A European Crisis with Global Ramifications
Global Crises: Ukraine & COVID-19

Featured Network Directors

Rita Vanhauwenhuyse

Marissa Schriefer

Sr. Network Director

Rita Vanhauwenhuyse

Gosia Fennell

Sr. Network Director

With monthly “COVID Calls” still on member calendars, this month’s discussion was rebranded to include the more recent calamity: the crisis in Ukraine. The virtual conversation included more than 15 members representing a broad swath of industries. Executive Networks extends its sincere thanks to all who participated.

A European Crisis with Global Ramifications

As the situation in Ukraine escalates ostensibly between two countries with deep cultural, commercial, and religious ties. The nations affected are Europe’s top exporters of grain and fuel, respectively. The aggression in Ukraine deeply concerns members. As a result, they are making critical decisions impacting their employees, businesses, and futures.

• Evacuating Ukrainians: The member on the call with the largest population of full-time employees in Ukraine reported a frantic, but safe effort to evacuate them and their families. The member said that securing housing and providing pay in host countries (mainly Poland and Romania) is an ongoing challenge. A member with a much smaller employee footprint in Ukraine reported that his company’s evacuation buses were seized, allegedly by invading Russian forces. The “bus-to-Poland” plan quickly shifted to “meet at a rendezvous and carpool” for their 60 Ukraine-based full-timers and their families.

• Trouble with advanced pay: Many on the call have employees who are in Russia, Ukraine or have fled from either country. Providing pay for all three cohorts remains a challenge—even as all members on the call (and those who answered an earlier member survey) report that they are trying to advance pay to affected workers. Bank account access remains particularly problematic. One member reported that both Russian refugee employees in Dubai and Ukrainian refugee employees in Warsaw were unable to access direct-deposited pay advances.

• Tension in the workplace: Some members spoke of the need to deescalate conflict between Russian and Ukrainian employees, as well as increasing anti-Russian sentiment. One member said her leaders had done a good job of communicating that Russian employees are an essential part of the global company, who are not to be blamed for the actions of their political leaders. Nearly every member represented on the call has at least a few dozen full-time employees in Russia. Most also have workers in Ukraine.

• Stress in surrounding countries: One member company is offering paid leave for Polish employees, so that they can help with Ukrainian refugee support. “It’s no different than giving time off to fill sandbags with a hurricane in the forecast,” the member explained. Another member said that her European employees are having a hard time focusing on work, leading to more mental health support needs.

• Sanctions another challenge: One member company has more than 3,000 full-time employees in Russia. With the war being partially “fought” through sanctions, even normally-routine HR maneuvers, like pay advances for Russian employees, is under intense legal scrutiny. Members reported that their legal departments are working day and night to comply with a rapidly-changing sanctions landscape.

Flexible Work Becoming Normalized

The topic of hybrid work also came up, with one member chiming in via chat: “Hopefully we’re headed away from pandemic to endemic and onto #no-demic.” Those who broached the subject of hybrid working reported that their offices have more-or-less fallen into a routine, with masking now optional and testing less stringent than in the past. However, none reported an office situation exactly akin to 2019.

CNET reports well-known tech companies who revealed their return to office policies:

  • Twitter opened their office on March 15, 2022; however, workers can determine how often they come into the office – wherever they feel most productive.
  • Google is requiring employees to work in the office at about 3 days a week starting April 4.
  • Apple will require at least 1 day a week in the office by April 11 and at least 3 days a week by April 23.
  • Microsoft reopened on February 28 and Meta plans to reopen offices March 28.

Questions from Members:

  • What are other organizations doing to support employees in Ukraine?
  • What are other organizations doing to support employees in Russia?
  • Are you evacuating employees?
  • Are you offering PTO for Ukrainians who are being (or may be) conscripted?

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