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Workplace conflicts over war or nationality? How to deal with them as a manager?

The team pits Czech and Ukrainian workers against Russian ones. Colleagues verbally attack each other. People argue and emotionally pile up. Superiors are pressuring you for results. In the middle of it all, you as the manager, and the team expects you to sort it all out—a challenging situation. But you're far from alone in this. 

Hopefully, you won't experience these black scenarios in most workplaces. But still, we can help you figure out how to address them if you do.

First of all, realize that you are not responsible for other people's behavior. Remind yourself where your managerial role begins and ends. While your team may now look to you even more for authority and direction, you still are only human with your own needs, opinions, and flaws.

What is the manager's role in the current situation, and what can they offer? 

The manager is the authority, the leader of the pack, and a significant "role model" for the team. They do not try to substitute for the therapist.

  • Shows the team by their example and behavior how to stabilize themselves,
  • Is a clue and support for their people,
  • Doesn't pretend that nothing is happening. Speaks openly and names what is going on in the team,
  • Offers a space for sharing and frequently contacts individual team members. Ideally, in person, face to face.
  • Helps maintain work habits and volume of work.
  • Carefully structures the team's work and prioritizes.
  • Seeks new ways to adapt to the situation.

 

📌 Download: 7pages of specific tips from our therapists on psychological help you can provide as a manager and HR

 

What can HR staff provide from their position, and how?

HR staff does not duplicate the role of a psychotherapist or crisis interventionist and acts as a support coordinator. 

  • Helps employees to navigate a challenging situation.
  • Directs employees to professional psychological, legal, financial, and other assistance.
  • Passes on or facilitates important contacts.
  • Works with managers to create a safe environment for them.
  • Together with managers, HR focuses on the team's current needs and identifies them on an ongoing basis.
  • Seeks reasonable solutions together with managers.

Read: How can HR help employees affected by the war in Ukraine. 

Situations experienced by our clients and what our psychologists advise them

In each team, we find different personalities and different relationships. What is not a problem in one company is an unpleasant conflict in another, which fundamentally disrupts the company culture. Our therapists say: be patient and don't look for instant solutions. Times are full of strong emotions right now, and calming emotions in the workplace takes time.

Crying and anger in the workplace

Colleagues are verbally attacking each other or are communicating passive-aggressively. The manager has to deal with them almost every day to resolve conflict situations and heated emotions. There's an employee who cries nearly all the time. 

  • Listen to them individually. Let them talk it out. Observe the emotions that come through in their tone of voice and body language in addition to the content. 
  • Don't be afraid of emotions. Let the people cry, scream, tear paper or throw something (safely, of course). It will make you uncomfortable in the situation, but it will help at the moment. 
  • Send them out for a walk. Let them not only mentally but also physically leave the workplace for a while and move to get the challenging emotion out of their system. It will help the people who work with them.
  • Don't take their side. Remain objective, even though it may be difficult for you because of the shared opinion with one side.

Arguments and passive-aggression are the order of the day

An employee complains to her manager that she can't work with the other one. She badmouths her behind her back, sends passive-aggressive comments against her in team chat. 

  • In times of heightened emotions, don't try to reconcile them for good right away. 
  • A quick, albeit temporary, solution is to separate the employees for some time. If possible, schedule their work hours so they don't meet: You can order a home office, reschedule shifts, order vacations. 
  • If the situation recurs, set up communication principles with them. Agree to follow them and refer to them at critical times. The atmosphere may not be friendly, but it will be fair. This is also important at that moment. 

The company has teams of Ukrainians and Russians working together

Perhaps nothing has changed, and colleagues continue to work together without problems. However, it is also possible that there are hidden or overt tensions within the team. People are careful about what they say or, on the contrary, speak out against "the other".  

