Not When Employees Are Grieving
By Karla Wheeler
In offices across the nation, loss through
death is dimming the brightness of the upcoming holidays, especially
in close-knit departments where an employee has recently died. But
there are practical steps managers can consider to help boost morale
and keep productivity from plummeting.
Choose Rituals Wisely:
First, decide which holiday departmental rituals and customs feel
right and which ones seem too stressful. Some traditions, such as a
couples’ dinner and dance event at the same country club where
everyone has partied for years, might seem like a downer for the
group. Fun-loving Marianne will be missed big-time, and you know her
newly bereaved husband would be uncomfortable attending solo. With a
specific budget to adhere to, ask employees for alternative
suggestions, perhaps an event held on a Saturday or Sunday
afternoon, with parents and children invited. That way, Marianne’s
husband and four kids could be encouraged to attend. Lots of the
kids already know each other, and the afternoon’s activities could
all revolve around the kids – bounce house, Santa, toy exchange.
Staffers could plan and implement the day’s activities. The
camaraderie would be healing for everyone, especially Marianne’s
family. And by being willing to begin a new holiday office
tradition, your staff will feel like they are actively engaged in
providing grief support to Marianne’s loved ones. That loving
outreach will go a long way in healing their own sense of loss.
Gifts In Her Memory:
Rather than the timeworn gift exchange among employees, invite your
staff to consider giving a gift to a cause or charity that seemed
particularly important to Marianne. For example, if she was an
animal lover, you might choose the local animal shelter or humane
society. Have everyone bring in a wrapped gift for a dog or cat.
Then at the Christmas kids’ party, present the bag of gifts to
Marianne’s family and suggest they visit the shelter one day so they
can brighten the holidays for abandoned or orphaned pets. Her family
will be touched by your selfless caring, and your staff will be
grateful to know they’ve participated in such a meaningful gift
project. Compassionate initiatives like donating to a charity help
employees work through their grief process.
The Empty Chair:
At one of December’s staff meetings, perhaps the one where everyone
hands in their gifts for needy pets, go ahead and leave Marianne’s
chair in its usual spot. Everyone is feeling the impact of the empty
chair, so why not take time to acknowledge this loss? As each
employee gets up to put their gift onto Marianne’s chair, encourage
them to say something about Marianne, if they are comfortable doing
so. For instance, they might share a fond or funny remembrance –
personal or professional – or tell the group one of Marianne’s
favorite jokes. They might want to share feelings of gratitude for
having had her in their daily lives. Or, perhaps a co-worker will
want to express some of the many reasons she misses her pal
Marianne. There are no right or wrong things to say. Validate each
person’s approach, and reaffirm that together you will all get
through this time of sadness.
Grief Is A Process, Not An Event:
As a manager, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that
each of us heals from a major loss in our own way and on our own
timetable. Camaraderie and support can be powerful healers within an
office. But while one worker might have deep faith from which to
draw to sustain him, another might find Marianne’s death has rocked
her to the core. Be aware of triggers that can bring on a grief
attack – a longtime customer calling to wish Marianne happy holidays
and needing to be told of her recent passing. Try to be gentle and
honor where each employee is in their journey through grief.
Grief Support Meetings:
If the emotional trauma of Marianne’s death is adversely affecting
productivity in certain employees, suggest that they attend grief
support meetings. Most hospices nationwide offer free bereavement
meetings afternoons and evenings to anyone in the community who
Receive The Joy:
Even when a recent death has turned our work world upside down, it’s
okay to enjoy the treats and treasures of the holiday season. When
we’re mourning, we sometimes feel guilty about laughing and having a
good time. So give yourself – and your staff – permission to
experience those moments of joy. In so doing, you will be honoring
the memory of Marianne in beautiful ways.
Can the holidays truly be happy when we
are newly bereaved? Can employee morale and productivity find their
way back to previous levels? Yes, if we remember to choose rituals
wisely; find creative ways to buy gifts that help others; honor the
reality of the empty chair; remember that grief is a process, not an
event; suggest grief support meetings; and decide to be open to the
joys of the season.
Read other articles and learn more
about Karla Wheeler.
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