26 May 2022

How to wisely take care of employees in troubled times

Work, ,
Trudna sztuka odpoczywania, zdrowie psychiczne, odpoczynek, wellbeing w firmie

Does taking care of employees require a special program?

Emotions cannot be left at the company's doorstep. There is no need to convince anyone that we continue to experience personal difficulties while at work, and that we bring the problems of professional life home. With the growing understanding of this fact, employers, instead of only demanding readiness, efficiency and focus on work, more and more often decide to create conditions for employees so that they can deal with problems before they disrupt their operation. Often, however, planning and providing such support exceed the competences available inside the company. Difficulties arise unexpectedly, affect individuals or entire groups, are of different intensity and nature - no organisation is prepared to maintain a permanent structure that allows it to face them all.

ICAS EAP helps employees and employers

For almost a hundred years, the growing needs have been accompanied by the development of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) - external solutions that companies can use to respond to personal and collective crises, and - as far as possible - to counter them. The idea of EAP works because both sides benefit from it. The employee uses the knowledge and experience of psychologists, therapists, coaches, mentors, lawyers and financiers, and the company reduces the costs of absenteeism and presenteeism, builds team competences and becomes a desirable workplace. Over time, EAP solutions have become more and more specialised, and many companies increasingly appreciate having a competent partner that everyone in the company and their loved ones have constant access to.

Support that keeps up with reality

At ICAS Poland, we have been implementing EAP in Poland for almost ten years. Recent years have taught us that support programs are good to the extent that they are relevant to the changing world. If they are to help employees cope with the challenges of life, they must respond to both individual stories, which include misunderstandings with a partner, daily workload, problems with a teenager or tax problems, and mass-scale crises that affect all. And these become a new everyday life, which translates into the needs reported to us. In March 2020, 30% of our clients' problems were related to Covid, in January 2022 - 45% related to the Polish Order, and in March 2022 - 25% related to the war.

What contemporary crises bring us

Each crisis has different challenges. Covid meant struggling with severe limitations and an epidemic of loneliness, and for many people the deterioration of health and the loss of loved ones. The Polish Order, implemented amid rising inflation, sparked a wave of misunderstanding and anxiety not only about personal finances. The war confronted us with the necessity to resolve dozens of practical issues regarding the refugee wave and to deal with widespread fear. In the IBRIS research conducted in the last days of February, 80% of Poles declared that they were afraid of war and its consequences. On the ICAS EAP line, the number of anxiety-related reports received in 2022 after the first quarter exceeded the number of reports in this category for the entire year 2021. Crises affect each of us and the groups in which we operate.

New challenges for companies

In view of the recent crises, no company can remain indifferent - their impact will be noticeable for years to come. Covid meant a reorganisation of work, mass transitions to remote work and everything that goes with it - loss of direct control, change of interactions and ways of motivating as the result of remote work for many people was a sense of isolation, monotony and blurring the boundaries between work and private life. Ongoing returns to the office require hybrid work planning and dealing with resistance and anxiety. The Polish Order has caused an almost impossible to handle traffic in HR Departments, and the subsequent changes raise concerns among people who will have to settle employees according to the new rules. War is associated with the organisation of aid actions and the creation of conditions for the expression and processing of emotions, but also with ethical dilemmas in doing business.

Individual EAP support during the war

In ICAS, on a 24-hour line available to all persons covered by our EAP program, in Polish, English, Ukrainian and Russian:

  • we provide support to people directly and indirectly affected by the war - those who heard bombs hitting their own home, those who know the terrifying details from the stories told by relatives and guests in their home, and those who watch images of destruction on TV;
  • we talk with people of different nationalities - with Ukrainians who experience war in the most traumatic way, with Poles who get involved, help and are potentially threatened, but also with Russians who do not agree to the war;
  • we help in practical matters - legal, organisational and financial, regarding entry to Poland, rules of bringing families from Ukraine, but also from Russia, re-departure to Ukraine, legalisation of stay, taking up or offering employment, renting and providing accommodation, medical care and school education, bringing animals, obtaining benefits and transferring funds;
  • we support psychologically all those in need - people who came from Ukraine - in dealing with trauma and rebuilding a sense of security, in adapting and finding faith in the future; Poles - in overcoming anxiety that hinders functioning and prevents sleep, relieving the overload associated with constantly following the news and reducing the feeling of helplessness; Russians - dealing with shame and pressure as well as estrangement from their own families;
  • we provide "help the helper" support – to all those in whom providing support to others causes an excessive burden of difficult emotions, who have difficulties with defining the limits of their own involvement, or in the face of the enormity of suffering of others feel resistance to taking care of their own needs.

