you know, are so important. 

Then final theme really is, I want to talk about the importance of coming together as a community, and great to see you all here today. As distressing as the events are that are unfolding it’s important, I think, to focus on the amazing inspirational examples of humanity, compassion, courage, giving, that we’re also seeing unfolding. People are going out of their way to help and there’s a lot of people in our workplaces in the UK as well and outside the UK that also want to help, wherever you might be in the world and it’s really beneficial for organisations to channel that as much as possible. Apart from the real humanitarian need we know that acts of kindness, giving, have as much impact on ourselves as the givers as those on the receiving end, so think about the practical ways that people might want to help. That could be fundraising, giving to some of the emergency charitable appeals that have been set up by charities. I know my husband’s organisation is matching every pound the employees raise or donate. That’s one way. There’s also the new government scheme launching for applications tomorrow, Homes for Ukraine. That’s an amazing response to open up your family in that way but it’s a big commitment. It’s a minimum six months commitment. There’ll be an infrastructure of support around that but these are displaced people fleeing from a war, many will be traumatised. They’re going to have economic needs, emotional, psychological needs as well, so the responsibility is significant and what’s the role of the employer here? Can you support people who want to be a host? Is there any flexibility or type of leave that you can give? 

Back, as I end, on the role of HR because you know you’ve been at the heart in organisations in responding to the pandemic. You’ve shown leadership, as Peter said, in a crisis and the same is called for now. When people see chaos and suffering on the scale that we’re seeing now unfold in Ukraine you can feel vulnerable. You need leadership. You need reassurance. You need continuity and that steady influence and cultivating the workplace as a community as well is really important as part of that. We had a briefing last week, we have them regularly, Peter spoke, we talked about Ukraine and it was a safe place to share, so opportunities for like, for that are really important, especially with people working from home. The peer, the power of peer support for our wellbeing is really important and so looking for opportunities like that and we’ve got our own online HR community at CIPD as well and that’s an opportunity to come together as a profession and there are lots of resources, as Charlotte has already mentioned, and I think our colleagues are putting in the chat. So, I’ll stop there. Thank you.

CC: Thank you so much, Rachel. A lot to unpack here, so I’d like to bring in Tony and Peter, if Peter, if you’re still here, otherwise, otherwise Tony, so we’ll get back to mental health and wellbeing in a bit because that’s one of the effects that you, Tony, as a CEO, highlight and, and have mentioned to me offline. But I want to pick up on your last point first, Rachel. You were talking about, you know, responsible, responsible business and the importance of leadership and so as we’re talking to HR leaders I’ve got two CEOs in the room today, in your experience, Tony, what role can leadership play in, in first of all driving mental health? What have you decided to do? And then I’d love to hear your thoughts on, on responsible business. That’s driven from the top, right, and that’s tough decisions to make to keep business and yet ensure continuity?

Tony Jamous: Yeah, absolutely, like there is a, leadership need to reinvented in the last couple of years have shown us that actually that’s essential in ensuring thriving workplaces and so, so first is really recognising as leaders that the, the mental health and wellbeing of our employees is, is at the centre of our business. I call it the, I call it the golden triangle of, of growth, so not only you want to manage growth in the business but also you want to manage customers and your employee role being an engagement. So, you have that as a valuable in the way you run your business and, and you’re completely, you know, what, what we are doing at Oyster is we, you know, our goal is to demonstrate that distributed work, because we are a distributed work platform, is better for business and better for people and, and we, we focus on creating an inclusive environment. We, we are highly diverse environment and, and more importantly a safe environment where people can, can be themselves and especially coming from 60 countries. So, we have, we have an amazing diversity in the business and it’s important we create that safety, so everybody can feel safe being here. And also, you need to measure that, so we have, we have applications in the business that enable us on a daily basis to get a pulse about how people are feeling in the business and I can tell you since the war started in Ukraine we got a dip in that. So, as Rachel was mentioning this is not only about, like everybody is affected by this, right? It’s not only about the people in the region, obviously I can tell you about our specific response to our employees in, in the, affected in the region but everybody is affected and we have seen a dip in, in how people are feeling across the company in all these 65 countries that we operate in. 

