The Role of Multinational Employers amid the Ukraine Crisis

Categories: Diversity & Inclusion

Companies with employees who have been affected by the war in Ukraine and/or the enormous number of refugees fleeing from the fighting can take several steps to address this crisis. Here are three recommendations:


1. Listen: So many people are experiencing real trauma and life-changing experiences, with circumstances still changing rapidly on the ground, that it is best to start with careful listening before determining next steps. Several questions to ask include:

  • What is the current situation? Are there individuals or family members who are in imminent danger due to the war or its effects? Do they have immediate needs such as food, shelter, or safe passage?
  • How are your employees feeling? Are they showing signs of a stress reaction like lower ability to focus, less energy, mood swings, etc.?
  • Has teamwork been impacted? Are there new conflicts or friction between citizens of neighboring nations that have become enemies? Do employees feel comfortable collaborating with team members who are directly affected? Do they know whom and how to ask, or feel unsure about whether to bring up this topic?
  • What is the big picture? In addition to the plight of Ukrainian refugees or employees who are still in the country, are there people from other nations such as Russia or Belarus who are now ostracized, unemployed, or worried about the future? Are there any cultural biases that need to be addressed? Is there an accurate understanding of possible conflicts among team members? To what extent does your team/workplace culture allow your employees to bring their whole selves to work?


2. Take a Values-Based Stance: The war in Ukraine has become a test of every organization’s values and their implications not only for employee welfare but also for broader social values such as democracy and personal and economic freedom.

  • What behaviors are consistent or inconsistent with your team’s/company’s core values? Are you retaining or closing your operations in Russia? How far are you ready to go to retain some of your team members? (For example, what if a team member with a rare subject matter expertise is supporting the invasion?) What is your stance regarding the involvement of Belarus? Is it a victim or aggressor country, and how do you act accordingly regarding your business interactions with Belarus?
  • What is the difference between national policy and individual conduct? What are your organization’s obligations to employees from any location?


3. Build a Flexible Action Plan

  • What specific steps will you take to support affected team members? Examples include food and shelter for refugees, relocation, financial aid, alternative forms of employment, time off, and flexible working hours.
  • What resources are you willing to commit? Are there corporate or employee donations, company products and services, or additional employee benefits you are willing to provide? Some companies are offering paid Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) days for those who are volunteering their time to help (see the Cisco example below).
  • Does your company need to provide support for employee well-being? Are you ready to invest in a coach, a psychologist, or mental health resources for team members who have experienced trauma or conflict? What support do your employees need right now, and what might they need in the long run? Do you need conflict resolution expertise? Is it necessary to reassign, terminate, or relocate some of your team members?


Company Example: Cisco

Cisco is a networking hardware and cybersecurity company. Its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been substantive and multi-dimensional. Members of Cisco’s corporate leadership team traveled to company sites in Krakow and Warsaw as well as to the Polish/Ukrainian border to view the refugee crisis firsthand. Early efforts to move Ukrainian employees to safety have been augmented by company support for their resettlement—largely in Poland with the assistance of local staff members there. Company employees now hosting displaced people have been granted an extra 80 hours of paid leave under Cisco’s Time2Give program, which normally allocates two weeks per year of paid time for those who choose to volunteer and help others in need and times of challenge.

Worldwide, more than 9,000 Cisco employees have donated funds, matched by the company, to nonprofits providing assistance to Ukrainian refugees, and Cisco is also equipping these nonprofits with communications infrastructure in locations where they are setting up new operations. Meanwhile all company operations in Russia and Belarus have been halted, while the Cisco Talos cybersecurity team has been protecting critical governmental and corporate Ukrainian networks from Russian attacks.


While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to how an organization should handle this crisis, the most immediate thing you can do is to support your employees. Remember, different employees may desire different kinds of assistance—or none at all. The key is to make available the resources that your organization is able and willing to provide, and then make sure employees are able to use them.


Aperian Global is offering free GlobeSmart access to NGOs and other organizations supporting Ukraine, to help them better understand Ukrainian culture. Please contact us if you know an organization that could benefit from a GlobeSmart Grant.


About the Author

Ekaterina von Gertten
Senior Consultant & Learning Solutions Architect at Aperian Global

Ekaterina von Gertten is a Senior Consultant and Learning Solutions Architect for Global Mobility at Aperian Global. She partners with clients around the world, with a focus on the EMEA region. Ekaterina has served as a key resource in Aperian Global’s work with Fortune 100 companies in a variety of sectors including energy, pharmaceuticals, technology, automotive, finance, and food and beverage.
Connect with Ekaterina on LinkedIn.