Employee resilience. I’m not sure how many HR leaders had this term on their radar when they decided to go into the field. But enter a global pandemic and everything’s changed, including HR’s role, one that has morphed into confidante and crisis manager. We’ve all heard the statistics around COVID exhaustion, employee stress, mental health, and well-being—and they aren’t great. Add in a global conflict in war-torn Ukraine, and you’ll understand how Kyiv-based Nataliia Petleva, people and transformation officer for SkyUp Airlines, feels on a daily basis. Earlier this month, I had the privilege to speak with Petleva about leading employees through crisis during a one-on-one interview at the HRO Today Forum EMEA in Athens, Greece.
Petleva has more than a decade of experience leading international and Ukrainian companies. In her current role, she literally built HR from the ground up for SkyUp, a four-year-old airline based in the Ukraine. She has focused much of her time on developing company culture, instituting performance management, rethinking organizational design, and implementing leadership development.
But now, Petleva’s focus is on pivoting with the new business model and ensuring the safety and well-being of employees.
“The first month of the war was shocking,” she recalled. “We were in touch with our team, but the business had to be stopped for the first several weeks of the war. A lot of our employees were forced to leave their homes because they were afraid for their families’ lives. Another part of employees gathered to join the Ukrainian Army.”
Due to the war, civil flights are no longer permitted so SkyUp is aiding with cargo flights, leasing out aircrafts and crew to other airlines, and humanitarian efforts. The transition has been eased due to their experience overseeing remote work driven by the pandemic.
The company’s 2021 work on their values development has also had a positive impact during this challenging time. Petleva says they are core in all of their decision-making. They include:
- “Challenge accepted;”
- “Energy and love;”
- “Keep costs low;”
- “Work responsibly;” and
- “Play together.”
“Certainly, all these values are good for a peaceful time,” said Petleva, “But as you may see, they also fit in critical situations. We keep our energy, we never lose the sense for what we are doing, we aim to be efficient and act as a team. There are a lot of companies that have mission and values on their sites, but not in their hearts. For us, the values are our basis for every step and decision. It’s the main reason why we are surviving even during the war.”
In addition, the company has helped moved employees into safer areas to work remotely and also provides a bomb shelter close to its headquarters for onsite workers. For mental health and well-being, employees have access to online sessions with a psychologist to help manage stress.
This is HR’s work at its finest.
Until next time,