CC: Thank you. Thanks, Tony. Peter, thoughts around, we’re hearing psychological safety.

PC: Yeah.

CC: Responsible business, any, any lessons, in addition to response, any lessons, things that we’ve learned from COVID and your experience that would be helpful in this time of crisis?

PC: Yeah, a couple of thoughts. I mean the first is, is visibility of leadership, right? I mean there’s no doubt, and I’m sure Tony experienced the same thing, I certainly did, as, as the crisis hit people are looking to the leader. Now we don’t have all the answers, as I said, but they are looking to the leader. How are we responding? How are we thinking? What’s on your mind? So, we need to be visible and the great thing that we learnt through the pandemic is I think leaders did step up in their way, they were much more visible. I know I spent more time with the organisation talking to the organisation. We were weekly communicating with either online calls or video updates, all these sorts of things. So, I think that’s number 1. Number 2, I would say sort of building on, on Tony’s thoughts about principles. So, be clear on your principles, what you believe in and even though times are really hard and we’re in a time of crisis we’re going to stick true to those principles. So, things like engagement with people, wellbeing we’ve already touched on, creating these safe cultures because it is very easy in times of crisis for a leader to say, oh my goodness, that’s all very interesting but I’ve got a real problem to solve here, and you get driven down these very operational things. And, and I mentioned that point of trust and trust is built from seeing leaders being consistent in their behaviours and beliefs around principles, even though many other things are changing around them. And, yes, absolute, sorry, to reinforce what’s been said about safe cultures. Safe cultures start from the top and they start from us as leaders being open ourselves about what we don’t know, what we do know, what we’re vulnerable about, what our concerns are, what our worries are and then that gives permission to so many others to speak as well safely and openly. And that’s, you know, of course, leadership all the way down through the organisation. 

TJ: Let me add something to what Peter is saying, is that what does humancentric leadership look like for me? And for me it is, it is at the minimum is do no harm. What I mean by that is like we have so much pain and anxiety in our life outside of work, we come to, to work and then these get amplified, our insecurities get triggered. So, how as leaders we make sure that the work, the environment we create for our organisation doesn’t trigger these insecurities and these fears and, that’s at the minimum. This is where we start and that’s actually already a huge challenge to be, to be, to be aware how to create an environment that makes people not feel additional anxiety and additional pain and stress being at work. And if we achieve that, which is for me it’s a huge challenge, this is where we achieve humancentric leadership. 

CC: Yeah, absolutely, we’ve been, we’ve been so many of these webinars and so many diverse topics and the one thing that keeps coming back is that, is that humancentric leadership, is that trust, its culture, it lays the foundation to all the behaviours you’re talking about. Those are, we could recognised and rewarded it and those that are frowned upon that we do not tolerate. I have a question came into the chat, so inclusion came back to the top of organisations’ agenda throughout the pandemic with unfortunately minority employees and female employees being hit harder. We are seeing it yet again in a very different way, this crisis shedding a light on inequalities and I’ve got somebody in the chat right now talking about how this crisis is disproportionally affecting people from an immigration background who are just feeling ill at ease seeing how they, well comparing their experience to the treatment of, of refugees in Ukraine. Injustice is always, is always difficult to tolerate, inclusion is a constant act, what do you say that you can do as organisations to maintain this harmony? And I know, Tony, that’s one thing that is perhaps closer to your heart as well.

TJ: Yeah, absolutely, Charlotte, like I am a, I was born in Lebanon in 1980. I spent the first ten years of my life in a civil war. I got my village got, got shelling from, from Syrian tanks for ten years, OK? And nobody was there to help me escape, all right? However, I have to say that we have to look at this as a positive message to the world because what we want is that the next refugee crisis and the next war the world has learnt about this is not OK and, and I’m very optimistic about how the world is going to react in a more human way for the next conflict that we’re going to have in the future. OK, that’s the message I want to take here. However, if your organisations have employees in other affected regions where there is a refugee crisis, you know, the Middle East is one of them but it’s not only restricted to the Middle East, you have to be culture sensitive to that and you have to start thinking about how can you create a refugee response that is global, not necessarily to the conflict that is happening now in front of our eyes. And to give you an example, in our case at Oyster we had a few employees in Lebanon and we know what’s happening in Lebanon. It’s a collapsed country. There’s no electricity, no water, no safety, 20x devaluation of the currency. We had to get our employees out of the country and give them a refugee status in Cyprus that the government was very, very happy to help us do that. So, so you need to think about how you can create equality in, in your response to, to this refugee crisis. 

