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Life During Wartime


Sadly, financial collapses, coups, civil strife and war are common around the world. What is it like to work in HR when your country is in the midst of intense conflict? I asked Liudmyla (Lucy) Kovalova CEO, G. U. N. Academy Ltd in Ukraine what challenges HR managers were currently facing as the country struggles through a period of conflict. Kovalova says the first problem is the simple fact of the staggering economy. Money is tight, investment dries up, and that ends up affecting most businesses; quite a few do not survive. HR’s first task is the same as in any company under financial pressure – help cut costs across the organization often by assisting with downsizing, seeking ways to control salary and benefits costs and finding ways to do more with less within the department.

One might think that recruitment would be the least of HR worries in a time of downsizing and high unemployment; however that is not the case. In Ukraine many qualified specialists have left the country leaving companies with a talent shortage in some key areas. HR is faced with finding scarce talent to fill the holes, outsourcing work, or supporting people who are plugging the gaps in jobs they are not yet fully qualified for.

More than ever, in the midst of an on-going crisis HR needs to be clear about the reality of the current situation and clear about what their short-term priorities are. It is not a time for sitting back and hoping things go back to normal. HR cannot make problems disappear, however they can make progress on important short-term goals that will help the company stay alive in tough times.

Managing Stress

Stress is heightened in times of conflict. It affects people from the top to the bottom of the company, it colours relationships with suppliers and clients, and it wears down friends and family. Ignoring the issue or telling people to “be tough” is not an effective strategy. Chronic stress will degrade performance at a time when company survival may be at stake. This means managing stress must be one of HR’s short-term priorities.

A lot can be done simply by alerting managers to how damaging chronic stress is and asking them to manage it in their department. There are simple things managers can do such as being careful not to push people hard, making sure people get exercise, encouraging humour and not neglecting their own physical and mental health.

Another useful approach for controlling stress while moving the company forward is to get people focused on achievable short term goals. Keeping busy, and enjoying small accomplishments, is good therapy.

Dr. Richard Boyatzis notes that helping others is a good way to reduce stress. HR can arrange opportunities for people to help one another or help less fortunate people outside the company. These acts of charity do not need to be great heroic works; even simple things like tidying up a park or offering tutoring to student can help alleviate stress.

Day by day

I asked an Argentinian HR expert what it was like to live through the financial crisis in 1998. He said “Everything becomes very short term”. I was hoping for some easy trick for thriving in difficult times, but he had nothing to offer. Perhaps simply the recognition that we have to live and work day-by-day; adapting and making the best of the situation is the only ‘solution’ we have.

With luck you will never face extremely serious economic or political crises. However, it is prudent to have a sense what it might be like in difficult times. If those difficult times do happen, it will be great if HR can step forward and take a lead in helping the company respond to the crisis.


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