So many people have lost loved ones during this pandemic. I have lost two. Whether you’ve lost a loved one from COVID or from other causes, the uniqueness of a pandemic means we don’t have the opportunity to have the closure that we do during normal circumstances. Celebration of life events, funerals, etc. are important rituals that allow us to honor the lives of our loved ones. And these events often occur before we return to work.
Without those, employees may be returning to work (virtually or otherwise) without having had that opportunity. It becomes more difficult to move through the grief process without those important rituals. In thinking about this, I realized many workplaces may be struggling with how to deal with grief as it spills over into the workplace even more now than it might in normal circumstances. And, although difficult, I thought it was a timely topic to write about.
How do organizations support employees coping with the loss of a loved one? If done well, it can provide enormous emotional support to the employee during one of the most difficult times in their life. If done poorly, it can compound additional grief onto an already traumatic experience. What kind of employer do you want to be?
It’s fairly normal for me to spend some time at the end of each year reflecting on how it’s gone for me personally and professionally. I’m not one to set specific goals and I gave up the idea of new year’s resolutions long ago. But time for reflection on the past year and anticipation of what’s to come for the next year just sort of happens naturally.
This time last year I was putting the finishing touches on my blog article about how I embraced that feeling of failure and how excited I was about what was to come. I had a sense of peace about my life and was looking forward to launching my new business. I sure had no idea at the time what was in store for 2020. I'm sure none of us did.
Elder Care: What is the Employer’s Responsibility to Help Support Employees Who are Juggling it All?
Although I’ve shared a fair amount about me in my blog articles, this is more of a personal post than I typically do. I was going back through my 2020 calendar the other day and reflecting on my time spent this year. I counted the number of medical appointments that I took my mother to. It totaled 81. Yes, you read that right…eighty-one medically related appointments so far this year. All for a variety of things.
I left my CHRO job early last year. I worked for a large hospital system and I’ve often thought this year, as the U.S. has tried to handle a global pandemic, how would I have juggled my executive responsibilities and all of my mom’s needs had I stayed? At the time that I left my job, I was barely hanging on as it was. Having hit burnout myself, dealing with being the medical POA for my mother and all of her medical needs as she aged, I could no longer juggle the demands of my job along with the needs of my family and it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, so I threw in the towel on my corporate life and focused my attention on my family.
Organizational culture is squishy. It’s elusive. It’s hard to define. Organizational culture is a living thing that is always changing. That also means it can be influenced – either positively or negatively. Organizations need to be thoughtful about developing their culture. That takes some expertise and intentionality in doing so.
Early on in my career a wise consultant told me it takes seven years to change a culture. In my 25 years of human resources, organizational change and leadership experience, I have found that to be true. You can certainly start to see the effects of intentional change earlier than that, but to really make a culture change stick, seven years is about right. True culture change won’t depend on a leader to sustain it. You’ll know when it sticks if a leader can walk away and the changes are lasting. They’ve become systematically embedded in what is happening throughout the organization. It takes intentional effort, consistency and time to make happen.
A couple of years ago, my son applied for a job at a local fast-food restaurant. It was his dream job - a place he’d wanted to work at for quite some time. He was 15 years old at the time. He needed help with the on-line application so as he applied, I sat nearby and watched, helping to explain what a few of the questions meant, but mostly staying hands off and providing encouragement to him as he completed the application independently.
As he went through the process, I watched with my HR hat on. At the time, I was the Chief Human Resources Officer for a large health system and I’d been in the Human Resources field for close to 25 years. So, of course I was comparing this organization’s system and the candidate experience with what we offered our candidates. And I have to say, I was impressed. Granted, this fast-food organization is backed by a very large corporation with, I presume, a lot of resources, but he was only applying for a part-time entry level job.
Still, the on-line application process was user friendly and very thorough. It even included extensive pre-employment assessment testing that was built into the application process. I’m sure they used this system to weed out the candidates that didn’t fit their ideal profile for their organization. And I was envious that I didn’t have this tool for my recruiters to use. The amount of time it would save is huge.
HR Tip #1: Invest in technology and use it to the greatest extent possible to help with candidate selection on the front end so that your people resources can be spent on the high touch areas with candidate interaction where it provides the greatest value.
Unfortunately, as our economy has been hit devastatingly hard by this pandemic, some businesses are not going to rebound and are being faced with difficult decisions that have long term impacts to their employees. Some have been able to temporarily furlough employees and call them back as business rebounds. However, others may find themselves in a situation where they need to close the business altogether. In those situations, if the company is large enough to have an HR person on staff, you will likely play a key role in winding things down and may be one of the last ones employed by the business. A lot of people will be looking to you for guidance during this critical time.