PC: Yeah, may I quickly add, Charlotte, and I absolutely agree with everything you said, Tony, and really interested to hear about your own personal experience, which is something I’m sure you share with the organisation as well. That’s about your sort of authenticity. But, yeah, we touched on a little bit before, Charlotte, about this idea that, OK, we, we focus a lot on the refugees, you know, the Ukrainians, but we have Russian employees as well and it’s not their fault that this is happening and we’ve got to be very, the inclusion thing means that we respect everybody and that we need to make sure we’re not creating a culture in our organisation which then starts to discriminate against people because they happen to be Russian. And, indeed, as we know, we’ve got Russian employees ourselves, they are deeply concerned about that themselves and we’ve got to make sure that this is safe, safe environments for them as well in our organisations. 

CC: So, before we get into your response as an employer attorney because it’s related to this, how do you take those leadership lessons and, and translate, turn them into actions for employers, I was interested to hear from you, Rachel, in terms of, going back to you, Rachel, in terms of, in terms of, of fostering that inclusion and what Peter touched upon right now is the risk of conflict, right? We are seeing conflict at work. We are seeing people on the edge as well with mental health crisis. Would you have two or three things that people professionals could focus on to try and, and manage the situation as best as can be and provide that psychological safety and support to line managers we were mentioning before?

RS: Yeah, and it’s a really important area at the moment, Charlotte, and I think, you know, when we talk about psychological safety I don’t, you know, we should try and unpick that a little bit and I think it’s just, you know, at a sort of basic human level it’s about creating those working relationships and that culture in an organisation where the culture is respectful. People are kind, they’re fair and consistent and, yes, leaders do play a massive role in creating that but it’s where managers as well, I think, have a really important role to play. So, I’ve mentioned the really important role of line managers already but if you think about the situation managers are in they will have a defining influence on how safe people feel to talk, share concerns and so on and be really honest about how they feel and so on. Then managers are really managing at the moment really potentially quite complex situations in their teams and we’ve talked about, I saw a message in the chat from somebody who said that calls to the Samaritans have, around 50% are around concern for the situation that’s happening there at the moment. And really it is line managers who are in the so-called kind of immediate frontline in terms of how employees are feeling, so I think really for HR top priority should be to communicate, guide line managers around what their response to this situation is at the moment and how they can help create that inclusive culture.

CC: Thank you, Rachel. All this sounds great and it’s great lessons and it’s theories, yet it’s so much harder to put into action and even harder to do it consistently. We’ve seen a lot of organisations do well during crisis and then almost forget about the lessons of the crisis and try and go back to business as usual and then they’re constantly playing the, the play and pause situation. So, Tony, how did you translate this vision into action? Can you tell us a little bit about how you responded as an organisation, you know, in a couple of points?

TJ: Yeah, I think, you know, Oyster is a special organisation because not only we have our own employees’ position but we have the employees of our customers and we have a bit less than 100 team members distributed across Ukraine and Russia. (inaudible) the war broke and my message to them is it’s time to show more humanity when humanity is tested and here are a number of things that we have been doing since then and sharing with the wider HR community. 

Number 1 is, is offer emotional support and work flexibility. That’s important that we remind these people that we believe that their safety comes first and that’s the most important thing and they should put that ahead of work. 

Secondly, is really we look at helping them with relocation to a safe place and help them regain stability, so we offered relocation support, help with moving to a safe country, opening bank account, arranging accommodation. 

Third is really about realising that this is, this is going to have a long term impact. This is more than just safety, think about their friends and family they will worry about, think about survival guilt, PTSD, everybody is going to, I mean even not in the conflict itself we are all seeing these images and we are, we are suffering from, from some form of PTSD. 

