Leaders go last …, but sometimes, they must go first.
If you're a leader, you know that offering an opinion first influences or biases what others in the group share and the group's decisions.
But, when it comes to grief surrounding an employee's death, leaders should go first.
The article below discusses how leaders can share their mental health journey, which helps normalize mental health issues at work. And the suggestions are the same ones I give when a leader deals with an employee's death.
Depending on your organization's culture, your role, and your level of seniority, sharing your story about the deceased employee or your experience with loss may or may not be an easy decision for you.
If you decide to share, here are seven things to consider when discussing a deceased employee.
Share your story, not someone else's. What's most important is sharing your personal story — not another employee's. If you didn't know the employee, talk about a loss that you experienced in your life.
Focus on the grief and how hard it can be to sit in it, not how you got "over it." Focusing on getting over it suggests your team's grief is not ok.
Share how grief has already affected you and how you anticipate it will affect your work. This will normalize what grief looks like at work.
Remember to acknowledge that your grief experience is just one of many. We all grieve in different ways. Just because an employee isn't crying doesn't mean they aren't grieving.
To conclude your story, talk about why addressing grief and mental health at work is essential. This could be anything from your personal views to statistics to the role of work in mental health — for better or worse.
Encourage others to talk about the employee and share how those listening can help heal others by listening and what psychologically safe spaces look like.
Encourage them to attend an upcoming talk about grief. If an employee has died, please ensure your staff has access to a presentation about how grief shows up at work! This will help your employees identify grief vs. a feeling like they need to quit their job!
Sharing your experience with grief is the key.
It's not about knowing about grief; it's about experiencing it with everyone else.
NOTE: When you share, your employees may approach you in ways that feel uncomfortable or outside of your role as a leader. They will want to share their story and their grief. When others come to you with their grief stories, be clear that you care about them and want to be supportive.
Oftentimes, just listening, showing compassion, and validating their experience is enough. But if they are coming too often, have your employee assistance program information on hand to make a recommendation.
So when an employee dies,
Leaders go first.
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