I found myself in such a position back in 1999 when I was the HR Director for a large medical group that closed. It was not something that I was expecting. Unfortunately, there was a nasty and pretty public dispute between the physician owners and their management company that ultimately led to the dissolution of the company. Less than a year after starting there, much to my surprise I found myself in a key leadership role helping to wind down a medical group that had employed 150 physicians and over 600 staff. It was quite a learning experience. Although you’d never wish for it again, I’ve found that often the most stressful times are the ones where you can grow the most. And now I’m able to share what I learned with you from that experience.
Ten Key Considerations in Preparing for a Dissolution:
“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refused to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou
Life is hard sometimes. No matter how you reframe it, repackage it or what lens you look at it through, most of us go through hard times once in a while. Some more than others. And some are blessed with going through life where they have been sheltered from hardship and struggle, but eventually it will come.
Right now, a pandemic is sweeping across the globe and hitting our nation particularly hard, impacting individuals and businesses greater than most anything has in most of our lifetimes. Some have lost jobs as a result. Others have lost loved ones. But human beings are incredibly resilient. We have choices in how we respond to the hardships we are dealt.
For many, these situations bring out the best in people and moving into acts of service to others is how they cope. Countless stories on the news have been shared on how resilient people have overcome these difficult times. For artists and musicians, new beauty is often born out of times of great struggle, pain or grief and becomes inspirational to others. If you haven’t heard Alicia Keys’ tribute song and video “Good Job” that was released in April of this year, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSUZIFBJHwQ . Essential workers in our country have demonstrated resilience this year like no other group has.
Why is empathy lacking in so many organizations?
Is it seen as a weakness in leaders to be empathetic?
I’ve often wondered that when I’ve gotten hesitation and, sometimes, actual resistance as I’ve coached leaders over the course of my career in the importance of expressing empathy in their leadership roles. Some of the push back has come from a misperception that it’s a “soft skill” that isn’t important. In other cases, I think, it’s simply a situation of discomfort for the individual. Perhaps it’s a sense that showing empathy with direct reports is akin to showing one’s vulnerability which is extremely uncomfortable for many leaders.
What is empathy?
At its core, it’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s about feeling with someone, in a genuine, caring way. To understand the difference between empathy and sympathy, let’s look to Brene Brown who has studied empathy for years. Brene Brown is a well-known research professor and best-selling author who has spent her career studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.
My intent when I launched my website and accompanying blog has been to publish a new blog article around the first of each month. I’ve done that each month since I launched my new business last Fall except for the past few months. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. COVID19. Everything I thought I might write about just seemed trivial and unimportant in comparison. So, I chose not to write about anything and to just take a pause and focus on my family instead. But we are starting to take steps back into our “new normal” as everyone calls it, so now I’m stepping back in again.
Ironically, a month after the first community acquired case of the virus was discovered in Seattle, Washington, I was also in Seattle doing a week of training to become certified as a Myers-Briggs facilitator. Just a few weeks later, everything in the United States pretty much shut down and we were told to shelter in place. Getting certified in MBTI is something I’ve always been interested in doing and earlier this year I decided it was a good time to pursue the certification so I could offer it as part of my executive and leadership coaching and Human Resources consulting practice.
I’ve always had an interest in psychology. In college, it was one of my favorite classes and a few years ago when I saw my niece’s college psychology textbook sitting in her living room, I had fun flipping through the pages of it, remembering what I’d learned in college about the human psyche. In the human resources field, you observe a lot in the workplace about people’s personalities, how they play into group dynamics and over time, you begin to understand how complex people are.
Exit interviews are a common human resources and leadership practice when someone is leaving an organization, but I’ve never found them to be of much value. I’ve been in Human Resources for over two decades now and conducted more exit interviews than I can count and only rarely have they ever uncovered information that was of much use. So, why do organizations continue to do them?
Unless HR professionals or leaders have the luxury of time to spend (and I don’t know any that do), I think they should stop conducting exit interviews as a matter of routine and instead, spend that time investing in building relationships with existing employees in an effort to retain them. Rounding and stay interviews are two tactics that can be a far more effective use of human resources and leadership time than exit interviews.
Why don’t exit interviews work? People are on guard during exit interviews – even if they have a great deal of trust with the interviewer, they have a fear of burning a bridge if they are fully honest with anything critical that they may share about the organization or their leadership when they are exiting. With their own self-interest in mind, (which is only human nature) they are reluctant to share what they really think because they might want to return to that organization someday. Because of this, spending time gathering information from employees who are leaving is simply a waste of time because it won’t provide a balanced and accurate picture.
Laurie is an experienced Human Resources executive who is passionate about organizational culture, creating great workplaces and employee engagement.