Whether tragedy strikes one person or a whole community, managers and their teams need to be prepared to deal with grief in the workplace. Test yourself with this true-or-false quiz:
1. I think a month is enough time for me to accommodate an employee's grief over losing a loved one.
2. If my enterprise gave workers three days of bereavement leave, I'd let them flex their schedules to take longer if they felt they needed it.
3. I'm sympathetic to an employee's grief, but I don't think there's any excuse for letting personal problems affect the service she gives to customers.
4. If a member of the team were to die, I would want the team to do something special in his or her honor.
5. If an employee is grieving, I make sure to give him all of his instructions in writing and only follow up briefly to make sure he's making progress.
6. I would try to leave a grieving employee alone until she let me know she wanted to talk about how she was doing.
7. If a worker experiences a loss, I don't think it should affect the performance of other team members.
Are you prepared for employee grief?
Here's what the experts say:
1. False. A worker may not even start grieving for months after a loss. If you're surprised at how well an employee is handling grief, don't be surprised if that changes later on. Anniversaries and birthdays are especially sensitive times.
2. True. If a worker is responsible in any way for final arrangements, or has to provide support to other family members, three days is probably not enough time off.
3. True. But ... that doesn't mean she's a poor performer. If an employee is grieving, ask her if she'd be more comfortable, or thinks she'd perform better, with a temporary reassignment.
4. True. This is especially important for the team to come to closure on its own experience of loss. Such an activity should give all team members a chance to share their memories of their colleague — for example, putting together a scrapbook for surviving family members.
5. True. One of the common side effects of grief is forgetfulness. Don't be completely hands-off, but give your employee what he needs to keep himself focused and productive.
6. False. It's important that grieving team members not feel isolated at work. An invitation to lunch, or to spend a break together — even if it's declined — will be appreciated.
7. False. It will, although each of us processes sadness and loss differently and at different speeds. Treating an employee's grief as a team issue will help both the employee and the team make the transition.