This is such an important topic, and yet, have you ever been taught what to do if a colleague is faced with a personal tragedy? The transition back to work is one of the first things that most people have to do after a loss. Often times we have to go back to work before we feel emotionally ready; simply returning to “life as normal” is so hard because our lives are no longer “normal.” It’s a delicate time, resilience is low and because of that, it’s so important that teams and managers understand how they can support their colleagues. Here are some tips straight from my heart, and my personal experience.
What to do:
– Reach out to them when you hear the news. Email, text, call, send a card, send flowers, send food. Do something to show you care.
– Don’t know what to say? It’s okay, either do we. I always appreciated, “I am so sorry for your loss. I am thinking of you.” Or “I have no words, I just want you to know that I am here.” You don’t need to have any words of wisdom, because in times like these, those words aren’t helpful anyway. The pain is too fresh and deep.
– If you are a manager, give your employees the time they need to process what has happened in their life. Be flexible with your employee’s work-from-home schedule, and do what you can to ease them back into the work force.
What NOT to do:
– Don’t pretend like you don’t know what happened. When I had to speak the words “I lost my daughter” aloud, it was always followed by a river of tears that were very hard to stop. If you know what happened but don’t know what to say, just say, “I don’t know what to say.” That’s so much better than having to speak the words ourselves while we are trying to keep it together at work.
– Try not to treat your colleague differently. Treat them like you always did, but be kind if they forget something or aren’t as quick to respond. They are trying their very best, I can promise you that. The fog that accompanies intense grief is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was so incredibly hard to think and concentrate, and it took time for that sensation to alleviate. Knowing that my colleagues depended on me, helped me re-learn how to focus.
– Do not say the loss “happened for a reason,” especially if someone lost a child. I used to believe that everything happens for a reason but now I know that only applies in missed job opportunities and breakups. It never applies to the death of a child.
Work can be a welcomed distraction from grief, and can be a safe place to take a break from the sadness of loss. Don’t be quick to judge the amount of time someone took off. People need to do whatever they have to do to stay afloat as they endure the pain associated with loss. At the end of the day, just be kind. Kindness can move mountains.