Gemma Bullivant recently featured on the The Live, Learn, Lead Podcast. The podcast series focussed on learning to lead, starting from within. Natalie shares tips on personal growth and the art of leadership alongside interviews with experienced leadership experts from around the world. The podcast series aims to inspire and grow the leader within the listeners so they can lead, inspire and empower others to do the same.
Episode 12 of the podcast focussed on all things grief. For anyone who is going through the process of grief or for people trying to support a friend or family member to feel safe and looked after during that time, this is the podcast for you. This blog is a transcript of the main points covered in the podcast.
Having an awareness of grief
Often we can be really uncomfortable discussing the topic of grief, and it is in our DNA that we feel uneasy discussing the topic of grief and loss with our colleagues and often friends. I am a HR coach and consultant, and one of the areas that I specialise in is grief and significant change associated with that. Coming from a HR background, I have worked in senior leadership roles in large, busy companies and found that my employer really wanted to help me but didn’t know how to. From this experience I got a great understanding of some of the things I wanted, and some of the things I really didn’t want from my employer. I had to get back to my job really quickly and get on with life really quickly while I was in the grip of significant loss, and I discovered coaching in that time as a really viable option.
Often we think of grief coaching as a form of therapy or counselling, and it absolutely can be, but one of the things I learnt was actually that there are a whole range of ways you can support yourself or others going through grief and there is absolutely a place for coaching within that.
I trained in grief and loss as an addition to my coaching qualification that I now use to inform my coaching practices. I work with clients across a wide range of grief experiences and help companies and individuals to understand what grief is, how it can present itself to us, how it can affect us, and more importantly, how we can help ourselves and others with it.
The CIPD organisation that works across the HR division is working to get the statutory time off for grief increased. Even if this does become the case, often that time still won’t be enough, and grief has a long tail, it doesn’t just go away after 2/3, even four months, grief is a process.
Part of my job role is working with organisations to help them to understand that grief is a long term support plan. I would usually recommend something that boils down to three steps. Firstly, there is the immediate support, it has just happened, the person has just experienced something extremely traumatic, and it’s about understanding what they need in those first days and weeks. If that person can feel completely supported during this time it is understandably going to help, for instance, letting the employee know that they don’t need to worry about work, take as much time as you need in this stage. Then there’s the adjustment support, because at some stage the employee will need to come back to work, and the chances are this time away period will not be too much longer than three weeks.
As an employer you then have to put yourself in the griever’s shoes, thinking about how they’re managing and how you can support them after just three weeks to process their loss. One of the things that I do as a grief coach is coach people that have to make that transition back to work and how to manage doing their work as normal whilst acknowledging that the grief is not over, it is still very much a process they have to go through.
The third stage is the longer term support is recognising that grief and bereavement has a significant impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Most people will and can recover well over time, but they need support systems in place to make that happen. It’s important then to ensure that the right mental health support and wellbeing systems are in place and ensure that the system is in-place as an integrated framework rather than isolated sessions, transitioning to mental health wellbeing and support with bereavement as a background discussion.
Advice for expressing grief and communicating your needs
In addition to helping companies with grief guidelines and support frameworks for their employees, I also work directly with employees who are grieving, and the focus is often on the transition back to work, and how to navigate the period of adjustment back to working life while still grieving.
One of the things I will often advise is to take some time to think about what you’re going to need and want. Almost as if you’re coming up with a communications plan when returning to the workplace, including the people you are going to be interacting with the most, what your messaging will be with those people and the support systems you would like to see in place to guide you back to your return to work. Thinking about things like having a ‘buddy’ at work whom you feel comfortable going to and opening up to potentially who could do a little bit of communicating on your behalf. Or is there someone at work that could help you when difficult questions arise. Ultimately, this stage is about considering what communication methods are right for you, and how you want to move forwards in the workplace as best as possible.
One of the most painful aspects of grief is the loss of control. Something life altering has just happened that you have had no control over, and it’s a significant change that you’re having to adjust to very suddenly, without your say in the matter. Many people find that on a macro level, determining a plan of who they’re going to talk to in this time, what is going to be said, and who will help you with that can give you back some of the control and help you to manage going back to work effectively and strategically.
At a day to day level, thinking about things like whether you are going to talk about the person you have just lost. For some people this is far too difficult and they want to square it away and not discuss it in the workplace, while other people do, and can get quite frustrated when their co-workers go out of their way to avoid the topic. This however is a natural thing that co-workers and friends will do, it is completely normal for them not to bring it up as they may not want to evoke emotion or make you upset. The best way forward in the latter situation is to be open with people and let them know that you do want to talk about it, and this will be something that can be planned in your ‘communication strategy’ as mentioned earlier.
The dual process model of grief
If you want to learn more about grief, whether that’s how to cope yourself, how to help others or having an awareness of how to compassionately support grief in the workplace as an employer, please feel free to reach out to me or call me directly on 07769 337575. To listen to the full podcast, visit living and leading through grief- with Gemma bullivant to learn more.