The two-year health crisis showed signs of a long-awaited decline. However, the boredom and fatigue of acting in a long-term emergency will unfortunately not be alleviated soon. The war that began on February 24 in Ukraine significantly changed our perception of life so far. Peace of mind, a sense of security, and an unplanned future are issues that accompany our people at work and home and have a direct impact on work performance. Unfortunately, like with the health crisis, there is no reason to expect a quick return to normalcy.
Fear, ignorance, and anger are not friends with performance, but they are currently part of our lives and have an impact on our mental health. How can a situation where employees’ relatives are in trouble in Ukraine, where the media background is anxious and negative, and where the company’s business has become disrupted, provide support for peace of mind and potential mental health problems? It would be short-sighted to ignore elevated levels of stress, even if our people do not dare to talk about it and our leaders are not prepared to deal with mental health issues. The concept of employee well-being needs to be amended with the mental health aspect. Companies treating mental health as part of the company’s value adapt to circumstances quickly and are more successful.
In our daily work at Moticheck, we communicate with the managers and HR employees of various companies and see conscious and purposeful activities to support both employees and managers. We asked our customers how they had reacted to the situation and what recommendations they would share with others. The most frequently mentioned steps and principles do not depend on the company’s field of activity or its direct connection with the raw materials or the market of the warring territories.
It is crucial to talk openly about the situation
The company’s economic performance may be paralyzed by the crisis, the accessibility of raw materials, or the collapse of the market, and restructuring will take time. Honest and open internal communication builds trust and invites everybody to find new solutions. In uncertain times, clarity is important. Among other respondents, Piret Mårtensson, Service and Personnel Director of Tallinna Kaubamaja emphasized the key importance of openness.
According to her, among other support activities, the company has organized face-to-face town hall meetings with its employees.
But how and how much should politics be brought into communication? It is essential to express the condemnation of war as the official position of the company. However, different political views of employees can lead to conflicts within teams. Thus, the clearly stated principle helps to leave political positions behind the door of the workplace to maintain peace at work.
Practical help for workers and their families
Many companies had and continue to employ team members from Ukraine. A pleasing number of companies immediately took action to bring families away from the war zones and offered assistance in accommodating those who arrived in Estonia and solving their urgent needs. In-house initiatives to help those in need strengthen team spirit and help focus on practical action rather than worry.
Ene Krinpus from the Magnetic MRO commented that it was also important for them to help employees and their families with transportation, either when they came from or left back to Ukraine. “In addition, we offer Ukrainians jobs and support to rebuild their homes in the future. We also started collecting the necessary goods within the company needed by Ukrainians. Our staff is helping war refugees with advice and support, such a buddy system has emerged,” she added.
Supporting volunteering, fundraising and mission unite
In connection with the war, a lot of encouraging initiatives have been launched in Estonia, many of which have been born in companies. Many organizations, such as Tallinna Kaubamaja or the Estonian National Library, support the voluntary work of their employees through the remuneration of its participants. Helping those in need helps to shift personal mental focus from anxiety to value-creating activities.
There are many well-known brands in Estonia whose efforts to apply their best skills and knowledge to cope with the crisis unite them as an organization. At the same time, their actions have a wider societal impact, uniting both employees and customers in finding the best and most agile solutions.
“Due to a large number of refugees, many of whom also arrive in Estonia, we opened a Ukrainian-language news portal (ukraina.postimees.ee), where, of course, Ukrainians work,” illustrates Ingrid Saar from the Postimees Group.
Supporting peace of mind
A good word and practical advice on how to calm your mind should be standard equipment in every manager’s toolbox. Seminars and lectures have already been organized at Eesti Energia and many other companies, as well as group peace coaching, where psychologists give practical advice on how to maintain peace in a situation where tensions are accumulating.
Consciously maintaining a positive focus helps to better control anxiety and focus on core values. Leaders could regularly remind the teams of this and, of course, set an example themselves.
Sven Kotkas, head of Kinema and Kinema Robotics, says that people with a positive mindset can recover from setbacks faster and continue working without losing motivation and quality, citing how he shared advice with colleagues from well-known human behavior researchers and (sales) trainers. Still to be supportive and to keep the focus on what drives both the employee and the company.
Opening up to mental health issues is not easy in our cultural space. This has been seen as both a manifestation of weakness and a personal issue. However, we must learn to ask for help if necessary and open up. Youngers feel freer and more aware of emotions, but it can be a real challenge for the older generation to acknowledge the need for medical care.
Many managers do not yet feel comfortable and prepared to discuss these topics, but normalization in the work environment should be started by leaders. Already during the health crisis, many companies created opportunities to consult a psychologist at the company’s expense.
Thus, the National Library of Estonia has provided its team members with amended health insurance in cooperation with Confido, which includes an extra cover of a psychologist, psychiatrist, and coach services. Even more, the company decided to cover the bills related to the services of psychologists for those, who did not join the optional health insurance.
War news added a new layer to the stress levels that had already accumulated, we can see that psychological counseling is now being provided by many more companies to their employees.
Ask and listen
Times are tough for all of us, and fears range from the threat of losing a job to the fear of war. Development talks take place in many companies in the spring. This year, we encourage leaders to ask personal questions more boldly – “How are you?” and “How are you feeling?” is the absolute minimum at every meeting and not just as a courtesy. Listen actively and let the employee talk. If the listener is not mentally present, the next openings may not take place.
Using the scale to assess the level of anxiety is understandable even for those who do the simplest work, but it also teaches you to observe and analyze yourself. Both the questioner and the respondent benefit.
The manager, who is encapsulated due to his fears, adds panic to the shoulders of the employees and increases the uncertainty about the future.
Dear leaders, the demands on your social skills, empathy, and creative solutions to unexpected events will grow over the weeks. Don’t be left alone with this burden, be open to finding help and advice to adjust.
Take an extra step forward in engaging your team by planning the best solutions together. Believe me, your people will think along, encourage them to open up. Listen.
Sharing experiences with other companies to find useful practices and why not to cooperate also helps to find solutions.
New obstacles need new solutions, be open to giving up on some existing activities and use new practices. There are various technological assistants on the market to listen to employees and gather their feedback. Find yours to get a better picture of the situation. You can’t reach or ask all the questions yourself.
At Moticheck, we believe that in stressful times, listening to each other and involving the whole team is especially important. By working together, we can cope with difficult situations more effectively. For our part, we are adding a mental health module to the employee listening platform to make sure employees know where to get help from within the company and to help the company understand if the help offered and the atmosphere created meets their needs and expectations. Ask and listen!
Pille Parind-Nisula, March 2022
The blog has been also published by personaliuudised.ee