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7 Tips for How Managers Can Support Grieving Employees

If you are a manager, know that most of your employees are grieving about something:  death of a loved one, divorce, marital strife, abuse, changes in body image, financial loss, career disappointments, addictions, lack of confidence, health issues, and/or broken dreams.  Sometimes this grief is obvious, but often it is hidden.  Because grief significantly impacts the workplace, you must learn to deal with it.  The following tips provide seven practical strategies you can use when you are AWARE that a staffer is grieving:



If you are a manager, know that most of your employees are grieving about something:  death of a loved one, divorce, marital strife, abuse, changes in body image, financial loss, career disappointments, addictions, lack of confidence, health issues, and/or broken dreams.


 Sometimes this grief is obvious, but often it is hidden.  Because grief significantly impacts the workplace, you must learn to deal with it.  The following tips provide seven practical strategies you can use when you are AWARE that a staffer is grieving:


1.  Acknowledge the loss as soon as you know about it.

Don’t act as if you haven’t heard that Tina’s mother died over the weekend.  Don’t pretend you don’t know Jody’s husband recently lost his job.  Don’t ignore Tom’s cancer diagnosis.  Go to the person and tell him you are sorry this situation has occurred in his life. Say that you believe it must be difficult to accept and manage.  Speak gently but directly.


2. Invite the person to talk with you privately about the loss.

Set aside half an hour for one-on-one conversation about the circumstances surrounding the death, job termination, or health problem.  Let the staffer share feelings and details in whatever way she is comfortable.  Listen with an open heart and mind.  Avoid interrupting.  Whatever you do, don’t take phone calls or respond to emails during this block of time.  Keep it sacred.


3. Ask the individual how you can best support her.

You may think you know how you can show support for the grieving person, but it’s wise to ask.  Your ideas may not mesh with his.  Simply say something like:  “I want to support you during this difficult experience.  Do you have suggestions about how I can best do that?”  Once you hear his thoughts, the two of you can discuss their viability.


4. Extend deadlines for projects if appropriate and possible.

One of the ways you can relieve stress for this person is to adjust due dates for work projects.  If the team, department or organization won’t suffer by extending a deadline for a week or two, consider posing this as an option.  Depending upon the intensity of the grief, you may need to insist that the individual follow your recommendation.  Remember that persons experiencing extreme grief are not really capable of delivering high quality work on time.


5. Offer time off.

Suggest that the grieving person may want to remove herself entirely from the workplace for the next week or two if she has the available leave time.  This depends upon the nature of the loss, of course.  Use your own judgment.  But often it’s beneficial to the individual and to the organization if she takes time for herself to vent strong emotions, make plans, regroup, and figure out how she will move forward with her life.


6. Recognize the person’s competencies and value to the organization.

Grieving people often feel inadequate, broken, and scared.  It’s not unusual for them to lose confidence in themselves.  As a supervisor, you can help by saying something such as:  “I know you are feeling bad right now.  I just want you to know how much I have always valued your leadership capability.  I’m looking forward to seeing you demonstrate those skills again.”  This sort of communique tells him that you still believe in him despite what has happened.


7. Check in with him periodically to let him know you care.

Failing to follow up with a grieving person is a trap managers frequently fall into.  They may offer support at the outset and then completely drop the ball.  Make sure you touch base with the individual perhaps once a week.  You don’t need to launch into a major discussion—especially if he doesn’t want that.  Just be certain that you connect regularly.  This demonstrates empathy, and it’s also an investment in your reputation

In summary, understand that, as a manager, you have an obligation to facilitate the healing process in your employees.  Human beings who sometimes experience loss have been entrusted to you when you choose to hire them.  Further, ensuring organizational productivity is your professional responsibility.  If you aren’t observing enough progress, don’t hesitate to refer that person to your employee assistance program if you have access to one. When your staffers recover their equilibrium and wholeness, everybody wins.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Sylvia Hepler, Owner and President of Launching Lives, LLC, is an executive coach based in South Central PA.  Her ideal clients are persons in management positions:  corporate, nonprofit, and business owners.  Her company mission is to support executives as they solve problems, develop leadership skills, and increase balance in their lives.  Sylvia offers three programs, any of which may overlap depending on client need:  First Class Management Program; Change, Loss, and Grief Program; and Career Development Program.  Her professional background includes:  extensive nonprofit management/leadership, public speaking, business writing, retail sales, and teaching

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