EAP group support during the war

From the first day of the war, we also conduct activities aimed at teams:

  • we organise open on-line meetings with psychologists and Polish and Ukrainian therapists, providing employees with a space to share their thoughts and emotions, allowing them to strengthen themselves - they turned out to be extremely necessary and have already attracted thousands of people;
  • we teach how to take care of oneself and others in the face of war, which is so close - our psychologists have prepared webinars, materials and articles for people participating in the program, in which they refer to the most common reactions to war and show what we can do as individuals and collectives in order not to give in to fear and, in a situation over which we have limited influence, to maintain a sense of agency;
  • we devoted special webinars to the issue of helping children - until recently none of us thought that we would have to explain the ongoing war to children, so we need fast-track education in this area;
  • we offer managers special on-line workshops, covering the issues of providing "first psychological aid" to other people and answering questions on how to talk to employees in these times in order not to escalate tensions and not succumb to collective panic, but to maintain the ability to perform their daily tasks, because this is also the way of opposing the destruction that war brings;
  • we collect the most frequently asked questions in the field of law, follow changes in Polish legal regulations and prepare webinars explaining issues that are important to people covered by the program.

How we work with employers

In our activity, we build long-term relationships with companies and together we develop the EAP program. In emergency situations, this cooperation becomes even more intense. We prepare solutions based on information from HR Departments and adjust them to specific companies. Flexibility is important because successive crises show that businesses (just like people) experience them in different ways. In a pandemic, most companies organised remote work, but manufacturing companies that did not have such an option had to face completely different challenges. The war situation is more demanding for organisations that have close personal or economic ties with Ukraine or do business with Russia. Here are some examples of our interaction with customers:

  • the company reported to us that in the group of employees transferred from Ukraine, many people experience the effects of trauma - we have prepared meetings for them in Ukrainian, where under the guidance of a therapist, in a small group, they could deal with difficult emotions;
  • employees of one of our clients organised a wide-ranging action to help refugees, but after some time they began to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the enormity of the harm they had to face - as part of "helping the helpers" we conducted workshops where we talked about granting ourselves the right to take care of yourself and set and guard your own boundaries;
  • in connection with the company's operation in Russia, there was a conflict between the employees in the team - we provided support to the team manager in the preparation of a meeting at which the problem was taken up and openly discussed from various points of view;
  • one of the managers covered by the program asked us for help in dealing with the reduced motivation of employees, fuelling each other's fears related to the development of the situation - the consultation allowed us to address fears and restore the ability of the entire group to act.

Understanding current and future needs is the key to effective help that meets its purpose and at the same time remains time and cost effective.

About the authors

Katarzyna Kowalska

Katarzyna Kowalska

Psychologist, therapist & trainer

In her daily work, she engages in client consultations, conducts training, and promotes mental health and the role of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in maintaining balance and effectiveness. She holds degrees in psychology and psychodietetics from SWPS University, as well as a degree in management from the Gdańsk University of Technology. She has completed numerous managerial and therapeutic training programs, which include Crotonville Advanced Manager, Leadership Academy, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and Coherence Therapy and Memory Reconsolidation. Combining her therapeutic skills with extensive experience in large business organizations, she advocates for a healthy lifestyle, firmly believing that good sleep, regular physical activity, and proper nutrition significantly contribute to mental well-being.
Janusz Prendota

Janusz Prendota

CEO of ICAS Poland
He has worked with business for over 30 years, taking an especially avid interest in projects combining traditional business with new, refreshing solutions.
Since 2010, he has had a business passion for the EAP Employee Assistance Program, an initiative well-established in companies worldwide which is only starting to make ground in Poland.
He graduated in Physics from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, where he developed a passion for exploring the internal mechanics of systems: why things work the way they do and how it affects the system as a whole.
Transferring his fascination to the business environment, he’s been supporting solutions based on this knowledge, seeking to answer the question of why change leads companies to achieve specific results and how system operations can be improved by introducing change.