  • Watch the mood. Observe conversations - live and in emails and company chat. You may discover patterns that weren't there before: Excluding people from conversations, gossiping, and innuendo behind their backs. 
  • In one-on-one conversations, find out how people on your team feel right now. What emotions jump out at them when you mention each team member's name in front of them. How would they describe the atmosphere in the team? 

A new manager of Russian nationality has joined the team

The company and the team don't know them yet. Team members haven't had a chance to experience them as a person and find out what they have in common. You are concerned about how the team will react to them.

  • Name your concerns in front of the manager and ask them how much they share them with you. Find out how they feel and what would help them.
  • Offer them a space for daily contact, but don't force them into it. Some will be happy to take advantage of it. Others may find the increased attention uncomfortable. 

In debates, there's a team member that keeps their opinion to themself

Even if someone does not actively speak out against Russia, it may annoy someone and cause conflict. This is even more so if the team member in question is of Russian nationality or has Russian roots. 

  • Make it clear that everyone can keep their opinion to themselves. That's what freedom of speech is all about.
  • Remind the team what values you stand for. Build especially on the strong informal ones expressed in times of non-conflict. 
  • Send a clear statement of you as manager (or the official company position) to the team. Identify or remind what behaviors are already over the line.

People behaving anxiously, feeling guilty

With a war conflict looming (but also in the context of a pandemic), anxiety has begun to manifest itself in a large majority of the population. At the moment of imminent war, even people who were previously distant from these emotions feel anxiety, worry, uncertainty, and fear. 

  • Talk to them about how they are doing. Anxiety may not be visible, or people may not want to admit it. Use other words to describe it: Worry, uncertainty, fatigue, fear. Increased nervousness, poorer sleep, increased distractibility. Feeling cramped, feeling cold, or, conversely, sweating excessively.  
  • Distract them from their work. You can direct them from distressing thoughts to everyday life. Plus, nothing life-threatening is really happening for most of us right now. The worries exist in our heads. The more space we give them, the more anxiety consumes us. 
  • Remind them that they can meet with a therapist online. Suggest what they can discuss with the therapist: Sort out thoughts, whether they are about the war or other challenging issues in their lives. Discuss concerns. Touch on family situations. 

How to cope emotionally as a manager

If you also are experiencing similarly challenging situations, don't be afraid to ask for help and share. Ask other managers in the company if they are experiencing a similar problem and how they are dealing with it. Right now, it can be a good time to use a therapist. Just one hour can help you sort out your thoughts, put the situation in perspective, and calm yourself down so you can then help and support your team. 

Cultivate normality and psychological safety in your team

It's okay to continue with your ongoing projects or go to a restaurant. By staying normal in your personal life and at work, you build psychological resilience for yourself and those around you. And you do this precisely by not giving evil, panic, and worry more space than they deserve. 

Again, the generally applicable principles of mental hygiene and a healthy lifestyle will help you in the long run. 

  • Separate work and leisure. Cultivate hobbies, devote time to family. 
  • Get enough sleep. Being tired will only make you more irritable and stressed. 
  • Digital moderation. The news only once a day. No more blinking screens two hours before bed.
  • Keep moving. At least one walk a day, being in the sun and/or playing sports. 
  • Drink enough fluids and eat healthily. Healthy fuel will supply your brain with the energy needed for a healthy body and a sharp mind. 
  • Socialize with friends. Talk about everyday things that happen outside of war.
  • Try the calming therapeutic technique of breathing in a square.

How can Soulmio help you?

Through our online Mental Health Care Program, we can help your employees with solving particular problems and prevention together with mental well-being education.

We will provide sessions with a therapist for Ukrainian and Russian-speaking team members. 

We will hold webinars with our therapists on a variety of topics. We currently train in companies:

  • Nonviolent communication: how to respect and listen to each other.
  • Psychological safety in teams: How to (re)set and maintain trust and healthy relationships in a team. 
  • Mental hygiene in times of crisis: How to keep a clear head and strong health.

And we also provide you a special consultations for HR and directors

Interested in our services? Feel free to contact us.

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