How to Care for a Grieving Colleague
Grief can come in many different forms; it may not always be the death of a close friend or relative. It could be a pet, a colleague or mentor from the past, or it could not actually be a death at all, but the loss of a relationship or living situation. Regardless of the reason, grief is a powerful emotion and your practitioners need a manager and workplace that is sympathetic to their needs in this vulnerable time.
Emotions can be quite unpredictable during grief – some people cope amazingly well, some people do not cope at all and some people give the impression of the former before breaking down into the latter. As a manager you need to be sensitive and flexible to work around this. If someone says they’re ready to come back to work, for example, but then finds they actually need more time, don’t reprimand them for being inconsistent. Your understanding is essential.
To start with, acknowledge the loss. You don’t have to be overly sentimental as this may be too much (ever heard someone say “Don’t be nice to me or I’ll cry”?), but carrying on like nothing has happened will come across as insensitive. Instead, ask your practitioner if it’s ok to make the team aware that something has happened, even if they don’t want all the little details shared, and that you’re happy to adjust their immediate work situation to suit them.
Assure your team member that you’re always there is they need to talk, and check in on them regularly. This doesn’t mean asking them how they are every ten minutes, but rather checking in at the beginning and end of the day to address any issues they may be having. If your practitioner does want to talk, take their lead on how much they want to say and don’t ask prying questions. Mirroring their language also helps, e.g. don’t say “died” if they are choosing to say “passed away”.
A practical way you can be helpful is to immediately check the leave policy of your setting and collect all the needed information on how much leave your practitioner is entitled to, so they don’t have the added admin task of checking contracts of enquiring. If it’s possible at your setting, make sure to let them know that they can take more time off if needed. Another practical action is to sort out cover for their leave, rather than leaving them the task of asking people to cover their classes. This may be difficult but make sure not to let them know this, as guilt is not something you want to be adding to their situation at this point.
Finally, be flexible. Some people find much more comfort in getting back to normal and your practitioner may want to come back to work straight away. While making sure to check in and that they know you’re always there if needed, make sure to give them space – acting as if nothing has happened and carrying on caring for their little ones as normal may be the best way for them to deal with the situation.