I have not written a blog since my father died in mid-November. My mother died in 1995. It is a strange feeling to have both parents gone. I thought I was prepared for this, but I’m finding out I was not.
This blog is about grieving and offers suggestions to help employers understand the grieving process that their employees may experience after the death of a loved one. Life and work do not return to “normal” immediately following a funeral. I will explore two aspects of the grieving process and give suggestions on how employers can respond compassionately. I am focusing on the death of a parent, but these suggestions apply to the death of any loved one in an employee’s life.
The emotions that surface after the death of a parent can be overwhelming. Questions surface from deep within – Did I love my father enough? Why wasn’t I with him more? Why did I have to argue with him so much? What if . . .? Did I . . ? The questions can surface at any time, and when they do, your mind immediately shifts to pursuing the answers to the questions. It can happen while in a business meeting, working on a project, walking, eating lunch, or before going to bed. The questions take an emotional toll. There are episodes of crying sometimes when least expecting it, and the feeling of being out of sorts and unable to focus on the task on hand.
If you are a manager or supervisor, and one of your staff members has suffered a death of a loved one, be ready to recognize these behaviors. When you do, here are several compassionate responses to take:
- Act compassionately by simply asking what you can do to support the employee during this time.
- Instead of asking, “How are you?” ask “How are you TODAY?”
- Offer time to just listen and be present. You don’t have to solve problems; just listen and be present.
The to do list.
If the emotional stuff isn’t enough, the employee may have a “to do list” that can also be overwhelming. After the funeral or memorial is when the “to do list” gets longer, especially if the employee is the Executor of the loved one’s estate. As Executor of my father’s estate, I had to suspend my coaching and consulting business for several weeks. I had a new job – handling my father’s estate. Luckily, I was in position to do that. The work can be daunting for a full-time employee. I have experienced everything from cleaning out my father’s apartment, to handling his mail and bills, beginning the process of liquidating his investments, making numerous phone calls, keeping track of correspondence, etc. And there is grieving in the midst of it all.
Expecting employees to resume their normal work schedule immediately after the funeral is sometimes not practical nor even possible. As a manager or supervisor, here are several compassionate responses to take:
- You may need to offer some flexibility to a grieving employee. Some of the follow-up work can only be done during the work day and it has to be done.
- Be open to talking with the employee in offering support to provide flexibility with their schedule.
- If the employee needs private space for confidential phone calls, make arrangements to provide it the best you can.
- Be observant of the employee’s health. Be compassionate if the employee looks tired and agitated.
I offer workshops on what is compassion and how to be compassionate in the workplace when an employee’s loved one dies, or when there are other types of suffering that occurs in one’s life. Being compassionate is to be attentive to someone’s suffering. But it requires more, which is action such as listening, offering comfort, and support. The death of a loved one is part of the human experience. How we respond to others during their time of grief can make all the difference in our working relationships.