As a Manager, what do you do when a work colleague loses a loved one?
You’re uncomfortable just reading that, aren’t you? I’m uncomfortable writing it.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review* suggests that we need to rethink how we treat one another at work when a loved one dies. In the view of the authors, most Managers simply leave the grieving colleague alone for a few days – without saying much at all – and hope they will soon return to work productively. We are far better at dealing with births, birthdays, or even illnesses than we are with death.
Leaving people alone, the authors suggest, is perhaps the worst thing we can do. We need a better approach to grief, and here are their suggestions for Managers:
*Be Present & Supportive. While other employees who are closer to their friend who has suffered a loss will automatically reach out to offer support, it is important for the Manager to do this as well. Don’t just “leave them alone” because you are not sure what to say. Reach out, offer support, go visit with them or at least make a phone call. All loses are not the same. Find out what support they need from you and do your best to provide it.
*Be Patient. While most workers return to work after a few days or weeks – grief can remain intense for months. This can distract the affected employee and create loss of focus. I know this happened to me after each of my parents died. I very much wanted to be back to “100% Rob” but I knew I was not. This was frustrating to me and perhaps frustrating to some co-workers. People are often self-critical at this stage (I was). Managers need to express their patience and state that they know it takes quite a while to go through the grieving process. Making the employee understand that this is “okay and normal” will be helpful.
*Be Open. In time, the employee will grow more positive and create a new world for themselves without the loved one in their lives. This takes different amounts of time depending on the loss. Managers should continue to check in with the employee even months after the loss, to reinforce that this takes a long time – and that’s okay. If the employee shows signs of hope and a new beginning, then reinforce and encourage that. But don’t push.
We spend more time at work than anything else we do. When dealing with the toughest of human experiences – death of a loved one – we need to support one another as humanly as possible.
*Petriglieri, G. & Maitlis, S. “When a Colleague is Grieving,” Harvard Business Review, July – August 2019, pp. 116 – 123.