The last few weeks, I’ve been talking about grief I the workplace. I’m delighted to have another expert weigh in the topic: Mark Griffin, of In His Name HR. For more information about how you can support a grieving co-worker, watch this video.
Tell us about your role at In HIS Name HR.
My company provides HR support services to organizations with fifty or more employees. Typically, the organizations we support do not need a VP or Director of HR full time, but greatly benefit from having access to HR expertise consistently, perhaps a few times a month. I use my 20-plus years in HR at both Fortune and smaller sized companies to help develop for them strong, positive-minded HR practices. I have clients throughout Central Pennsylvania and we are expanding into other parts of the U.S.
What is workplace grief and how common is it?
It is more common than most may realize. Many employees are already bearing the staggering burden of navigating the pressures of a weak global economy, political turmoil and personal financial hardships. Add to that the fact that our population is aging. Many organizations have employees whose loved ones are elderly. So, when faced with a death in the family, it is often the last straw, completely breaking the employee down emotionally.
How would you advise a grieving employee?
This is an excellent question because employers should approach this from two perspectives, and prepare by having both a preventative and reactionary standpoint.
First, take a preventive approach by not waiting for it to happen before deciding how to deal with it. If you are a manager or a leader in an organization, take the initiative now to talk with HR and develop a strategy on how to handle such a situation. Not every department manager is comfortable with or capable of assisting an employee who’s dealing with grief. Identify two or three key people in your organization who will step in to help (and whom you will subsequently arrange to have trained to cope with the various situations and cultures in order to be prepared to react). Another alternative would be to retain the services of a chaplain to assist in these types of situations. Several of my clients use chaplain and have found this to be successful.
From the reactionary perspective, these same two or three people that you’ve chosen within your organization will have been trained and should be prepared as to how they will relate to the person suffering grief. In the Jewish culture, for example, it is common for people to visit a friend’s home when they lose a loved one and just sit with them, saying nothing. Sometimes just being there with someone shows you care. It is important to know that just being there for your employees, rather than avoiding the uncomfortable situation, can prove helpful.
How would you advise supervisors and colleagues to interact with a grieving co-worker?
The best advice is to not change anything and keep the routine as normal as possible. I would suggest that the manager calls all the employees together and asks that anyone who has a relationship with the grieving employee feel free to offer condolences. Those who don’t should not feel obligated, it can look phony and superficial to the grieving employee.
How can grieving and loss affect job performance?
Oftentimes, employees may have attendance issues or slight decreases in performance after the death of a loved one. It is important to keep the communication consistent and constant with the employees. Letting them know you care about their personal situation, but also giving them continued feedback, can go a long way. Offering assistance is a great way to show you care — offer a solution but also set the bar. Use language like, “I realize it is hard getting back into the swing of things, but we need your performance for the Team’s objectives. Can I get you some help from a co-worker?
Any closing comments?
Yes. Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspective with your readers. Death is an inevitable part of living; we must always be prepared for it. The best preparation is making sure you have staff that is prepared to offer empathy in a time of loss. Let’s hope your readers will not need to employ this advice in 2012!
Mark Griffin, of In His Name HR. In His Name HR provides human resource consulting for small- and medium-sized organizations. Mark has served in the US Air Force, has extensive educational credentials, including a BA in HR, an MBA, and several Executive Education certifications from the University of Michigan. In addition to serving as VP of Human Resources for an international agricultural equipment manufacturer, Mark has also worked in a variety of HR leadership roles for Fortune companies, such as Merck, Kodak and Quaker Oats, as well as privately held and employee-owned companies, such as Woolrich and Townsends.