Few things are as powerful as the change which occurs when one experiences a loss. Loss is a part of life, we gain, we build relationships and we ‘have’ what we value and trust. When that is taken away, a loss is suffered and each situation is unique.
Every person grieves differently, and the grief of loss does not take a holiday from the workplace, yet it is vital we are sensitive to it especially when it involves a death. More often than not, companies expect a grieving employee to get back to how things were before the loss. Leaders can fail to recognize the signs of a person experiencing sorrow and the changes that go along with it. Knowing what to do for a person who has suffered a death in the family is not always easy, but having compassion and empathy for their grieving is vital to supporting them in the workplace.
A lot of introspection and personal feelings evolve as one journeys through the 7 stages of loss described below:
Shock- denial | pain- guilt | anger- bargaining | depression-reflection-loneliness | upward turn | reconstruction | acceptance-hope.
And with these stages, behaviour not typical to that employee may emerge. The fact that companies tend to “go on like usual” coupled with the fact we live in a society that denies and tries to ignore the topic of death, the grieving person can find themselves feeling abandoned and without a life-line during their work day. Great employees who are asked to leave their emotions at the door, who are not encouraged to take advantage of the benefits afforded them for time off and who are given little support tend to feel like their time at the company has come to a close. When this happens, it forces yet another loss onto their already burdened life, not to mention that their valued knowledge is at risk of leaving your organization.
Here are a few ways to support a grieving employee, work-companion or business partner:
1. Encourage them to take the full benefit afforded them for time-off for a death in the family. After this time off, consider being creatively flexible in how they work, when they work and find a solution that works for both of you.
2. Talk about it, not just a quick “sorry for your loss” but truly let them honour how they are feeling by listening to their story, even if you’ve heard it before. Phrases like; “What happened?” “Is there anything I can do?” “What do you need from me at this time?” “How can I support you?” lets the individual know they mean something to you, that their loss is important to deal with and they have a story which needs to be told.
3. Be Sensitive, waves of emotion will wash over someone who is grieving, pay close attention and give them a short break, walk, or chance to go grab a coffee – it may be all they need in that moment. They may be seen talking with a close friend or co-worker to get through the moment, reprimanding either one of them because they are not working will make things worse, not better.
4. Be flexible, there are a lot of plans loved ones need to take care of over the months following a loss which cannot be accomplished during off-hours. Legal, banking, grave-site follow-up and other tasks will emerge after the death. Flexibility with hours or days off will enable the grieving individual to more easily accomplish the added burdens.
5. Make support a team effort, ensure that everyone involved with this employee understands just what support is to look like. From HR to co-workers, be clear on what kind of support you expect this employee to receive and ensure your team lets this individual know they are valued and understood. Assign a sensitive go-to person in the HR department to help make the arrangements and be clear that a break from usual policy may be required in this case.
6. Ask questions, find out if this employee needs anything, what they are facing now, is there anything they need to take care of outside of work – they may feel they have to act strong in order not to risk their job, you guiding the conversation lets them know you genuinely wish to help.
7. Provide a backup, set someone into the role of ‘backup’ for the individual, so when the individual finds themselves having to deal with a lawyer, accountant, bank or executor; a co-worker is there to help get the work done. Closely monitor this one, and make certain you are always being made aware of when the employee has made arrangements to leave.
A great worker who suffers a loss is likely to suffer a few performance issues at the start. Have no fear they’ve lost their edge or no longer care to perform. Most people return to the same work ethic, values and performance they did prior to the loss, they simply need time to grieve and to know that their work-family is there for them. Pay attention to cues as to whether they are hiding their grief and ask if they are on any sedatives or medication, and then adjust their work accordingly.
Avoiding the topic of death is the wrong move, get engaged, get involved and find creative and positive ways to support your employee or co-worker as they travel this journey through grief and loss. You may just be the light they need to get through the dark, model that for others and create a culture that knows how to handle death and loss with sensitivity and support.
Taking and Making Time For Each Other
One of the common complaints I hear when counseling couples is the inability to navigate successfully between careers and relationships. Today many young couples both must work outside the home to satisfy family financial obligations. This can place a great deal of stress on the family unit.
Questions like “How do I find ‘me’ time, or how do we get ‘our’ time?” are often voiced. Certainly these are legitimate concerns and should be resolved to keep relationships running smoothly. Healthy couple relationships thrive on time spent together.
I often tell my couples, “One day your children will get married or leave the nest and start on their own journey. And one day you might be lucky enough to retire from your jobs, leaving hours of time to fill.”
If a couple hasn’t planned for these two critical situations, things could turn disastrous and they could find themselves living together as strangers.
Recently I counseled a couple and the chief complaint was the wife didn’t feel she was a priority in her husband’s life. He was consumed by his career and she felt he didn’t have much time for her or their relationship.
As a point of interest, this couple also had difficulty finding time to come to counseling to resolve their marital conflicts, although they both admitted their marriage desperately needed help.
What did I tell them about balancing work and their relationship effectively?
To start, it’s no surprise that making a relationship work, and work well, should claim priority status. Simply recognizing this unconditional “rule” will give it the attention it deserves.
Secondly, negotiate a life together while planning and scheduling specific times to connect. This might cause one partner to give more than the other, and something may have to go to make togetherness a priority. Do you really need that third job? How important is it to have a sports car if there is no time to go for a ride?
Finally, evaluate your finances – really look at your income and outgo. What can be carved out to lessen financial stress? Do the kids really need the latest iPad? Just how many extracurricular activities can your kids handle? And how many expensive Starbucks coffees are on your weekly menu? Saving money can be easy if you do an accounting of where it really goes. Knowledge is a good thing.
Balancing work and your personal life is not only necessary for making your relationship a lasting one, but also for your own health. Stress is a physical and emotional killer; don’t let it get you!
Taking breaks and vacation time from work does wonders to develop a healthy state of mind. Remember the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
More importantly, taking and making time for the love of your life will bring countless rewards that will last a lifetime.