January 29

Grief and Compassion at Work

Management

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We’re going to take a slight detour this week in our series on advocating for employees. Today, I want to talk about having compassion in the workplace. As a manager, it’s important to recognize that our employees are first and foremost humans. When difficult things happen in people’s lives, it’s often how we respond as a manager that makes or breaks our relationship with employees. Responding with compassion essential for all managers.

This is top of mind for me this week, as I have grappled with the loss of our family dog, Snoopy. Since starting to work from home last March, Snoopy has been my constant companion. He slept by my side all day long. He followed me wherever I went in our house. Everyday at 3:30 he demanded his dinner – letting my co-workers on Zoom know it was time to be fed. You really don’t mess with a Beagle and his dinner time! It’s been a difficult week adjusting and I deeply miss his constant presence. 

These types of events happen to everyone – some on a smaller scale and some heavier like the loss of a loved one. As much as we would like to think that we keep personal and work life separate, the fact of the matter is that when tragedy strikes, it’s nearly impossible. Instead, I find it more useful to acknowledge our human-ness. To allow people the room they need to grieve. 

What Not To Do

I think back to one particular event in my career, that really emphasized how critical it is to show compassion when loss occurs in the workplace. At one point in my career, one of my co-workers chose to end his life. In this small town, the news of his death spread like wildfire. It was horrific. We all loved him. He was frequently the best part of any meeting because he brought light and humor to work everyday. He worked hard, he laughed hard, and he cared about people. What we didn’t see was the darkness that was smothering him underneath. When it became too much for him to bear, he decided to end it all. Our entire department felt crushed.

The department leadership handled the loss so horribly. Good leadership would bring the department together to grieve, celebrate his life, and remember him. They would offer grief counseling to those who needed it. They’d give people the space they needed to process the loss. 

Instead, donuts and juice showed up the next day. Management sent an email encouraging everyone to get the project we were working on done. Only his immediate team members were offered grief counseling – as if the rest of us didn’t interact with him everyday. So we muddled through processing our loss; trying to find our own way to honor his memory. 

What To Do, Instead

Divine Light Light Clouds Sunlight  - Waldo93 / Pixabay

Don’t be this kind of manager. Responding with compassion is essential. People face difficult things in their everyday life. You may not see it on the outside, but it often lurks just below the surface. Be kind. Offer a day off (or a week or however long is needed) to grieve. Recognize when an easy day at work is the best medicine. Offer your support. Be a shoulder to cry on. Remind people it’s ok to not be at your best right now.

Most importantly, give people the space and time they need to feel.

Trust me, your kindness and compassion won’t soon be forgotten.

Resources

Here are some helpful articles that offer some good advice on how to handle grief at work.

Modernloss.com – How to Handle and Help with Workplace Grief

McKinsey.com – Your Organization is Grieving – Here’s How You Can Help

Fastcompany.com – What I’ve Learned About Coping with Grief at Work

Next post, we’ll continue our series on advocating for employees: Advocating for Employees and Storytelling. We’ll explore how to advocate for an overworked team by asking for additional employees.

Until Next time, 

Renee

We’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to share a story or have a question, reach out to me here.


Tags

compassion, grief, loss, manager, manager mentor


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