And then I want to say about come up with payment strategy ahead of time. We, we know payments are getting, it’s going to get tricky in some of these affected regions. At Oyster we, we were able to build a payment crisis team because we want to, we’re running a human, a human critical service, which is payroll, and offer advance payments specifically in, for people that are trying to move to a new country where they’re going to have additional expenses in that, in that time. 

I want to also add we gave employee access to therapy, not only our Ukrainian employees but also all of our employees at Oyster we have, we have a service that we use, we put at their disposal therapy support. As I mentioned earlier, we have seen a drop in mental health in our company through this tool that we use that we measure the sentiment of people on a daily basis. 

Two more, two more points I want to say. We, you want to work with managers because usually people are not going to come to HR or to the CEO first, they want to go and talk to their manager, so you have a briefing on the manager on a regular basis to make sure that they are ready to inform and support their teams on the ground. And, and finally what we are doing at Oyster we are waiving all fees for companies to hire Ukrainian refugees so that we, we enable them to, to continue to have, to have professional activity after they get to safety and we are also donating funds to, to the, to the local humanitarian organisations.

CC: Are you hiring, Tony? Because I think you’ll get a lot of applications.

TJ: Absolutely, I mean we are getting 12,000 job applications a month for a company that is two years old as, is like, we’re off chart on that, on that perspective.

CC: I think that’s, I mean a great example of a holistic approach to, to caring about employees and to responsible business. I mean you’ve covered kind of the big four, relocation support, that’s, that psychological safety, payment, that’s financial safety. Important to us all and not just in times of crisis. We’ve seen other situations where it can get difficult. Therapy, I mean mental health and wellbeing is critical, and, and responsible business beyond your employees. I love that one and that’s one for, for perhaps a different discussion but being a responsible business it’s not just about the people that you’re managing. It may be about the people that you’re impacting further down the line, your supply chain, your partners, your clients, so, so thank you for sharing that. I hope that gives practical ideas of how we can touch different areas. I, I wanted to, to pick up on a question from, from the chat that we’ve received around, around business continuity. So, we’re talking about responsible business. We’re seeing a lot of organisations doing that and rightly so, it’s important for employer branding and whatnot. But it’s having an impact on the business, right? Pulling out of Russia, there are so many organisations, it’s having a huge toll on business. How do you ensure business continuity? We’ve already seen questions in the chat around protecting jobs or, or thinking of ways in which we can continue paying people or give them support in a time where we may not get the raw materials and be able to produce anymore and where we may have to (inaudible)] the workforce. Thoughts on that, Peter, and then we’ll pick up on immigration because that’s hugely important.

PC: Very challenging and I saw Maureen’s question. The, what I’m seeing most businesses doing at the moment around some of these continuity questions is, is taking a sort of short term timeframe because we just don’t know how long this is going to go on. So, the first thing is, is, you know, trying to protect your employees, whether they’re in Ukraine or Russia, and if you’re having to shut your business in Russia then many businesses are trying to, you know, keep some form of payment coming through to the Russian employees. We’re all acknowledging it’s very, very tough and there are huge challenges in the Russian economy as well because of sanctions, so, so I think responsible employers are trying to say, look they’re our employees, it’s not their fault what’s going on and if we’re going to reopen our business at some point in Russia we’ve got to do what we can to look after them. So, even if they’re just saying, look for the next three months we will sustain payments through to you and then we’ll see what happens, they’re at least signalling right from the very beginning that we understand these things, we need to look after our employees wherever they are. And, of course, other, other effects like if we’re having to support movement of Ukrainian staff from Ukraine to safe places, again we’ll sustain that perhaps for a period of time and then we’ll see what emerges. So, it just speaks again, again to this idea of agility and responding to these really important principles, wherever people are we want to try to protect them and look after them. But we know this is a very fast evolving situation, so we’re going to have to keep coming back to these questions in the coming weeks. 

