Seven ways HR can support the health and wellbeing of employees affected by world events

Advice and top tips

Seven ways HR can support the health and wellbeing of employees affected by world events

Be it military conflicts, tsunamis, famines or pandemics, international traumas can affect anyone’s mental wellbeing, whether they have a personal connection to the event or not.

Technology has “shrunk” the world to such an extent that events that would have once seemed far away now seem close to home.

During times of conflict or crisis, effective HR strategies become more important than ever to support employees that may be suffering heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

HR practitioners need to be extra perceptive, sensitive and empathetic, but at the same time take an unsentimental leadership position to provide wraparound support.

Easing anxieties with EAPs

EAPs are a benefit that could have been created specifically for times like these.

The counselling sessions, resources and referrals they offer can help tackle a variety of mental health issues that employees may be suffering.

Valuable but often overlooked, it is important to remind all employees how EAPs work and how to access them. To help dispel uncertainty or reluctance to use the service, any concerns about confidentiality should be addressed. It can be helpful to remind staff that employers will have no knowledge of who is using the service, or why.

Engagement with negative news can exacerbate anxiety, but there should be extra awareness of how certain members of staff could be particularly vulnerable.

For those who have personal experience of war zones or refugeeism, events could act as a trigger. Grief support should consequently be made available, or signposted, for those who have lost family or loved ones.

Understanding crisis fatigue

For employees still coming to terms with the physical and emotional fallout of the two-year pandemic, further unrest or political instability risks causing overload. Drained of resilience, they can be susceptible to burnout, a state of physical and mental exhaustion.

The term ‘crisis fatigue’ has been attributed to the burnout experienced in response to extremely challenging events. With traumatic world events occurring back-to-back, employers should be aware of the risks to – and potential vulnerabilities of – employees.

Training sessions to help managers identify the early symptoms workers may be exhibiting can be helpful. Such symptoms may include detachment, impaired concentration or attention, decreased output and performance.

Stress risk assessments, conducted either one-to-one or online, will also help highlight specific mental ill-health indicators and the underlying causes.

Mitigating the sense of helplessness

Thoughts that there is seemingly nothing they can do to help alleviate the suffering of others can lead to employees harbouring feelings of helplessness and frustration.

Implementing charitable initiatives, from sponsored fundraising events to designated volunteer days, offers a way of supporting employees by enabling them to directly engage, provide help and feel a sense of purpose.

Tackling financial fears

A less obvious cause of anxiety may result from the knock-on financial consequences of a crisis. Rising fuel, energy and grocery bills can cause employees to struggle monetarily.

Where applicable, financial wellbeing strategies should be supported by effective communication initiatives, highlighting any existing financial benefits, such as financial education workshops, and if necessary, explaining how these can best be used.

If privacy concerns are an issue, staff can be directed to the government’s Money and Pensions Service, which provides free, confidential and independent money and debt advice.

Prevention, however, is better than cure and it will always be more effective to provide advice and guidance from the outset, rather than employees being increasingly debilitated by mounting debts.

Caring by sharing

Supressing anxieties risks exacerbating them. HR should consequently facilitate opportunities for employees to share and discuss their concerns with others.

This could be via timetabled slots within the working day, or, for example, by making a dedicated room available for those who feel the need to ‘offload’ or vocalise and engage with others.

For those without families or dependants, or for those not in a relationship, the value of being able to talk with colleagues about a pressing concern unrelated to work should not be underestimated.

For those with families, it may well be that the workplace is a better location to articulate their fears. Domestically, they may be reluctant to fully express their concerns.

Having the opportunity at work to vent their apprehensions and concerns openly and honestly, without the fear of impacting others, can offer significant mental health benefits.

The elephant in the room

It should be remembered that concerns are not eradicated simply because they are not acknowledged. Management, departmental heads and team leaders should be encouraged to demonstrate to employees that they are aware external events may be causing anxiety.

This could be achieved by appropriately referencing them in meetings, newsletters, emails and other communications. Empathy can be a powerful resource and if leaders reveal they too have concerns about troubling world events, employees are more likely to feel they are better understood.

Be a flexible friend

Employees with family and friends abroad may be carrying an added emotional burden, calling for a greater level of understanding from management and HR teams.

In some cases, flexible working conditions – from adjustments to working hours to relaxing policies on mobile phone use – can support employees looking to maintain communication with loved ones overseas.

For those planning to look after relatives, host refugees, or balance other conflicting demands on their time, HR should be receptive to requests for extra holiday leave – either paid or unpaid – and additional time off.

An employer of choice

National and international crises are part of the world we live in today. When a solution to one anxiety-inducing crisis is found, inevitably, there will be more natural or man-made disasters to face.

In light of the suffering caused by many world events, it may at times seem trivial to consider the needs of employees, especially those who are not directly impacted. It may also be difficult to understand why their mental health could be affected by problems arising elsewhere on the planet.

That they are affected, however, is a consequence of compassion and shared humanity.

By treating them with sensitivity, kindness and understanding, you will be demonstrating the ‘human’ in HR.

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