Friday, March 27, 2015

Handling Grief In the Workplace

This piece originally appeared on LinkedIN.

Today on LinkedIn, I clicked on a seemingly kind and lovely blog post one of my connections shared, “16 Signs You Have an Awesome Dad.” I did it because I don’t have an awesome dad. I had one. He died when I was eight. Innocuous posts like these can turn an average day into a flood of memories and emotion. Even thirty years later, little things hang around my world threatening to floor me at any moment. At work, most of the time you just have to breathe and move on. But that doesn't make it go away.
1 in 20 children lose a parent before adulthood. 800,000 Americans are widowed each year. Grieving people are everywhere, including at your workplace. Chances are you passed one in the hallway today. They don’t wear badges or signs. Often they won’t discuss this at work, ever. I know I certainly always avoided the topic.
So what does this have to do with your leadership and your EQ?
Everyone has something going on, including your best team members. Your highest performers rarely share life drama with managers. They simply “handle it” outside of work and move on. They aren’t the ones asking you for a box of Kleenex.
I was at an offsite where a dear friend and colleague received word that his father was dying. From that day, I remember the sun, the one particularly good speaker, and the gorgeous venue. Most of all, I remember my friend’s face when he thought no one was looking. After some prompting he left the offsite to be with his father. Luckily, some close colleagues encouraged him not to wait for an "appropriate exit time." Work could and should wait.
It left me wondering if the host of the offsite ever called him to offer support. I choose to believe so. When my friend came back to work, he picked up as if he’d been on vacation. He only shared with the few of us lucky enough to be considered his close friends. Those must have been some very lonely, difficult days. In that first year, every time someone talked about spending holidays with family or parents coming to visit, he was remembering that he was without.
The only way to help people through rough moments is to develop our Emotional Intelligence. Great people like Daniel GolemanTravis Bradberry and Joshua Freedman are experts in this. One of the main competencies in the Six Seconds EQ model is to “Give Yourself.” And that’s precisely how to help the grieving at work.
How Do You Support Someone Who Isn’t Asking for Anything?
  1. Use Your Non- Standard HR Data – Often, companies grant funeral leave and/or send flowers to funerals. Use this info. Reach out to the people who coordinate these programs and ask for notification when someone in your organization makes use of them. When the person returns, send them a note offering condolences and help. Even if the person never turns to you for help, they will always remember that you were thinking of them.
  2. Include Grief Awareness in Manager Training – Like all people, managers deal directly with grieving employees. They may be afraid to say or do the wrong thing. If nothing else, remind them that their silence speaks louder than any awkward turn of phrase. Consider partnering with a local grief counseling organization for customized help crafting your training. Jeff Haden wrote a great piece about this for Inc.
  3. Be Vulnerable - Remember that everyone, even the people who never complain, experience challenges outside of work. Share your own challenges as appropriate – teams need to see their leaders as being human. Just like they are. Sharing vulnerability is a great way to remain compassionate especially during stressful times.
How have you reached out to employees through rough times? Please share them in the comments.
Thanks for reading.

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