Help your employees deal with grief
Monday, April 02, 2018
It's a common scenario, unfortunately. One of the best members of your team suffers the loss of a spouse, parent, sibling or child. Corporations, of course, allow for some bereavement time, but experts say the process of working through the initial stages of grief can last on average between six months and a year, and in some cases even longer.
How do you handle it if this employee breaks down in tears in a meeting? What if his work is temporarily not up to par? How can you best encourage your staff to show compassion and support for her at this difficult time?
Here are five compassionate strategies for helping your workers cope emotionally as they navigate their duties as productively as possible through a profoundly difficult time.
1. Send condolences
First, it's a must to send appropriate condolences to your employee in the early days of her initial bereavement. This means a heartfelt sympathy card and flowers sent on behalf of your entire staff. Your employees should also be allowed and encouraged to express their individual sympathy as well.
If a wake and/or funeral is open to the public, attending these services is a strong and supportive gesture you and your employees can also make to show care and respect.
2. Have a productive face-to-face
The day your employee returns to work, ask him to sit down with you in your office. Express your condolences with sensitivity, and express your sincere desire to support him as he re-acclimates to the workplace.
Ask him directly what he needs. Is it a gradual re-entry into his responsibilities? If so, delegate some of his project work temporarily. Is it more time off? Work with him to see if personal days or vacation time could be used for this purpose.
Listen to what he tells you, and let him know you are here to make things as easy as possible. The Society For Human Resource Management has published some helpful information regarding respite time for grieving workers.
3. Implement a kindness policy
Encourage your staff to show compassion and offer assistance openly to this employee — and let everyone know this policy will apply to anyone dealing with a loss in the future as well. Grieving professionals repeatedly report in studies that compassion shown by co-workers has a powerful effect on their psyche as they heal, and lets them feel supported so they are as productive as possible. Two interesting pieces of research touch on this concept.
Your employee may become emotional at times during her workday, maybe even crying openly because she can't help herself. Never judge this understandable behavior — instead, let her know it's perfectly fine to excuse herself for a short time whenever she needs to. Encourage her co-workers to lend her a hand with supportive words whenever they think she's struggling, too.
4. Double-check without judgment
Take the time to follow up on your employee's work to make sure there are no major mistakes (there will probably be minor ones), but don't make a big deal out of doing so. If bigger mistakes happen, reassure your employee that you understand this is a temporary situation, and assign a second worker or workers to kindly help him with tasks. This technique can quickly get him back on track without any awkwardness.
5. Praise her strength
Grieving people can use all the positive feedback you can provide. Don't hold back on a compliment as to how well she handled a presentation — this will give her confidence as she tackles her next task. At the same time, don't overdo your praise — your employee doesn't want to feel singled out as "the griever" in your office who needs to be handled with kid gloves.
Treat her kindly but normally. You'll be helping her feel more like herself, so she can concentrate well, accomplish more and continue to feel better.
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