CC: Certainly, and again back to what you were saying earlier, although the situation is entirely new and unknown and unexpected in many ways for many of us a lot of the impact that’s been felt isn’t new. During the pandemic we had entire industries not being able to function because we didn’t have, we didn’t have people getting to work, we weren’t able to import, so the context was different but the impact was, was similarly on the workforce. And so, of course we’re not getting out at the end, it’s still early into the crisis but do you think, Peter, that some of what we’ve learnt around maintaining, upscaling our workforces could come in handy right now?

PC: Yeah, no, absolutely, as you said, we, during the pandemic we were in somewhat parallel situations of having, you know, perhaps to let go people or certainly furlough them. What’s different, of course, is we don’t have the financial support that we had during the pandemic. So, many organisations, as I said, saying, look we know we can sustain this for three months or so and then we’re going to have to review where we are. Because the governments aren’t stepping in and saying, right well I’m really sorry you’ve had to close down your operations but, in Russia, but here’s some furlough payments to see you through. So, yes, there are things we can learn but it’s also understanding there are some different, different things as well and I’m sure, I’m sure Louise will have some thoughts on that when she gets into her session.

CC: Absolutely, thank you. Right, so the, you gave me a great segue, Tony, about covering all different areas that you did, so, Tony, you were mentioning the location support that you offer to your teams during this crisis and not just you were mentioning how, how Lebanese employees moving to Cyprus, how you’ve partnered with governments. For these employees that you have tried support it sounds easier than it may actually be, so, so Louise, would you give us maybe some context around the immigration situation right now? What it means for employers? And then we’ll get, and we’ve got quite a few questions around immigration on this topic. Thank you for being here, Louise. Louise is from Fragomen. 

Louise Haycock: Oh, thank you so much, Charlotte, and thank you for inviting me to, to talk today. It’s been a really fascinating discussion. And I couldn’t agree more about the importance of the, the visibility of leadership, about engaging with your people and about thinking in terms of the support that you’re offering. Who it is that you are offering it to? What support you, you can give, is it your people, is it your people’s people? And I think we’ve all learnt an awful lot through the, the pandemic as we’ve discussed before and whilst we haven’t been here before we can employ some of those, those strategies again. And, like you say, it is very important to understand the context of what we, we are dealing with and who we might be talking about. The people that have left Ukraine have done so having travelled in a very dangerous situation. Men aged 18 to 60, of course, can’t leave, so those people are predominantly women or they are elderly or they are children and that may guide us in terms of the, the immigration options that we might look for those people. 

So, in terms of, of breaking down who it is that we are talking about, who it is that we can offer that practical assistance to, it could be the Ukrainians who are still in the Ukraine and what they can do to, to get out. It could be Ukrainians who have left and need an onwards destination to go to somewhere that they can be, they can be safe. They could establish themselves for a period of time and, like was said before, we don’t know how long this is going to go on for but ideally they would have options in terms of social welfare. They would have options in terms of being able to work if they, if they wanted to, be that for, for your organisation or indeed for, for somebody else. And then lastly, of course, finishing off on, on Russians, and we’ve said before, Rachel put it very, very well, that this is a situation caused by a Russian regime not by Russian individuals and, and equally they do need our, our support in this, in this scenario. If I, I could also just make one other point, of course, is that COVID hasn’t gone away and particularly for Russian nationals we do need to remember that there may be requirements for them as they try and enter other countries, particularly as the Sputnik vaccine isn’t recognised by very many countries. So, just an extra angle to think about if you are looking at offering the relocation support that Tony was, was discussing. 

