Over the course of the past week, I have had three conversations with clients from three different countries living in completely different situations. Each one of them expressed that they felt unmotivated, that they missed who they “used to be” or how they “used to perform”,and that they were not really sure of what was going on or how to move forward. Though I am a coach and not a counsellor, I recognized that what my clients were experiencing was a sense of grief and that it was impacting their businesses.
Research suggests that unresolved grief costs companies billions of dollars a year in lost productivity and performance. I work with a woman who started a non profit organization during the COVID-19 pandemic. She got to stay home and work on her business with her husband and she didn’t have to do all of the things she had to pre-COVID-19 that she didn’t want to do. As restrictions lifted and life began to resume to what it was before the pandemic, she unknowingly began to grieve the life that she had created that she loved; she had lost the motivation to work on her non profit organization and she did not know why. All she knew was that she was approaching her life in a different way and she did not like it.
So, how do we know if what we are experiencing is grief? It’s obvious when it is explicitly linked to a traumatizing or incredibly life changing event, like the passing of a loved one. Other times it could be subtle and related to something that you didn’t know could impact you. Grief can be linked to situations such as thinking about expectations that never came to fruition, finishing up a job you didn’t like, going into and coming out of COVID-19, or moving countries. Especially in work situations, if you do not process disappointment, it can knock you out of the game, regardless of what industry you work in.
Employers and managers must understand that grief looks different for everyone and that they should be on the look-out for employees that may be experiencing it. Watching for changes in work performance, mood, and relations with other co-workers is a great place to start. Many employees experience direct correlations between their grief and their work especially in situations like missing staff members who have been let go, not being where they thought they would be in their career etc.
If you are not sure that what you are experiencing is grief but you are recognizing a significant change in the way that you are experiencing the world around you, think about your feelings and your experiences as though they are grief and see if it lands. With those clients that I mentioned earlier, I had recognized that it was grief and I landed it for them. If you try it on and you feel that it is not grief, it is probably something else. In either case, discussing the way that you feel and the way you are experiencing things with close family and friends and a counsellor will go a long way.
While you are observing yourself and possibly others for experienced grief, you may be wondering, what do I do now? Here are some key action points for you to act on:
- Notice it both in yourself and your staff. Notice if you have similar symptoms to my clients (unmotivated, not work the same as you used to, maybe even teary). One of my clients didn’t notice she was acting odd until her husband mentioned it. You can’t always see when or how your behaviour changes, so be open to feedback if someone else sees it.
- Name it. What is it you are actually grieving over? Don’t shame yourself and don’t shame your team. Recognize that grief is natural and needs to be taken care of but it cannot be treated if it isn’t acknowledged.
- Forgive. Whether it is yourself or someone else in your life, have compassion for the person who is grieving. Allow room for grace and forgiveness for yourself and give that space to others as well.
- Grieve. This is the hardest part. Allow yourself and encourage others to actually feel the feelings that are being pushed down. I have often felt, as have many of my clients, that if I feel my feelings then I will be overwhelmed and “ain’t nobody got time for that”. But, there is no fast-tracking grief and you do not want to allow your grief to fester inside of you until you become unable to do what you need to. What you resist, persists. You need to stop resisting and let it out and give yourself and others the space to do so.
- Create meaning from the loss and move forward stronger than you were going into it. Transform the pain of grieving into something that you can use to help others in similar situations and to learn more about who you are and who you want to be.
- Seek help from a professional (psychologist, therapist, counsellor) to help you process your grief to a place of healing.
- Closure. Find a symbol or hold a ceremony of some sort for what you are grieving. We have funerals for people but you can also create a form of ceremony for events, changes, or other losses. Closure is important and having a physical event to pin to the closure will help you heal.
- Move Forward. When you are ready and you have processed your grief with a professional and have found closure, move forward. Know that moving forward from grief looks different for some people than it does for others.
Let’s not let unresolved grief stop our leadership or our business growth. Take action, seek help, and work through the grief so that you can continue to serve your family, your friends, your colleagues, your employees, your clients, and (most importantly) yourself as well as you can.