We spend more time at work than with our family or friends. It is difficult to get to know your colleagues and how they react to tragedy.
Some people withdraw completely, others try to be too involved, but the majority of people don’t know how or what to do. There is no guideline or policy that will help you deal with grief and tragedy. There is no process or system that can make the situation easier or more understandable. It can be very devastating to work when tragedy strikes.
“Grief can be unpredictable by nature. It affects people in different ways. It is extremely difficult to manage it or balance it with professional demands.”(Tigar 2021).
- Be patient
- Be empathetic
- Be authentic
- Be present
Empathy is crucial because it allows you to switch between ‘work mode and ‘human mode. Empathy allows you to feel empathy for those who are directly affected by the situation. It also gives you space to express your feelings and emotions. Empathy allows you to be more compassionate, supportive, and present.
“Grief requires us to be more authentic, present, and real because it is the most difficult form of grief.
Often what it demands of us is our honesty, our attention, and a re-evaluation of values, all of which distract from the professional goal”, (Tigar, 2021).
These skills are not easy for everyone, and many leaders struggle to master these interpersonal skills. As a leader, it is important to model the behavior you desire. Empathy is a great way to show your strength in difficult situations.
Tragic events are not a time to return to business as usual. Each person will need your assistance to navigate the events. Your team will need to process them.
Allow your team to grieve and allow them to process. Each employee can deal with a tragedy at their own pace. Grief is not something that can be done “on the hour”. They should be able to ask questions, have conversations, and take breaks to help manage their emotions. They might become distracted or overcome by emotions, which can make it difficult for them to function well. Be aware of the signs and be alert.
Establish the right tone and pay attention to what the victim needs. Focus on the positive. Listening, really listening, and giving your team an outlet is the first step.
Remember that dealing with tragedy is not an isolated event. It will be a floodgates reopening when people return to work after a period of grief. Be patient, and let the team come together. Do not try to force closure as it might never happen.
When tragedy strikes, bad news or tragic events can expose an organization’s true nature. Your culture and core values should remain the guiding principles of your organization, in good and bad times.
Leaders may feel overwhelmed and powerless. They must take care of themselves. If one doesn’t take care of their own needs first, it is not uncommon for someone to be unable to help others. Keep in mind the safety protocol of airlines “Place your mask on first, then help others with theirs.”
The team should be mobilized to combat despair.
To channel energy towards positive outcomes, be open to employees organizing fundraisers, blood drives, or food drives. Employees can feel that they can make a difference, which can help them cope with their guilt and shame.
“Suppressed grief suffocates it, it rages inside the breast, and is forced into multiplying its strength.” Ovid
Let the situation be what it is. Do not try to avoid the situation simply because you feel uncomfortable. If you need help, seek guidance or professional assistance from your HR provider or health care provider.
Always remember that “Life happens when it’s least expected”.