Now we talked first about Ukrainians and Ukraine, clearly the most compelling. They can only now travel by, by land to a neighbouring country. The majority into Poland then Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova. Of course, they will have been through a dangerous and long journey and I’m sure that the wellbeing support that Rachel discussed would, would be of phenomenal benefit to, to them. Now Ukrainians can enter the Schengen area without a visa. They can go into those bordering countries. Now usually they would need, of course, a biometric passport, actually what we’re seeing is there’s lots of concessions for Ukrainian nationals. They simply need to be able to prove their identity. So, for example, the, a child that doesn’t have a passport could produce a birth certificate. We’re seeing a real will of those nations to ensure that they are creating that safe passage for individuals into, to those, those countries. For those individuals that have left obviously then they need somewhere to go, now there’s many jurisdictions that are offering lots and lots of, of concessions, lots and lots of humanitarian help. But because of geography I’ll just focus on, on the EU and the, the UK for, for today. So, the European Union has invoked their temporary protection directive. Now what that does is it deals with the mass arrival of Ukrainian nationals and their family members or those that were covered by humanitarian protection. And they needed to have been residing in the Ukraine before 24 February. Now when they go into a European Union country they will be able to apply for protection under this directive. They would get a one year protection that would run from 4 March 2022, so everybody’s would be finishing on 4 March 2023 but that is extendable, firstly in six months increments and then the European Union could extend it by a third, a third year. Now with that individuals would be able to work, they’d have access to social welfare and each member state is going to implement that on a member state basis. So, we’re seeing at the moment lots of countries announcing what that process is going to look like. So, really for those individuals that are fleeing the, this conflict the European Union is providing a really good protection for them and something that means that they can feel safe and that they can feel protected for a significant period of time. 

Now for the UK the arrangements are slightly, slightly different. A Ukrainian would need a visa to enter the, the UK and there has been a lot of press about whether or not that should be removed. There are a number of, of concessions and new categories that have been announced. Firstly, if you are already in the UK as a visitor and you are Ukrainian you can switch into any of the, the usual categories, so you could be a family member. You could switch into work permission, for example, without needing to, to go anywhere, anywhere else. So, the usual routes are still open as well for Ukrainian nationals. You can apply in any country that you, you would want to. You no longer need to, to have a GB test but you would need English language unless you are applying under the intracompany transfer regime. But more importantly there are two new schemes that are specifically dedicated to, to this scenario. And I think what’s interesting with both the EU and the UK arrangements is they’ve been very quick to, to get new categories up and running to make sure individuals aren’t pushed down a standard normal asylum route, which is very clogged up already and may not allow individuals to access the, the same benefits as some of these newer protections which would allow work, which would allow access to benefits etc.

So, the two schemes that I wanted to, to highlight, first is the Ukraine family scheme. Now this would mean that anybody who is British or holds permanent residence, holds humanitarian protection or holds a status under the EU settlement scheme, which was the permission that individuals who were European residing pre-Brexit would have got, can bring their Ukrainian extended family members, so that would include parents, it includes aunties, it includes in laws. It would include cousins plus their family members to the UK for a three year period. They’re able to work. They’re able to study. They’re able to access benefits. Now that application can now be processed online provided an individual has a biometric passport. To date there have been 25,000 applications with 6,100 were issued by 4pm yesterday. Within that there is some discretion about the types of family members that could apply, the documents that you might need. I can see that it must be very difficult for people that have fled a conflict to be able to provide birth certificates for siblings or grandparents or whoever it might be, so do look at practical solutions to, to solving what that might look like. And the second scheme, which has already been mentioned, is Homes for Ukraine. We’ve seen this overwhelming outpouring of people willing to offer accommodation that they have, either that they already have access to or that, a room in their home. It’s for sponsors to, to offer accommodation to Ukrainian nationals who are fleeing the conflict who lived there before 1 January 2022. They need to offer that room for a six month period and again there will be a three year permission that will be issued to these individuals. Now the scheme hasn’t opened yet. It doesn’t open until tomorrow but both organisations and individuals can sign up to show their interest. One of the complications about it is that individuals are going to have to match themselves to a Ukrainian national. It’s going to be in two phases, tomorrow that goes live is the individuals who are going to sponsor a Ukrainian. You may have heard me say with the family scheme it’s, it was only for certain statuses within the, the UK. This would allow, for example, a skilled worker to sponsor their family members to come to the UK. Phase 2, and we don’t have a go live date for this yet, would be for organisations and I’m sure there’ll be lots of people in the call that are particularly interested in that and perhaps we could have another chat at that point. But, yeah, the scheme will, will go live tomorrow for, for individuals. 

