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Network News • 12-05-2022

Solidarity, mental stress and inflation

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner PKF Malta
Published on Business Today: 12th May 2022

It is a surreal feeling for most Europeans that after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and with mask rules easing, many people’s hopes that life would return to normal have been dashed. That thread of hope was snapped when Russian troops attacked Ukraine on 24 February, sparking fears of a global conflict with overtones of a nuclear fallout.

Another major source of worry for economists is the spike in oil, gas and cereal prices, which has been a key driver of inflation this year owing to narrow supplies and soaring demand.  This inflation malady is now being amplified by the Ukraine war. Recently, Brent hit $119.84 a barrel for the first time since early 2012.  This will fan the prices of fuel at the pumps although Malta has allocated a sum of €200 million to subsidise the rise in costs.

Locally, we have relatives with Ukraine connections and the general feeling is of disgust when we daily watch the horror, atrocities of massive shelling of homes in this unprovoked Russian invasion. To the rescue, the European Commission said it was proposing a temporary directive that would allow people fleeing the war to get a temporary residence and work permit in the EU. Pain, sadness and confusion have swept across the social media, with people expressing shock and frustration at the unfolding crisis and mounting casualty count. Many felt powerless to help.

PKF in conjunction with other European offices is gearing its appeal to members to provide assistance.  This consists of free hotel accommodation to refugees in various European hotels. So far more than thirteen million people have fled the country – mostly women, often with their children, occasionally also with grandparents. They are traumatised, they are tired, they fear for their family members left behind - men of fighting age who gallantly took up arms against this Russian aggression. Refugees feel helpless, and are hoping others will help them settle away from the war zone.

The UN Refugee Agency has projected that more than four million Ukrainian refugees may eventually need protection and assistance, while the European Union’s crisis management commissioner has said the figure could reach a higher figure.  PKF with offices in Europe that operate in hospitality consulting are gearing themselves to offer free accommodation in hotels and other suitable shelters. A scheme to locate free accommodation in Budapest hotels is underway and one hopes that other initiatives in Poland, Moldavia, Slovakia and the Baltic states will follow.

Obviously, this sad war has locally elevated mental problems in an unprecedented way - such that Lynn Sammut, manager of psychological support services at the Richmond Foundation, said that the OLLI chat started receiving requests for support from people in Ukraine.  OLLI is a free, 24/7 emotional support chat service that affords users full anonymity.  She said that they were also receiving requests for support from Ukrainians in Malta who are worried about their loved ones fighting the Russians.  Furthermore, the foundation is also monitoring social media and is noticing increases in anxiety levels amongst Maltese who are uncertain about the local repercussions of the war.

Ideally, in Malta all workers are comforted by a statement issued by employers which reads:  “We’re conscious of the fact that this tragedy might be impacting people in different ways throughout our company, and we want you to know that it’s OK to talk about this”.

Ultimately, this creates a space for conversation, and employees can feel comfortable voicing their concerns (especially if they are personally unaffected by the crisis) so that the doors are opened for action such as forming a team to collect used clothes, tinned food and raising money. This war creates tension and mental health specialists advise employees to avoid a “doom scroll” effect arising out of a fixation on monitoring negative news of an ongoing crisis.  An antidote is essentially a coping mechanism where staff try to gain control over a situation by getting as much information as they can.

Experts warn us that “doom scrolling” can be especially draining when people can’t channel the information into direct action. In brief, what can employers do to assist workers at risk of mental illness caused by pressures at work combined with the vagaries of a Ukraine tragedy.  Certainly, a temporary blockage of the news about the Russian aggression is hard to justify but only thus can the smoothing of the trauma impacting us, prevail. It goes without saying that productivity in Malta will suffer as workers feel distressed watching daily TV broadcasts of the war in Ukraine.

This is not to mention a barrage of accusations by the Opposition party drumming about alleged corruption, sleaze and cronyism in political circles. Such negative barrage started raiding the airwaves ever since the calling of a snap election on 26 March.

Inevitably, this has put many voters on edge. Back to the war, as a neutral island, we feel obliged not to mediate to end the atrocities. We watch our TV’s news reporting the suffering of thousands fleeing the Russian invasion while untrained males are forced to take to arms.

Really and truly, the West has acted in unison. It showered multiple sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banks while large oil companies like BP severed their investment holdings with Gasprom.  Even international sporting events were cancelled if they were planned to occur in Russia or Belarus.

When asked, the Malta government at first said it was to continue allowing access to Russian or Belarus applicants of its golden passport scheme but the next day – under scrutiny from EU Parliament, it blocked it.  Be that as it may, life in Malta goes on and one has to grin and bear it.  A text book solution to fight mental fatigue is to support employees experiencing real challenges by showing compassion.

Ideally, one creates a psychologically safe environment for staff to discuss what they’re experiencing.  Encourage workplace conversations about real-world issues affecting employees to strengthen your company’s culture and help workers feel supported.  As always, set clear ground rules for civil discourse at work.  Use check-ins and conversations that may arise about the conflict as opportunities to share your firm’s mental health benefits.

Really and truly, it has been heartening to see so many global political leaders adopting a sense of urgency and taking decisions to try and alleviate the plight of brave Ukrainians.

In conclusion, one hopes that the visit by Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament to Kyiv will ignite a flicker of hope that Russian/Belarus armed troops will start returning home.

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner PKF Malta
Published on Business Today: 12th May 2022
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