In the last several months, many people have had to cope with grief in ways they have never experienced before. Thousands have suffered the unexpected loss of a loved one or colleague due to COVID-19, and many others have endured separations from family and friends due to social distancing or an inability to travel. Many personal events, such as weddings and vacations, have fallen by the wayside, too.
The workplace is not immune to the impact of these events. Losing a loved one, whether to COVID-19 or a different illness or injury, still affects employees the same, and some may be coping with the extra strain of being unable to hold services or gather with family. The loss of support systems, including those that employees derive from work, may weigh heavily on your team as well. And some workplaces have experienced direct losses, such as layoffs, restructuring or the death of an employee.
Taken together, this adds up to a lot of loss for people to absorb. In addition, the ongoing nature of the pandemic has made it harder to engage in activities that rebuild resilience or allow for healing. With winter on the horizon and the rate of COVID-19 cases rapidly escalating, employees may struggle, especially if they are unable to spend time with family during the holidays.
In these unique circumstances, managers may wonder how to demonstrate compassion while also keeping work on track. If you’re trying to find the balance, these tips may help:
- Acknowledge losses. It’s important to not just recognize, but acknowledge that your team may be coping with an unusual level of loss. Pretending that nothing has happened or sticking to business as usual could lead to a backlash, particularly when recent events have directly impacted the workplace.
- Watch for reactions. Common signs that someone is grieving include:
- Anger, sadness, depression, fear or guilt
- Emotional outbursts, such as becoming upset over seemingly minor problems
- Extremes in behavior, such as quiet employees becoming withdrawn
- A need to talk with others
- Difficulty concentrating or completing work on schedule
Keep in mind that you may be experiencing these reactions too.
- Be sensitive. Many team members are coping with personal and professional disappointments. While this may seem small compared to a death or illness, it is still a loss, and people will need time to absorb these experiences.
- Encourage camaraderie. Friendships are an important part of the workplace experience. Limited contact with colleagues may make it harder to draw from that sense of camaraderie during times of need. If your team is working remotely, consider scheduling a video lunch where people can relax and spend casual time together. If you’re on-site, a cookout or other socially-distanced event may help make up for lost opportunities to socialize.
- Provide structure. The structure of work can be very helpful to someone who is grieving, but there may be times when they have difficulty focusing. Set priorities and provide clear, specific instructions so employees can stay on track with work tasks. Remind employees who are struggling to focus on what they can control.
While the pandemic will eventually end, its impact on employees’ lives may linger for years to come.