How the war in Ukraine affects HR

For nearly four months, Europe has been dealing with the topic of the war in Ukraine. The current situation also affects recruitment and employee management - leaders, managers and employees are wondering how to talk to their work colleagues or candidates about the difficult issue of the war that is taking place just beyond Poland's eastern border. The tense situation is particularly visible in all the neighboring countries of Ukraine. Here we look at it from the perspective of a country that has received over 3.2 million refugees.

Poles have already accepted over 3.2 million refugees, many of whom, apart from looking for shelter, have quickly appeared on the labour market. On the other hand, many employees of European companies, especially those in IT - programmers, architects, product managers - have remained in Ukraine and work remotely from more or less safe parts of the country. 


How should employers deal with the current situation? It is important to create an appropriate space in the company to talk about this topic, so leaders and managers should be able to support their employees and properly manage communication in the company. The same applies to recruitment processes and interviews with candidates.

Open market, different emotions

As we know, in the world of remote work, country borders practically do not exist. As a result of the pandemic, the place of performance of official duties ceased to be so important, and most companies decided to allow staff to work remotely. This means that the labour market has become much more flexible and competitive. Companies can employ people from all over Europe and around the world - including Ukraine and Russia. But as a result, over the past few months, we have also seen different emotions as well as different reactions to the war - especially in workplaces where we meet people of many nationalities.

Intensification of defence mechanisms

How have jobs changed recently? And not just in Poland and Europe, but, due to the international scale of operations of many companies, all over the world? What changes have occurred in the recruitment itself as a result of the war? What can we, as leaders and hiring managers, do to help candidates and our associates?

In our daily work with company founders, HR managers and recruiters, we have noticed an increase in many defense mechanisms that were not so noticeable before. Among perfectionists who attach great importance to ensuring that everything is done exactly right down to the last detail, you can often see a sense of guilt, which is actually caused by helplessness and lack of influence on the surrounding difficult reality. Such people are often accompanied by excessive sensitivity, and thus, they cannot cope with the separation of professional matters from their negative emotions, which often reflect on their work. On the other hand, people with lower sensitivity tend to display a complete lack of empathy. For them, the defense mechanism is to completely reject emotions and focus only on the professional aspects: "We are at work, there is no place for emotions here."

Don’t judge, strengthen instead

A lack of understanding of these defense mechanisms and awareness of their existence very often leads to negative assessments of the attitudes of colleagues or candidates. Often, we make judgements, for example, according to whether others have adopted the right attitude to war, assuming that our attitude is the best and the only appropriate one. Employees often put pressure on companies to make certain decisions regarding recruitment and employment policies. During interviews with candidates who are victims of the war, we often deprive them of their agency and decision-making, assuming that it may be better not to recruit them now, because it is probably a much too difficult time for them.

Unfortunately, this can have very negative consequences for both companies and employees. The best thing to do right now is to make yourself and others around you aware that we are all subject to defense mechanisms. It is worth being available, listening and showing understanding. Try to normalise everything and make people aware that many people feel about the current situation in the same way. Empower employees and candidates, but do not comfort them, avoid saying "You can do it", which can be read as pushing the problem away, understood as "You are left alone with it". Instead, it is worth saying "It's good that you came" and giving a sense of agency by asking things like "What was working for you before the crisis started?", "What can you do today?", "What do you have the strength for?" A manager or a company should not decide for employees, not take away their sense of influence and agency.

The labour market against the backdrop of the war

In the context of recruitment, it is very important to understand what is happening on the labour market during the ongoing war. This can help you find the best strategy to deal with this difficult issue at such a unique time. Just as many other things, a lot has changed in the recent months in recruitment as well.

The number of remote job offers in Poland increased by seven percent in the technology industry - month to month in February-April 2022. At the beginning of the war, the number of candidate applications and their activity decreased by 15%, which means that companies received far fewer applications for their job offers. Currently, the number of responses is slowly returning to the pre-war level. In addition, we can observe a slight decrease in the amount of salaries that are currently offered in non-technical positions in Poland.

Fortunately, these negative changes are already in retreat. It is quite surprising, but the current labour market situation is recovering much faster than in the case of changes in the pandemic. This also applies to the rotation among young workers, which increased sharply after the outbreak of the war and has now returned to its pre-war level.

However, we should remember that new phenomena are already noticeable on the global labour market - companies from the United States are taking more or less decisive steps against the recession that is affecting that market. An example is the reduction of 10% of jobs in Klarna, which was widely echoed throughout the startup and technology world. In addition, there are trends like the Great Resignation or the Great Burnout that we all have to deal with as employees and employers.

Strengthening cooperation

Right now it’s not possible to talk about a return to the situation from a few months ago. All the above phenomena and the ongoing war in Ukraine continue to affect and will continue to affect the labour market. What should HR specialists, recruiters, managers and founders do in this situation?

A very important element is the strengthening of cooperation between recruiters who deal with candidates on a daily basis, and hiring managers who make decisions about hiring specific people. Mutual understanding of the current market situation and persistent trends (whether in terms of pay or candidate behavior) is crucial for making the right decisions.

It is worth considering what jobseekers expect at the moment and consider implementing more flexible contracts or terms of employment. Candidates who are not sure whether or not they will be forced to emigrate will certainly appreciate thate kind of flexibility.

Another important aspect is the predictability of the process itself and sticking to set time frames. At the very beginning, it’s good to outline what stages it will consist of and how long the process will take, and when the candidates will be able to expect specific decisions. Such a strict definition of the recruitment framework is of great value for candidates in these uncertain times and makes it easier to make decisions about possible changes and accepting an offer. The mere provision of feedback at individual stages is also very important and proves a conscious and serious approach.

Understanding, analysis and conclusions

To sum up, in this difficult period, when the war in Ukraine is still raging, the most important thing is to be understanding - with both current and future workplace colleagues. It is worth trying to adapt to the changes taking place, analysing them and drawing conclusions in order to react to the environment as consciously as possible. Let us remember to listen, support, educate and support while recognising the existence of defense mechanisms.