Recent days show an incredible mobilization of Poles. Entrepreneurs also want to help, not only by sending donations, but also by employing those who managed to escape from the hell of war. In addition to the heart on your hand, however, you also need to approach the subject with a calm head, so that after a few weeks of working in an expanded team, it did not turn out that the cooperation begins to grinding, and we would like to withdraw from the commitments made.
So how to make the foreign employee fit into the team as easily as possible? How to make Ukrainian employees feel comfortable in our company? We ask Dr. Monika Sońta from Kozminski University how to prepare for a refugee employee and how to introduce him/her to the team and everyday duties to make the whole action successful.
Dr Monika Sońta, Kozminski University.
We divided the text into two main parts:
Part I How to prepare a team for an employee from Ukraine?
Part II How to prepare employees from the East to work in our company? How to deal with the cultural and language barrier and, above all, with the taint of decreased sense of security and trust?
Part I Team preparation
Try to start preparing the team before the new employee arrives at the company. Communicate hiring an employee from Ukraine as an emergency situation in which our company, just by hiring a refugee, can join in helping the Ukrainian people. This is how we communicate to employees why we made this decision; don’t expect them to understand without our message!
Our employees need to know that we plan to hire a person from Ukraine, they need to know when it will happen and on what terms. Let’s be specific, such as: “For the first two weeks our new employee will be involved only in support issues, this will be the time for implementation, and only after this period he will join the team”.
Prepare an empathy map
When we talk about preparing the team to introduce an employee from Ukraine, what we are really talking about is empathy. They need to be made aware that there are people coming into the company who are different from us and that more effort needs to be put into understanding how they function. For this purpose, the employer on his part can prepare an empathy map (free templates you can easily find on the Internet). This is a one-page document that will show us what we need to do to understand the situation of Ukrainians who join our company. As part of the map, we consider, for example, What does this person see? What does this person hear? Let’s think about it and create it together with our employees.
Example empathy map, source: Visualpun.ch, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.
A safe employee is a kind co-worker
We also need to realize that such a situation can create fear among employees about losing their own jobs, so it is necessary to ensure that their positions are not threatened, that they will not be replaced by refugees: “This is an emergency situation, we act and help together. Your job, your position is not at risk.” Respect the feelings of employees who can definitely feel threatened in such a situation.
What will further strengthen the sense of security of our employees, but also facilitate the acceptance of the new employee, is to define as precisely as possible the conditions under which he or she will operate in the coming weeks and months. Be sure to communicate to the team that, for example, the first month the employee will be learning the language and performing simple tasks/will need their help to implement into the job, and only after this period will it be possible to start demanding from them what is required of other employees.
What happens is that our leadership skills are tested for diversity & inclusion [diversity & inclusion, MS note]. We need to find a person who will be a ‘diversity leader’ in our company – who will introduce the Ukrainian employee to the company, who will be his guide and helper. And I will say right away that it does not necessarily have to be a team leader or a manager, it may turn out that the best person for this task will be an ordinary employee who has experience in working with foreigners/working in the area of diversity. Such a “buddy” will not only help our new Ukrainian employee during his first days in the company, but, what is equally important, he will also explain the situation to the rest of the team members, who will thus more easily accept and understand what is happening in the company and how the new employee feels.
Assistance between employees
Helping Ukrainians is associated with fraud. Therefore, it is very important, when members of our team want to give support to a new colleague, to overcommunicate (from “overcommunication”) what we want to give. Let them say, for example, “I offer you this help free of charge”, and instead of “I invite you to my place tomorrow”, let them say “Come to my place tomorrow for lunch, take your child, I have a daughter his age, they will play, and you will forget for a moment about what bad things are happening in your country”. When offering help, emphasize that it is selfless and that you do not expect anything in return.
Part II Preparing the Ukrainian employee
You have to prepare mentally not only the team but also the employee himself. This is a person whose safety sphere has been violated, a person who is wounded and distrustful. Therefore, at the very beginning we have to make him feel comfortable in the company.
Unusual onboarding. Overcommunication is the basis
In normal, non-failure onboarding, we have a situation that is comfortable for both parties. Here we are in a situation where one party is more dependent – needs help. Such a person sees that he is in another country, where there is a different alphabet, where people speak a different language. She has escaped the physical threat, which means there are very many stressors in her head that tell her about the physical threat. There are images of war left in her head, from the border, and they sit there very strongly. When planning onboarding such a person, we need to know that this is not going to be a normal hiring process. First, let’s communicate our requirements very clearly, e.g:
- We know what the situation is, that’s why the first month of your work with us is the time to get used to it, to get recognized, we will not hold you accountable for the pace of your tasks,
- We are specific, we “over-communicate” our expectations – we use the so-called framing: “We will require from you this, this and this”, “You have the right to this, this and this”.
We need to know that these individuals will not be able to focus on their work from day one of entering the company. This particular situation requires empathy, which can be called a concessionary tariff.
Don’t expect hurrah optimism and don’t exude it.
