New Perspectives: Grieving the Loss of What We Considered Normal

Today’s post is the third part of our series on grief in the workplace. Before proceeding, we encourage you to read part one — “Laughing Through Tears: How a Supportive Workplace Helps with Grief” — and part two on “Managing Employees Through Grief.” 
 
According to The Workforce Institute’s recent study — “We Can Fix Work” — most workers say the pandemic made them realize there are more important things in life than work (89%), that they are rethinking the qualities they look for in an employer (70%), and they have increased the expectations they have for how their companies supports them (76%). 
 
During these past three years, we have each lived with uncertainty. We have each been personally traumatized and many of us have lost loved ones or have friends who have. I believe that we are ready for new growth, new thinking, new patterns, and new perspectives. As a society and individuals — and my fellow members of the healthcare industry — this time demands a change of attitude, and we must adapt quickly. Each one of us has experienced grief, and the science and lessons learned about grief are critical to the management of all employees. 
 
We know that employees want to work for organizations where their contribution can make a difference — and leaders must now lay the foundation for retaining their staff, attracting the next generation of talent, and helping their employees who are grieving. Grieving is personal and unique for each one of us. In no way am I comparing the grief one experiences with another. Managers today must be sensitive to the experience and situation for each of their employees. 
 
In their book, “On Grief and Grieving,” authors Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler describe how one of the most crucial experiences an employer can have with their employee is in discussing the loss of a loved one. The employee will remember how this was handled — not the policy that was executed. Managers represent their organizations, and their demonstration of support is a signal of how caring the organizations are. We also know that grieving does not occur in a linear fashion and grieving individuals may progress or regress in their healing over time. 
 
Harvard Business Review published an article that describes what a manager can do to best help their grieving worker. I chose these simple messages that are essential behaviors for managers when considering how to best help their grieving workers. But also, for good management and daily work. 

1) Be present. Employees remember the simple things managers do. Listen and let the employee take the lead. Routinely touch base with a phone call, text, note, or whatever seems comfortable to both parties. 

2) Be patient. Give the employee the time they need. Acknowledge the employee’s loss, but do not make demands. Be aware that, often, grief impacts an employee’s energy and focus. This is normal after a significant loss, and it may take time for the employee’s productivity to return. 
 
3) Be open. Be flexible to allow different work patterns and hybrid work, if this is what the grieving employee desires. The grieving employee will be experiencing self-reflection and growth as they begin to live fully with the loss. They may develop new interests and new supports. Communicate freely and personally. Engage in expressions of compassion. 
 
In addition to managers showing support at the frontline level, organizations should offer resources for their employees. This care can take many forms, from offering benefits such as an employee assistance program (EAP) to an employee resource group (ERG). We have nine ERGs at UKG, including one known as CARES that is an expanded community built to support employees (including caregivers) who are impacted by cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic health conditions, so they don’t have to feel alone in the fight. Offering resources such as ERGs shows employees that they are not alone and that the company is wholly invested in their physical and mental wellbeing. 
 
There is a great deal of science on the grieving process. More than ever before, managers and organizations must adapt this science and apply their own artistic expressions to support their employees. This attention to employee grief will improve the entire organization and, at the same time, support and nurture employees on their journeys to bring their best selves to work. 
 
Supporting Resources