Providers of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are reporting significant rises in calls as they support workers based in Ukraine and surrounding states.
According to provider Workplace Options, calls to its EAP went up 2,700% in Ukraine in March after the country was invaded by Russian troops. The company has 175 clients with employees based in Ukraine, covering more than 580,000 employees.
Workplace Options said there had been around 100 critical incident requests since the Ukraine invasion, and 664 calls around “disruptive events”, often due to the fact military and emergency services are consumed with the battles in front of them.
The increase in calls is not confined to Ukraine. Contacts to the EAP rose 200% in Slovakia, 130% in Russia, and 122% in the Czech Republic. Globally its EAPs have been responding to an increase in anxiety brought on by the war in Ukraine, with calls up 15% overall.
The company has had to scale up its services to ensure calls can be answered within 60 seconds and counselling can be made available within two days, which has meant adding 80 hotlines to the service.
It also created a bespoke Ukraine Crisis Resource site in early March which offers advice and content in multiple languages for those affected by the war. There are plans to offer a number of webinars and guided discussions for Ukrainians, those in countries close to Ukraine and Ukrainian expatriates.
Counsellors on the ground
Fellow EAP provider Care First has experienced similar trends, although business development director Karl Bennett said that after an initial spike, calls around urgent worries had begun to decline in recent weeks.
“When the invasion happened, we provided a statement to businesses that employees may be worried, in particular young people – many of whom have not experienced a conflict like this before,” he told Personnel Today.
“We have counsellors that can speak Ukrainian languages and Russian and who are based in Ukraine itself. They have specific knowledge of what’s happening because they’re on the ground.”
Bennett added that the company recognises its duty of care to its own counsellors and employees, many of whom will be discussing traumatic issues with callers. “The clinical governance piece has to be very strong on this, so we have a responsibility to support our own counsellors with training.”
Care First said there had been distinct trends in terms of employee contacts to its EAP, with a specific team in place to look at call data to predict future volume so it can plan its workforce accordingly.
Many callers were concerned about friends or family who were based in Ukraine, both on a practical and emotional level, said Bennett.
“If they’ve not been able to contact family members directly it helps that they can talk to the EAP about how they’re feeling. Our information specialists have also had questions around the immigration and visa process as people look into getting family members back to the UK.”
Other common enquiries included questions about the Homes for Ukraine scheme where UK residents can take in refugees, enquiries about volunteering as a soldier and many calls from neighbouring countries, where employees are finding it difficult to concentrate on work.
As with Workplace Options, anxieties are not limited to Ukraine and its neighbouring states. “People are really worried about where this ends, there are concerns about the war escalating outside Ukraine,” added Bennett.
Care First has also produced its own webinars or information hubs to support employers in easing employees’ concerns or answering practical questions.
“People are really worried about where this ends, there are concerns about the war escalating outside Ukraine.” – Karl Bennett, Care First
Ensuring managers know there are resources available is crucial, said Bennett: “Employers don’t always realise that EAPs don’t just provide support to individual employees, they can offer preemptive support for managers too.”
EAPA chair Eugene Farrell said: “A war like this, with its daily shocks and tragedies, has implications for so many people. Normality has come crashing down to be replaced by inescapable fear.”
“Ordinary people in Ukraine, inside or outside of war zones, are being traumatised by what they are seeing and the threats to themselves and their families. The heightened tensions have spread in waves across the entire region into countries with close links to the affected areas.”
Farrell argued that EAP providers have an important role at a time when state-run services are pushed to the max.
“EAP professionals continue to do crucial work as a back-up emergency service, making sure many more people can get support and advice that protects their wellbeing and keeps people strong through the crisis,” he added.