The ever-changing Ukraine crisis is stressful for many accountants, and traumatic for some. The profession is responding to Russian sanctions and is awaiting the impact of changes brought about by the upcoming Economic Crime Bill, which is expected to be rushed through Parliament.
Some also have direct ties to Ukraine through friends and family members. Coming at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, this could create a considerable psychological burden for accountants.
“It’s been horrendous for two years, and now we’re going back into a crisis,” says Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist, leadership coach and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience. “It’s not the same crisis, which can perhaps help, but we are getting fed up or surviving.”
Crisis fatigue is a very real issue, says Dr Tang, the result of lasting levels of stress. People are still in resistance mode, which puts them at risk of falling into exhaustion.
“Crisis fatigue is a little bit like burnout,” she says. It’s like compassion fatigue, it has the same sort of effects. Compassion fatigue, which often affects the medical profession, occurs when people have cared and cared until they can’t care any more. That’s really detrimental for ourselves and it’s detrimental for those we’re looking after.”
Chartered accountants are what Dr Tang calls ‘frontline facing’, dealing with people directly on a daily basis. As a result, they provide emotional labour to the clients and stakeholders they work with, in addition to the core tasks they complete.
“You’re hearing more and more stories from your clients, you’re containing their anxiety. You’re being calm, kind and supportive. But that can cause burnout in professionals. And if we’re stressed and distracted, it’s really difficult to focus fully on the technical work we have to do.”
HR advice for members who manage a team
The biggest HR issues occur when organisations have staff members who are from Ukraine or Russia, or who have family members in Ukraine, says Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula.
“Employers may wish to send company-wide communications to highlight the support options available for any staff member affected by the evolving situation in Ukraine,” she says. “This can be done via email, intranet sites, noticeboards or discussed during daily team meetings.”
Where employees have friends or family members abroad, it may be reasonable to allow a temporary change to working conditions, to allow them to maintain regular contact. Consider flexible start and finish times, more or longer breaks, or amended duties.
“Those who are not directly impacted may still experience higher than usual levels of stress and anxiety,” says Palmer. “As such, the offering of an employee assistance programme (EAP) can provide professional support to assist employees’ mental health and emotional well-being. Similarly, creating a culture of open communication, whereby employees are encouraged to raise and discuss any concerns they may have, both in their professional and personal lives, can improve satisfaction and motivation. This in turn contributes towards increased productivity and higher retention rates.”
Consider capacity and resources
In a more immediate sense, it’s important to ensure that your team and processes have the capacity to cope with the increased workload and anxiety caused by the invasion of Ukraine. Ask if you can cope if anyone on your team is out of action.
“If there’s not enough capacity built in, then your team is going to start to fall like dominoes,” says Leah Steele, resilience trainer. “We need to make sure that there are adequate resources. Resources aren’t just your computer systems or hours in the day. It’s also about having an environment where people seem open to talk.”
It’s important to communicate clearly with your team and make sure they have the support they need at the moment, says Steele. “We can’t make people speak up, but we can create an environment where it’s safe to do so. Make sure you and your team have considered various scenarios and outcomes. Create a psychologically safe environment where people can speak up and raise issues without fear of being ostracised for it.”
Chartered accountants’ support charity caba has reached out to community members based in Ukraine and is encouraging those who are most affected to get in touch. Kirsty Lilley, Mental Health Expert at caba, has offered the advice below for those who have been most affected by the situation in Ukraine and the workload as a result of rapid changes in compliance.
Manage your exposure
“Take some time to recognise when you’re getting anxious or overwhelmed and identify your particular signs, symptoms and triggers. You can also use some of the following tried-and-tested ways to reduce emotional overwhelm. The more that you can manage your own stress and anxiety in relation to current events, the more you will be able to take wise and discerning action to help in any way that you feel able.”
Simple breathing techniques
Breathing in through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, and then breathing out through the mouth for a count of four. Repeat five to six times.
A well-known grounding technique that gets you to use all of your senses. Start by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths. In through your nose (count to three), out through your mouth (count of three). Now open your eyes and look around you. Name out loud:
5 things you can see (you can look within the room and out of the window)
4 things you can feel (the silkiness of your skin, the texture of the material on your chair, what does your hair feel like?)
3 things you can hear (traffic noise or birds outside)
2 things you can smell (scented candles, flowers, dinner)
1 thing you can taste (it might be a good idea to keep a piece of chocolate or other food you enjoy handy).
Ukraine crisis: central resource hub
Resources, news and features on the impact of the Ukraine crisis on accountancy, business and the wider economy.
Support for members during the Ukraine crisis
icaew latest on ukraine and russia
Doing business in ...
Guides to affected countries
ICAEW's Library and Information Service produces guides for members who are considering doing business in overseas countries. There are separate guides for Ukraine and its neighbours, all of which include updates on the latest sanctions and restrictions.
caba is the charity for Chartered Accountants, supporting past and present ICAEW members, ACA students and their close families from across the globe. "We help the ICAEW community through everyday situations to exceptional life-changing circumstances."Find out more