Supporting Employees Through the Tough Stuff

The thought of team members experiencing personal tragedy, loss or difficult life changes isn’t something most of us like to dwell on. Whether it’s the loss of a family member or co-worker, or the death of a well-loved pet, though we don’t like to think about it, the reality is that tragedies happen.

Losses and grief felt by our colleagues and team members can have a ripple effect on the entire workplace.”

Most of us spend more time with our coworkers than our families, and in many organizations, work relationships cross over into real-life friendships. This often means the losses and grief felt by our colleagues and team members can have a ripple effect on the entire workplace.

Feeling awkward and like you’ll say or do the wrong thing is a normal response to a team member’s grief. It can certainly be hard to know how best to support employees when they’re going through the tough stuff, but there are concrete, practical steps you can take to support employees who are grieving or experiencing a loss.

1. Find the balance. Supporting your team through personal tragedies can be a tricky balance. As with any situation, a one-size-fits-all approach to offering support won’t fit everyone. Some people may view work as an escape from reality, and welcome the distraction of getting absorbed in the task at hand. Others may need to process, show emotion, and talk about what has happened. Respect individual needs and, if you’re not sure what is best, initiate a conversation about how to best support them.

2. Bring in an expert. Especially in cases where the entire team may be affected, bringing in some expert support can be the right move. When tragic or shocking events happen, act quickly and bring a grief or trauma counsellor on site as soon as possible to offer an ear to employees who need to talk.

3. Be respectful. If a tragedy affects the entire business (For example, the unexpected passing of a team member), be respectful, and consider the optics of your public and social media presence. Cancel sales, promotions and social media posts if you’ve scheduled them in advance. Shouting out on Facebook about your 20% off deal is inappropriate when half your workforce is in mourning mode.

4. Offer practical care. Have an adequate supply of tissues and tea on hand. Set up a quiet space designated for mini-escapes throughout the work day. People often neglect self-care when they’re going through a difficult experience, and proper nutrition often falls by the wayside. Offer up healthy but comforting snacks – low blood sugar makes everything feel less manageable!

5. Ease up on expectations. When team members are dealing with personal issues or going through a grieving process, it’s likely to impact their work. They’re likely going to be distracted, exhausted, and emotional. Work with them to set reasonable expectations to reduce stress and help them cope, and think about offering the option to telecommute or flex their hours. Consider re-distributing some of their work load and removing them from high-stress tasks for a while, until they’ve had a chance to readjust.

6. Look at your benefits. If you haven’t got one already, consider putting an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place. An EAP is one way to ensure employees feel looked after and cared for by their employer in tough times by providing employees with strategies and supports to reduce the impact of personal tragedies. The returns for the employer? An EAP can bolster mental health, support resilience, boost loyalty, and help maintain a productive working environment.

Your Engaged Assignment: The one certainty is that life will throw curve balls. If an employee experienced a major loss tomorrow, are you prepared with the policies and tools to help support them in the best way possible? Do you have a time away policy that clearly outlines the leaves and supports you offer for bereavement and compassionate care?

If not, now is the time to get prepared – start by printing out this list for reference, and thinking through how implementation of these steps would look in your organization. And if you need support on the tough stuff, we’re here.