And then lastly, just to touch very briefly on, on Russians, obviously the concessions that I’ve just mentioned don’t apply to, to them. It may be that those individuals wish to, to leave very quickly. As a general rule of thumb individuals would need to apply for a visa outward anywhere in a country where they have legal residency or a nationality, which means practically for most people they need to apply for a visa from Russia. There are a few exceptions to that, for example the CIS countries Russians are visa exempt there and they may also be work permit exempt. I would, you would need to get further advice on, on that, and that also there are other options, for example into the UAE. Russians can arrive, get a visa on arrival and they can switch into different worker statuses if, again if work was the particular driver. And I think we’ve already mentioned but it’s, it’s definitely a point worth reiterating, that many of you will have Russian nationals within your, your organisation feeling incredibly upset about the scenario and I know that Rachel has, has spoken already about the wellbeing support. There is also an element of practical support as well around the, around the reassurance that as things stand visas, if they have one would, would be renewed, maybe putting them in touch with somebody that can talk to them about that, that practical aspect that might also be causing a level, a level of anxiety. And, Charlotte, I’ll pass back to you because I know that we’re nearly at time. 

CC: Thank you. We’re almost on the hour, so unless anybody has got questions regarding immigration let us know right away but I think as we’re, as we’re letting people kind of take in all of this information I still have this time with you right now. So, I guess, I guess my, my, perhaps I would like to come to each of you and ask you for perhaps final thoughts or what would be your number one recommendation for leaders and organisations in responding to this crisis, or anything you wish I had asked you which I haven’t yet? I’ll start with you, Tony. Oh, Peter, I know you need to leave. I’ll start with you, Peter. You’re on mute. 

PC: Sorry, just very quickly. A really good discussion. I think we covered a lot of the, the issues. I would go back to this point about being open and visible as leaders in times of crisis and really sharing our beliefs and principles with the organisation, a lot of which we’ve talked about and I think that’s something so many of us, as I said, learnt through the last pandemic and I think it’s just as important that we keep that, that going now. 

CC: Thank you, Peter. Thank you for joining us today. Rachel?

RS: Yeah, I mean it was really interesting to hear Louise set out some of the possibilities for people from Ukraine to, to come here and I think some employers are already showing a real interest in recruiting people from Ukraine as well and so I think I’d finish on that point just to say that that is an opportunity for employers as well at the moment but also to really make sure that if you do recruit people into your organisation who have fled from the events there that it’s important to think about the wider support as well that you can offer for people who are coming essentially as refugees who are now able to work here. So, do think about the wider support that you can offer to people in terms of their needs. 

CC: Thank you. Tony? 

TJ: The last two, the events of the last two years are, are clear, we, the universe is asking leaders to show more humancentric leadership and, and this is a time to do so. It’s a time for leaders to change their leadership style and, and listen to what the world and the employees are asking them. So, my recommendation to them is, this is your opportunity, change what leadership is. 

CC: Thank you. Louise, back to you.

LH: Oh, thank you. I mean I would, I sort of reiterate all of, all of the above but, but to engage with people to be able to provide the, the wellbeing and the practical support in, in one go and check that that, those humancentric leaders have those right messages that, and that empathy to be able to, to deliver to their populations.

CC: Thank you, Louise, Tony, Peter, Rachel, for being so generous with your insights and this conversation. Well, hopefully we did, we did give you a lot to think about at the very least. A lot of critical moments from me and a reminder that we are often talking about humancentric leadership but it is not a ‘good-to-have’ anymore. It’s proving to be a must have. It’s proving to be essential to business survival in times of crisis and beyond, so to remember that a lot of work we are doing right now can be taken into the future. Thank you very much, everybody, for attending. The recording of this session will be made available online and if you would like to connect with the speakers I know Peter can be connected or connected with on LinkedIn, at Twitter he’s very active. Tony, can people connect to you with, connect with you on LinkedIn?

TJ: Absolutely. 

CC: Perfect. I’m sure we’ll see more of you again in the future. And, Louise, thank you so much as always for chipping in. Our wellbeing hotlines are available to you. We’ll share more links, recordings and resources and please do let us know what are your thoughts, share with us on social media and let us know how we can best support you. The only way we can respond to your needs is by knowing your needs, so reach out to us. We’re everywhere on social media and available on a phone call or by email. Thank you very much, everybody, have a great evening/afternoon. 

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