Urgent message: Everyone will experience some kind of loss in their lifetime; all too often, however, the workplace is ill-equipped to support grieving teammates. While anyone can provide kind words to a grief-stricken relative, friend, or coworker, managers in the urgent care setting have a unique role to fill—as human beings and as leaders.
Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.
Unfortunately, through their training, most medical providers have observed the grieving process firsthand. Experience with that process does not make dealing with their own situation any easier when they experience a loss in their own lives, however.
For urgent care managers who may be fairly removed from the clinical setting, dealing with others’ grief isn’t likely an everyday task. However, when an employee is experiencing loss, a present, patient manager can be a tremendous resource for healing and an example for other team members to follow.
During the initial stages of grief, employees will likely be angry, confused, and torn in many different directions. At this point, there is nothing a manager (or anyone) can do to truly “fix” things.
Fortunately, it is possible to make things easier for your employee. Throughout the primary stage of the grieving process, the most important thing a manager can do is maintain a supportive presence. While this can take many forms, the best place to start is a personal phone call. Not only does this show that a manager is there for their employee, but demonstrates that the entire organization is as well.
People will remember how they are treated in this difficult time. When the employee does come back to work, a manager’s presence can be the difference between successfully reintegrating into the clinic or feeling distant.
As an employee eases back into work, it is important to keep in mind that everyone will have their own attitude towards work following the loss of a loved one. Some will want to dive in and stay busy since it’s familiar and safe. Others may need to take an unexpected half-day after seeing something that reignites their cycle of grief.
In either case, managers should maintain a strong presence that gives employees something to lean on in their difficult time—regardless of what that looks like in their situation.
It should go without saying that everyone heals from loss at different rates. There is no schedule dictating when a person can fully move on from losing a loved one. Consequently, the grief cycle can lead to prolonged confusion, especially in the workplace.
As the cycle of grief progresses, an individual’s response to it evolves. Employees dealing with loss will likely bounce between the desire to move forward with life and processing their feelings of mourning. The tumultuous nature of this time often leads to inconsistencies in employees’ work performance and availability. This can result in some frustration in the workplace both between managers trying to reliably schedule their staff and coworkers who must pick up the slack.
However, it is important for managers to remember that the mood swings and irregularity are also frustrating for the grieving employee. Having patience is crucial during this time.
The best way for urgent care managers to demonstrate patience is to work with their employee to best utilize their talents while providing reasonable expectations. This may mean scheduling them on a different shift than normal, offering regular meetings to check in, and allowing the individual to regain their footing at their pace.
With that being said, grief that interferes with work and regular life in a severe way for more than 6 months could be a symptom of complicated grief. In this situation, managers should gently insist that the employee seek professional help.
In any situation, urgent care managers should take advantage of a program that many companies have as an add-on to health insurance benefits: the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs can support employees by helping coordinate resources for their temporal and emotional needs. The EAP vendor typically provides only a summary report of the number of program participants but doesn’t disclose any details about any employee’s specific engagement. To assure all employees are aware of the EAP, contact information should be posted in the employee break room. When employees come to a manager with specific needs, urgent care managers should refer them to the program.
The grieving process is complicated. It is by no means easy. Ultimately, employees will need to find a way to move through and past their loss in the way most effective for them. Yet, with some help from their manager, work can become a healing resource rather than a distraction or a nuisance following their loss. By remaining patient and maintaining a caring, open presence, urgent care managers can help their employees make the process a little less painful and ensure that grieving team members return to being engaged, productive workers at a healthy pace.
(Adapted from: Petriglieri G, Maitlis S. When a colleague is grieving. Harvard Business Review. July – August 2019. Available at: https://hbr.org/2019/07/when-a-colleague-is-grieving. Accessed September 2, 2019.)