Secondly, use positive reinforcement for the employee, say that we can manage together: “We will cope, you are not alone in this”, “We are in this together”. But here caution – I warn against “hurrah optimism”, saying that everything will be wonderful. It’s not going to be fine, there’s a war on. This person knows this and not denying reality will not bring them support.
They need help and they want to help
Third, let’s enable Ukrainians themselves to help. These people want to keep their heads busy, they don’t want to keep thinking about the war. Giving them aid to do it themselves helps their mental balance, helps them to find themselves in a new situation more easily and to accept it. This is the so-called micro-commitment. We can offer to take part in aid actions for other refugees/fighters in Ukraine. Let’s show how they themselves can help – as translators, as volunteers, to help educate other refugees and open the way to employment. At such a moment, a confused, despairing person stops focusing on their own problems, on their own pain, and shifts all their attention to helping others. Overcoming weaknesses, a sense of empowerment is crucial to that person’s psychological well-being.
Which companies are best suited to the task?
Finally, we asked Dr. Monika Sońta about which companies would best handle having new employees from Ukraine join their team: – I think that the entry of people from Ukraine into the company will certainly be easier in large companies and in startups, because these are teams that interact with foreigners (and with diversity policies) on a daily basis. I believe that these teams will not have any major problems with smooth integration of a refugee employee into the team. We should also remember that the crisis in Ukraine affects not only Ukrainians themselves, but also each of our employees. We all live under increased stress, so at this point we need to be more open to problems with the functioning of all employees (overwork, overload).
Probably many Polish companies will be willing to accept Ukrainian workers, but it is worth asking ourselves a question about their impact on our economy. Which industries will employ the most refugees from across the eastern border? Which need them the most? And do women who come with children have a chance to find employment in Poland, taking into account, for example, the language barrier? We asked Hanna Mojsiuk, President of the Northern Chamber of Commerce in Szczecin, and Anna Sudolska, labor market expert at the consulting company IDEA HR Group, to outline the broader prospects for our labor market.
Which industries are willing to accept workers from the East, for whom such an influx of workers will be beneficial? The construction and transport sectors are currently facing an outflow of Ukrainians, who are going to fight for their country, so I guess we will face an outflow rather than an inflow of hands to work?
Anna Sudolska: The labour market has become accustomed to operating in the crisis stage. We now have such a situation that after two years of pandemic, the employee market has significantly strengthened and any fluctuations in personnel in companies are strongly felt by employers at the operational level.
Hanna Mojsiuk: It is still difficult to forecast today how the horizontal change for the labor market will look like. We can already see that many men have decided to leave Poland because they have to fight or they are coming back to take care of their families or to help them evacuate. Our information shows that the most serious situation is in the construction and transport sectors. Men from Ukraine in Poland are mainly engaged in these two sectors. There are already canceled transports, we receive information about delays. We also know that many entrepreneurs in the construction industry recruit new employees very quickly before the spring and summer season, which for obvious reasons is the most fruitful and effective for the construction industry. It is difficult to assess how devastating the war in Ukraine will be for the Polish economy. In terms of personnel it is a very serious blow, because many investments may be delayed and the efficiency in many places will drop for obvious reasons.
Anna Sudolska: Transport companies, construction companies and warehouses have already felt the departure of the Ukrainians very strongly. It is difficult to talk about the scale – sometimes it is a few people in the company, and sometimes even half of the team. Imagine a situation in which half of the fleet of a transport company with 60 people leaves overnight – there is no chance to quickly fill such a staff gap. So entrepreneurs must be ready to increase salaries and benefits for employees who want to stay. We know of situations when companies helped in attracting families of their employees from Ukraine and offered them, for example, rent of premises. This is a very noble act, but it also means keeping a very valuable employee at work.
In Ukraine, a mobilization of men is underway, practically only women with children are leaving, who will probably find it difficult to take up work because of the need to care for children. How do you estimate, in fact, how large a group of potential workers coming from Ukraine will we face? And who will most willingly take our eastern neighbors to work?
Anna Sudolska: There is a big social concern whether the Polish labor market will be able to accept hundreds of thousands of women to work – I am not able to answer this question clearly, because such an oversupply has never been taken into account. It is certain that entrepreneurs come to us and declare their willingness to employ even 50 or 100 people at a time. These are mainly production companies, but also sewing or trading companies. Also tourism will be very willing to support personnel with people from Ukraine. There is a chance that for the first time in years the problem of hasty recruitment and staff shortages in vacation resorts will disappear. Certainly many people will find employment in catering.
Hanna Mojsiuk: Migration of workers from Ukraine is obvious. I think that we are talking about a very fluid phenomenon – men have left, so the situation is more difficult in such industries as transport, construction, industry or logistics (warehouses). On the other hand, there will be more women who are very determined to take up a job quickly and be independent. We can expect that sectors such as health care, social care, commerce, gastronomy, tourism or the cleaning and maintenance industry will soon be strongly reinforced. A lot depends on a system of transparent job offers, but also on local governments preparing opportunities for child care within the framework of day care centers, children’s clubs or kindergartens.