Grief in the Workplace
HOW AN ORGANIZATION DEALS WITH IT SAYS A LOT
Recently, I had the sad duty of telling my team that a longtime colleague and friend had died suddenly the previous weekend. New as I was to the organization, I did not know this person that well, but my co-workers had been close to her over many years. It was a devastating blow and a shock to them and to everyone in our branch, and I learned a great deal about this organization from the way in which our management reacted.
Dealing with such situations is not something we are taught in business school, even in the context of organizational behaviour. Sadly, for HR professionals, we are usually caught unprepared the first time we come face to face with grief in the workplace, whether it is the loss of an employee or loss in an employee’s family. In a survey done by Personnel Magazine, 74% of HR managers surveyed responded that they felt at a loss for words and self-conscious about what to do for bereaved employees.
Kate Moore, RPR|
Generally, our society tends to shy away from those who are grieving; talking with the bereaved is uncomfortable as we worry about saying the wrong thing, or dealing with unpredictable emotions. This can be very stressful for employees who are dealing with loss. Work, as much as friends and family, is a network of support but often the workplace is not equipped to offer what is needed. The standard three days of bereavement leave is often not enough for those dealing with the loss of a spouse, child or parent, and there is no provision (or sometimes willingness) to give additional time off or flexibility in an employee’s schedule. Further, supervisors and co-workers are not equipped to deal with the various manifestations of grief.
In our situation, I came away with tremendous respect for the organization and its management. They immediately arranged for grief counselors to come in, and a group session was held for those employees who felt they needed to talk. This was a truly beneficial experience for those staff most deeply affected. In our group, it was easy to see the differences in the way that my co-workers dealt with their grief – some had a hard time focusing on work, others could do nothing else but work. It was harder to know what I could offer other than support, a shoulder and a willingness to take on some workload at a time when people’s minds were elsewhere.
I have seen other examples here of how the organization supports those who are in situations of dealing with the terminal illness of a family member, or their own severe health problems. In each case, I have come away with a profound sense of gratitude for the humane approach that has been taken – the care, the support and the flexibility that has been offered. When it comes to looking at the real soul of an organization, this is a yardstick that you never hope to use, but one that says an enormous amount about the real culture of the workplace.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Being a volunteer is one activity that helps make life a little better for ourselves and the world around us. Whether it is helping in your community or within a service group or professional organization going above the regular line of duty by volunteering adds much-needed support to a range of activities and events to the world around you. It can also make you feel good about yourself and allow you to develop and grow in areas that can assist you with your work and career. Volunteering really is a win-win situation for the organization and the individual. Just ask Mary Ann McCann, RPR, CMP who is the volunteer Regional Director for IPM Associations for Northern Alberta.
In her day job Mary Ann is Office Services Supervisor for Univar Canada Ltd in Edmonton. Members Quarterly caught up with Mary Ann at her office in Edmonton and got the opportunity to interview her for this issue of MQ.
MQ: Hi Mary Ann. Can you tell MQ readers a little about your job today and your career path?
Mary Ann: I have been the Office Services Supervisor for Univar Canada, an international chemical distribution company since 2001. My responsibilities include managing the human resource needs for the Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Fort St. John offices. I coordinate all of the internal functions for Univar Canada in Northern Alberta location and I also help ensure that all employees in this area receive the benefits and training that they require.
MQ: How did you get involved in the HR field?
Mary Ann: I guess I have always been a people person and what better place to serve people than in HR? In 1994 I studied at Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton and that gave me the foundation to move into the human resource area. I had a lot more to learn so I enrolled in the IPM program and over time have achieved both my CMP and RPR designations. Along with my work experience this has helped me greatly to improve and succeed in Human Resources.
MQ: When did you become a volunteer with IPM?
Mary Ann: In 1998 I was one of only four IPM members in the Edmonton area. There was little activity going on with IPM in Edmonton and I thought that there was so much more that could be done if we had an effective networking organization in this area. So I volunteered to help out organizing conferences and training sessions and before I knew it I was on the Board for this area and became Regional Director for Northern Alberta. Since that time we have grown in leaps and bounds and today we have one of the most active and vibrant IPM chapters in the country.
MQ: Why did you choose to volunteer with IPM?
Mary Ann: I have always believed in giving back and I wanted to acknowledge the support and confidence that I received from IPM in allowing me to move forward in my chosen field. I also wanted to make sure that these opportunities would exist for others, for new people who wanted to enter the HR profession, so that they could experience the same success that I have achieved. But I never realized how much more I would get back by volunteering.
MQ: What do you mean that you received things back from volunteering with IPM?
Mary Ann: One of the main benefits was that I grew as a person. I became more confident in my skills and abilities and I expanded my network of friends and colleagues in not just Western Canada but amongst the 2300 people who are part of the national organization. By organizing events in Northern Alberta I got to meet the leading experts in my field and whenever I have an issue or a question I can just pick up the phone and contact them.
MQ: What challenges did you face as the new Regional Director for IPM Associations for Northern Alberta?
Mary Ann: The major challenge was in attracting members to conferences and events and in recruiting new members. But we build slowly and steadily and soon the “word on the street” was that IPM was the place to be for human resource professionals. Today we are the fastest growing chapter in Canada and our latest event drew over 120 people. Not to be too boastful and it’s not just me, but that’s up from 20 people who used to attend in 1990’s.
MQ: What advice would you give to any IPM member out there who is thinking about volunteering with the association?
Mary Ann: I would ask them what are waiting for. They can have their own “voice” in IPM and can express opinions, input and enhance membership development and services.
They can have the opportunity to network and communicate with their counterparts in other areas and obtain the experience and exposure that might just open up new doors and opportunities that they have never imagined. The last thing I would tell them is that they will get back far more than they contribute. That’s been my experience.
So, to quote Mary Ann… what are you waiting for?
MQ Staff Writer