We’ve all experienced it haven’t we? The awful and distressing situation when one of our team members calls to give the terrible news that they’ve lost someone who is close to them. The problem is without understanding how grief affects people differently, then it’s hard to know how to react for the best. As a leader, understanding how grief affects team members is imperative.
You know that the time people need to come to terms with and process their grief is going to differ, so how do you respond to that? There is no set time, no rule book or manual or policy that covers the diverse impact of grief.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like I’m a bit of an expert on feeling grief. That’s not because I know how to handle grief I don’t always. It’s because I seem to have experienced so much of it. However having fairly recently lost someone I love dearly, again, I found my grief still runs very deep. Being able to tap into my higher self certainly helps to deal with grief, but it does not take it away.
Everyone grieves differently
It sounds a bit of a cliche to say that everyone grieves differently, but it’s true and you will find that grief affects team members in different ways. People either get immersed in feeling grief or distract themselves from it. Sometimes individuals have beliefs which help them handle grief better than others. The ways of dealing with grief also vary in levels of intensity from person to person. What I do know for sure though is that grief must come out and when it does, it can strip anyone of any feelings of happiness, hope, and well-being. As a leader, your job is to motivate and enthuse your team, but in these circumstances, you just need to be wise.
As the team leader, you can sometimes feel helpless in those situations. It can feel like a minefield, not knowing which step might be safe and which step might just trigger even worse feelings.
Different responses to grief
A few years ago a friend of mine lost her father. She cried for about a year. Every time I saw her, she usually ended up in tears. It was hard for her, but I admired her because she was unashamedly grieving. She was able to let her grief out and eventually, she felt whole and happy again. Too often we feel like we shouldn’t grieve, or we shouldn’t grieve for long, or we are scared to grieve. We hold it in and it takes us much longer to heal.
When I lost my Dad, I couldn’t cry for 3 years, I think there was a part of me that felt if I started I would never stop. It took its toll on me. Eventually, I had to spend months off work with a spinal problem where I was literally bent double. I didn’t realise it then, but I was bowed down with pain which was not going anywhere because I wouldn’t let it, and so it had to manifest physically.
There is no set time for grief
Sometimes society seems to suggest we ought to “get over it”. A friend I know had bravely returned to work very early after losing a very close relative who had passed away suddenly. She was astounded just 10 weeks in when her boss suggested she ought to cheer herself up as she wasn’t being happy enough for customers. “Try hypnotherapy” her boss suggested.
The truth is there is no set time for feeling grief. Depending on the closeness and depth of the relationship, losing someone impacts us. When a big gap is left in our world, we have to cope with many different aspects of what that means for us.
Grief comes in many shapes and forms
Grief is of course, often at its most acute when someone you love has passed away, but feeling grief comes in many shapes and forms. Divorce or losing a lifelong-held dream can invoke intense feelings of loss and grief too. Grieving for a lost future or the love of a person dear to you can be devastating.
Unexpressed grief can create addictions
Sometimes loss creates such intense miserable feelings so we push them back and do whatever we can to distract ourselves from experiencing them. Sometimes those distractions become addictions. If people don’t let their grief out willingly it could come out in all sorts of unintentional ways. When this happens grief is in charge.
What to do
As a leader, you can tap into your higher self and feel guided by what is right to do. When you are supporting your team from that perspective then you will:
- Be kind to the person grieving. This is no time to express any impact on work.
- Help people stay in touch with their strengths. Know they will cope and bring their inner resources to help themselves.
- Understand they may need additional space (time off, shorter days etc) to allow their feelings of grief to come up.
- Point them to resources, maybe bereavement counselling or support groups.
- Be patient, know this time will pass.
- Never compare how one person deals with their grief to another.
- Don’t assume how they are feeling. Ask them if they want to talk and then listen.
- Ask them what they need from you and then give them what they ask for.
Do you know how grief affects team members differently? What is your experience of helping others through grief?
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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.
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