Ed wasn’t usually the “quiet one” on our team, but ever since his wife passed, we had seen a marked downturn in not only his demeanor but his performance, as well. Our supervisor wasn’t sure how to manage the situation. Unwilling to write him up for poor performance, and equally unwilling to crack open the emotional (and possibly legal) can of worms by trying to get involved. It wasn’t long before the performance on the team as a whole was suffering, and that led to a variety of additional frustration, resentment, and general “yuckiness” that nobody could figure their way through.
Grief isn’t usually in my professional wheelhouse. It is, however, something that directly impacts happiness, and as a radical positivity activist, I believe the way our society approaches grief while creating job security for people like me, is causing undue trauma to pretty much everyone, and that needs to stop.
And while grief may be triggered by something in our personal lives, I think most of us have finally acknowledged that the boundary between “personal life” and “work-life” is about as porous as cheesecloth, and we can’t turn a blind eye if we want to keep people engaged, focused, and if we’re being honest, productive. As the child of radical hippies – and yes, that’s twice I’ve used the word radical, no accident —my primary motivation isn’t in seeing marked improvement in financial performance, although I don’t begrudge anyone for wanting to make a reasonable profit.
I am highly motivated by finding ways for people to live fuller, happier, more fulfilling lives at work, and NOT going home and kicking their dog (or their family), or keeling over from a heart attack or stroke prematurely. Good news for those who are focused on the financial metrics – your organizations will perform better on just about every metric when your people are happy. So before the cries of “Take this claptrap to FaceBook or Instagram!”, I want to point out that well-being, engagement, and happiness are intricately intertwined and have a direct, immediate, and lasting impact on your profits, too. The ROI is actually breathtaking, my friends.
Back to grief. In case you haven’t noticed (and you’ve missed the HBR, Forbes, etc. articles about how we’re ALL impacted by grief right now, directly or indirectly), we’re all impacted by grief right now, and many of us have zero tools for dealing with it personally or as a support system for our friends, colleagues, customers, and so on.
I’ve been talking with some friends who have gone through recent losses, and we essentially realized that society expects us to take that age-old (garbage) advice, “Girl, go wash your face.” We’re taught (gender-agnostic) that grief should be something we deal within the 2 days of bereavement leave (if we’re lucky enough to have such a luxury…) AND only in the privacy of our home. “Oh, how stoic” we exclaim as we watch someone pretend they’re not emotionally gutted. We turn a blind eye to the very real experience of loss because it makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us that we, too, are vulnerable to loss, and that freaks us out.
Rather than acknowledge the experience of loss as part of the Human Condition and allowing the wound left in its wake to heal with care and gentleness and grace, we try to slap an air-tight cover on it, bottling up all the difficult, messy pieces, and instead of healing, we allow those emotions to fester and in the process, we almost guarantee permanent emotional scar tissue. We actively traumatize ourselves, and those around us, by engaging in this denial of grief, and then we wonder why our culture is so dysfunctional.
And in a world where everyone is on some level impacted by grief, whether it’s loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or simply loss of our imaginary secure lifestyles which have been replaced by chaos and uncertainty, this is part of bringing our authentic selves to work.
Whether you lead, live with, or love other people or you are a person yourself, this is something we need to get a grip on. I’m not saying we should wear black for 12 months or wail and gnash our teeth and rub ashes into our hair for months and months and months on end, but acknowledging the very real impact that grief has on us gives us an opportunity to recover in a far healthier, more holistic way, and in that process, find happiness as well.
Happiness is courage, and changing an entire social narrative around something so pervasive as how we deal with loss? That’s going to take some brave souls. Are you up for the challenge?