The escalating conflict in Israel and Gaza is deeply unsettling and will affect not only people within the region but globally as well. Employers with staff in the area will want to ensure they are safe and supported. They will want to support employees who may have family and friends living there and who will be extremely concerned about their safety. Some may have loved ones who have lost their lives in the conflict or are missing.
Beyond that, the widely reported loss of life and ongoing trauma, and the divisive nature of the conflict can trigger stress and anxiety for many people and tension in the workplace.
Employers have an important role in supporting employees affected on any level and to make sure any tension or differences in opinion do not spill into conflict in the workplace.
The CIPD encourages employers to look at the following areas and consider the resources and materials that may help steer possible action.
Workers in Israel and Gaza
As the armed conflict intensifies, employers may consider relocating their staff and families from the affected areas. They should stay up to date on news of travel restrictions or disruptions on relevant consular channels. As at 20 October, some commercial airlines were still operating, but with delays and cancellations. Land borders were also open, but that may change with little notice.
Foreign nationals in Israel with an immigration status expiring imminently will be automatically extended until 9 November. Applications that are in progress are likely to be delayed due to closures and staff shortages at immigration authorities in Israel or at consular posts globally.
- identify all affected employees including both local and foreign nationals
- identify the valid visas held by affected employees to allow speedy relocation if required
- consult their immigration advisers on what visas may be needed or used (such as the digital nomad visa) for relocating staff, prioritising areas where visas are not required
- consider advising foreign nationals working in the region to register their presence with their national embassy or consulate and to keep identification and travel documents ready.*
* Our thanks to Charlotte Wills and the team at Fragomen for their support with the information on aspects of travel and immigration.
Workers with family or relations in region
Employees with family and friends in the area will be extremely concerned for their health and safety. Some may have loved ones who have lost their lives in the conflict or who are missing.
Employers should recognise that they will likely want to keep in regular contact with their family and friends and may wish to make or accept personal phone calls during working time. Employers can give support for example, by allowing staff to move their lunch breaks, to adjust their working hours or have more frequent breaks for that purpose.
Employers should also try to accommodate requests for other types of flexibility such as shift swaps, flexi-time or reduced hours working, and to be aware that employees may be in distress. Some may need emergency time off to deal with an immediate family crisis.
There needs to be clear communication from the organisation to all line managers and staff that it recognises the uncertainty, stress and anxiety many people will be feeling and the flexibility and support that’s available.
- Guide: Compassionate bereavement support | CIPD
- Factsheet: Flexible working practices | CIPD
- Factsheet: Working hours and time off work (UK) | CIPD
Tension and conflict in the workplace
The conflict can generate a high level of emotion, anger and upset and extremely polarised opinions. Employers should aim to proactively manage and prevent disputes between employees and be especially alert about potential bullying, harassment and discrimination. Employers should communicate clearly their policies on managing and preventing any form of unfair treatment. It may be appropriate to remind people that verbal abuse motivated by someone’s race or religion may constitute a hate crime and is a criminal offence.
While employers may not ordinarily consider influencing or controlling day-to-day topics of conversations in the workplace, these are exceptional circumstances. They should be conscious that disagreements over the situation and its causes or solutions could become extreme. To manage that risk, it may be safer for employers to limit what can be discussed in the workplace on the subject if at all.
Early and informal intervention by line managers is the best way to ensure that disagreements between employees are nipped in the bud and don’t escalate. Employers should provide guidance for managers and encourage them to be vigilant for early signs of disagreement between staff over the situation, then intervening as soon as possible when there are signs of conflict and making clear that this is not acceptable.
Employers should also make available other forms of early resolution such as mediation or facilitation by a third party. They should be mindful of the highly charged emotional situation that some employees may be experiencing and show compassion, combined with zero tolerance for unacceptable behaviour.
However, if informal approaches aren’t working or aren’t appropriate, managers shouldn’t shy away from taking formal action. Employees should be reminded of the standards of behaviour expected of them and that complaints of bullying, harassment or discrimination will be investigated fairly and consistently through the grievance procedure with disciplinary action taken where necessary.
The guidance and recommendations in the following list are largely based on UK law and legal definitions. The broader principles and non-legal content however, may continue to be useful as a reference for those outside of the UK.
- Dealing with bullying and workplace conflict: Guide for managers | CIPD
- Guide: Tackling bullying and workplace conflict | CIPD
- Factsheet: Harassment and bullying at work | CIPD
- Topic: Discrimination | CIPD
- UK employment law: Bullying and harassment | CIPD
- UK employment law: Discrimination | CIPD
Supporting worker wellbeing generally
As well as recognising potential risks of conflict between staff, organisations should also understand the wider impact the conflict may have on people’s health and wellbeing across the organisation. Coverage in the media on the tragedies affecting those involved in the conflict could trigger anxiety and stress, which may affect employees’ mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience.
Employers can encourage basic self-care and caution employees from constantly watching the news as this can increase feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
Employers should also focus on the key areas of HR and people management that support wellbeing at work. This means ensuring line managers understand their responsibilities in managing people effectively and supporting their wellbeing by listening and demonstrating empathy and providing flexibility and support where this is needed.
One-to-one and team meetings provide good opportunities for line managers to ask open questions about people’s wellbeing and prompt conversations about the issues people are facing and the support they might need.
Offering support such as an employee assistance programme, counselling, and early referral to occupational health services are also important approaches for supporting people whose mental or physical health may be affected by the crisis or its wider effects.
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