Yet again the world is experiencing a major traumatic event involving conflict on a major scale. These sad and difficult events are likely to impact all of us at some level, but some groups may be affected more than others.
Employers would do well to consider how people may be impacted directly by the tragic events involving Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian people of Gaza. It is perfectly possible that some employees will have family, friends and colleagues killed, injured or missing at this time.
The needs of such employees will vary enormously, and we shouldn’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, or indeed a once-and-done activity. Employees affected may experience significant trauma, which may be immediate, delayed and could last for some time. They may need support and understanding whilst at work, or time and space away from work.
Listen to employee groups
Already, some employers have been seeking to provide group critical incident support and individual on-site counselling as a direct result of the conflict.
The EAP service is a good place to source this level of support. However it is wise to listen to what employees want and need, rather than assuming a group session or an onsite counsellor is the way forward.
Consult and listen to the groups within your workplace, meet their needs and don’t force anything, even if intentions are for the best. The needs may also vary over time, so keep communications going, be flexible and adjust as things evolve.
Try also not to overcommunicate, this can add to the burden of bad news.
Some employees may already have experienced loss from within their family or community. Employers need to be sensitive to their experience and any needs this creates. They may need time off to be with family or friends. Some may need direct support for possible trauma, this can be arranged through EAP, counselling service or Occupational Health. It is essential that the employer talks with employees and doesn’t assume they know what is best for them. They may refuse support now; they may feel supported by family or community. However, keep a watchful eye and communicate regularly so that support can be made available at a future time.
Trauma may also build over time and experience, therefore remain watchful and ready to offer support.
It can also be useful to provide information to employees about trauma reactions, this can help them make sense of their reactions and emotions.
In any situation like this it is important to be flexible in thinking and planning. What works or is not needed now may change in the future as things evolve. It is certainly not a once and done.
Line managers need to be sensitive to the needs of their teams, being observant to behaviours, mood, and performance. Be ready to sensitively check in and respond in a human compassionate way. This may be more complex where employees are hybrid working or in other countries. Keep lines of communication open and agree acceptable follow up timings.
Managers also need to look after themselves, they may hear or see distressing information that could affect them.
Most EAP’s offer a managerial support that managers can call, this can be useful if the line manager is not sure how to approach somebody, what to say or do, or how to signpost to support.
Where the employer is global it should consider its employees in different countries. Try as much as possible to have a consistent approach in each location. It should also be considered that a location may be directly involved and need additional support.
Employees may be conscripted into their home country military; employers should examine their policy around this and be clear. Employees may be required to undertake military service and return later. Keeping job roles open may be needed. This should be discussed with the employee before departing. An employer may also need to consider how they will enable an employee to return to work.
An employee who may have experience of combat could require additional psychological support, and job role flexibility.
The conflict at the workplace
Employers also need to consider how to approach the potential issue of opposing sides in the conflict within the workplace. It would not seem sensible perhaps to run a group session where both sides of a conflict are present in the same room, but at the same time, running separate groups may increase feelings of division. Discuss the options with all employees.
Some workers may experience direct antagonism or mistrust towards them, or perhaps hidden bias. This is something to address head on. Negative behaviours towards certain groups cannot be tolerated and this should be made clear. Hidden bias is much more difficult to address and demands a more educative approach to uncover.
Employees might want to do something
Be open to the ideas that employees might have around fundraising, or donations. This can help communities as well as employees. There can be a sense of doing something to help.
Finally remember that a workplace can be useful to people, it provides some certainty, a safe place, and colleagues whom employees can talk with. Being at home alone may add to someone’s anxiety.
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