Monday, April 1, 2019

When Grief Affects Performance At Work

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Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.  ~ Fred Rogers

A reader writes: This past year was a very difficult one for me and my family.   My father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed 7 months later. The day he died my mother-in-law was hospitalized and a few days later we found out she had stage 4 cancer and had only a few months left. She died 2 months later. I took one month compassionate care leave to look after my father and two bereavement leaves, and most of the year I was in a fog. It was very difficult to watch my father suffer over several months before he passed away at home.

I have a demanding career in a very large department. At work I put on a brave face for my staff and teams. My boss told me all year things were going well, but towards the end of year he got feedback from people that I wasn't myself, to the point where my staff were getting away with bad behaviors and people didn't want to work with me or my team. As a result my performance rating was the lowest performance rating that can be given to an employee. It is quite rare for such a low rating so this is very serious. 

I wasn't aware of these bad behaviors of my staff until the end of the year -- and yes, perhaps I missed this. A lot of people didn't know what I had been through as I am a private person. This is the first time I have received a low rating in my 20+ years of working, I usually get the highest rating. I know it is because of my taking compassionate care leave and two bereavement leaves due to the deaths of my father and mother-in-law and subsequent grieving.

I am now expected to have an improvement by the end of the first quarter of the new year. These things at work are making me even more depressed and anxious than my grieving is. I have no idea how I can improve my performance and become my old self within a few months.

Should I expect some compassion in the workplace? When I did ask my boss about compassion in the workplace for someone going through a life event, he didn't really answer. He said that I needed to open up more to co-workers, I should go to them and talk to them, ask for advice and help. That way people would have known what was going on with me. He was implying that maybe they would not have complained or would have offered to help me. 

I am really hurt and embarrassed that my boss and leadership team didn't support me and put my rating so low when they know what I have been through. Clearly based on my review, you have to perform no matter what you are dealing with. I love my job and company, I have been there almost 9 years and I don't want to leave. I am going to see my doctor, maybe this is depression or anxiety. What would you recommend I do next at my job? Just try to do better? Ask my boss for some accommodations? I feel so lost and worried I am going to lose my job.

My response: My dear, I am so sorry for the significant losses you've endured, and my heart reaches out to you in your pain. I don't know what policies are in place at your work place regarding support for bereaved employees, but given your boss's response to your query about compassion, I do believe that he gave you some good advice.

As you have discovered, it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to hide our grief, because if we don't acknowledge it and find healthy ways to manage it, it can come out in every which-way but straight, and oftentimes in ways that we cannot control. Far better to let your co-workers know what you're going through and work with them to find ways they can help.

In that sense, I must agree with what your boss told you: that you need to open up more to your co-workers and ask for their support and help. You can explain that you know you are not at your best right now, but that you are doing all you can to take care of yourself and to find healthy ways to get through this difficult time so that you'll be back up to speed at work as soon as possible. (You might ask to have one of your co-workers assigned to monitor your work for a time, just to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.)

Your boss is responsible to the company, or to whomever he reports, to see that the work gets done, and (however clumsily he may have conveyed it to you) he is relying on you to figure out how to make that happen. He recognizes that it is your co-workers who are in the best position to help you get done whatever work has been assigned to you.

I invite you to read some articles listed on this page, as I hope they will give you some ideas: Grief at Work.

See especially:

How to Manage Grief At Work (Article by Lisa Evans)

I'm Grieving And I'm At Work (Article from The Last Post Blog)

3 Important Tips for Grieving at Work

When Bereavement Leave Runs Out: going back to work after a death


On this page you'll also find some articles that you may want to print out for your boss and co-workers to read. See, for example, How to Handle and Help With Workplace Grief -A guide for managers and coworkers on navigating the tough transitions stemming from loss, by Sloane Davidson.

Again, I'm so sorry for your losses, and I'm so sorry for the reasons that led you to write to me ~ but I am pleased that you've done so, and I sincerely hope that these resources will help.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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