Jan 19, 2021 in Business Coaching

Grief In The Workplace: A Hidden Problem

Communication suddenly changes, people seem to be more passive, a leader seems to retreat or be upset over little things:

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Good leaders will bring the grieving process forward in the organizational milieu and in their own approach to leadership.

Loss in organizations might be a simple as a person who dies, maybe favorite person or favorite boss gets sick, moves or transfers out of your organization. It could be layoffs or a huge change in products or projects and even a project failure. I can just imagine what it was like for carburetor manufacturers when suddenly fuel injection came into the picture and changed so much of the auto industry. Being made redundant or unnecessary can really be a hurt and big loss. With COVID 19 people can miss their friends from work, having coffee with them, hanging out and doing projects together face-to-face.

Make sure you can talk about loss as much as you can without overemphasizing it. Let people have their denial for a while. This is normal and actually healthy. Sometimes groups or people in the organization will collude together to deny the loss. What you can do though, is help them to work that through and actually support each other around the loss by talking about it or symbolizing things that helped them deal with the loss. On the other hand, my mentors company had a case where a group of bankers watched the 9/11 crisis and knew that they had lost loved ones and colleagues in the crash into the Twin Towers in New York City. Trying to fix the problem the CO of that division made everybody go back to work and avoid looking at the buildings burn and taking so many lives. It took several weeks to debrief him and the staff and get them to reconcile. In that case denial was not helpful.

The anger stage of grief might occur indirectly. It could come out with less patience with mistakes or passive aggressive things like showing up to work late or other things that would not directly indicate a person is mad about the loss. Working too much or not really working at all can also be a sign of grief not expressed or processed. People may take out their anger on leadership because they have no other place to put it. Frustration may build-up for what seems like minor issues.

The bargaining stage is where we try to get back some or all of what we have lost and is sometimes a good idea. In organizations this might even be facilitated by leadership and/or grow organically in some way out of the organization and its culture. Here is where creative ideas that even come from anybody in the organization can be really effective

As you move on you may want to create a memorial to the loss such as a poster or pictures, letters and other items that you remind you of the loss whether it's a person or a thing. I know at Argosy University where I worked as a professor, we lost a favorite student counsellor who was highly respected by the students and staff. We put up his pictures and some other items to remind us of him every time we walk by. It was really helpful.

Getting some outside help, especially when the loss is really tough, can bring much relief and help people move forward in the organization. 

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