Seasons of Grieving at Work
The graduation season is upon us, and that means a lot of celebrations and joyful moments of looking forward with hope to the future. There’s also a fair amount of loss that comes with graduations that can bring moments of tears and grief. This got me thinking about how grief plays out at work.
Times of transition often bring hope and celebration, but they also often bring a bit of sorrow. Teams that work best together can understand and respect each other’s perspectives, and can have open and honest conversations about what’s going on.
Super excited for that team member who just got a promotion?
Awesome, there’s a great future ahead! Be aware, that individual may be very excited, and at the same time, they may also be grieving the loss of the role they knew they were good at. Going from being great at something you’ve done for a while to being brand new at a new role is scary, and many people need some time to process the loss of the comfort zone. They may also be moving from one team to another, and even if the new team is a great opportunity, the goodbye’s to the prior team can be sad.
Looking forward to the move to that slick new technology?
Great! There are so many great features that we’ll be able to capitalize on from this new tech, and, in the long run, it will make things so much easier for our customers and our own internal team. It’s a win-win. And yet, at that same time, the team who helped select or design or implement or build that legacy system may feel that sadness as we move away from that era. They may be grieving the loss of that system like it was an old friend, or mourning the passing of a pet project or something they’d created. Letting go of the familiar can be hard.
Thrilled to be implementing a new process improvement?
Good for you! The new process will be cleaner, faster, more effective, and overall better for everyone involved. And somewhere inside, the team who is going to adopt this new process knows that. But it’s likely they also know there’s a lot of work ahead. The familiar is being taken away, and the heavy lifting of designing a new process and making it work is, well, a lot of work, and there may be grief at the loss of the former (perhaps even easier) way of doing things.
Chomping at the bit to get back into the office?
Outstanding! Human interaction is coming back in a new way after the past 14 very challenging and isolated months. And you may be working with folks who want to get back into a groove with you. At the same time, they may also be grieving the loss of this new normal they’d created - the commute that only involved a few steps down the hallway, the morning coffee break where they had a chance to check in on a family member or pet, the view out their bedroom window while they worked, the relative safety of being in a space by themselves most of the day or week.
These are just a handful of examples for your consideration - places where what seems like it could bring joy may also bring some sadness.
So what do you do about it?
Here are a couple of quick reminders of how to co-create a helpful space for grief:
Listen.Close your mouth, open your ears, put away your phone, and just listen to that person, what they’re saying, and what they need you to hear.
Sit with them.
Whether you can do this in person or virtually, the idea here is to show them they are not alone. Be present in their moment; you may not even need to speak, just be present.
Look for ways to help them process their grief.
Spending time outdoors or in nature, engaging in creative activities (creating art, music, writing), and participating in things that help others are commonly recommended tactical ways to work through grief.
Don’t lose sight of routine and wellness.
Encouraging healthy eating habits, healthy sleeping habits, and routines that encourage emotional and physical wellness can be useful here. Many organizations offer corporate wellness programs or fitness drives that can help keep that routine afloat.
Seek out experts when needed.
Many of these scenarios play out daily or nearly daily in corporate America, and many employees have the tools they need to process through their grief. But, if you’re working with someone who doesn’t have those tools, programs such as corporate chaplains or Employee Assistance Programs offer resources to help when someone is in grief over their head.
Regardless of which tactical tip you take, one important theme to keep top of mind is to avoid judgment. Just because you might have processed this particular moment differently than they have doesn’t make them bad or less than you, it just makes them different. And that’s a good thing! Our differences are what makes it so great when we work together.