Professor of the Practice in Systems Thinking and Design Gerald Suarez at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business can expand on his comments, below, on how leaders can help their employees grieve the death of a coworker while keeping their focus on organizational priorities.
An organizational psychology PhD-holder, Suarez has authored “Leader of One” and served in the White House under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations as director of Presidential Quality.
"Leaders, who are themselves dealing with the sense of loss, have to simultaneously become a source of strength and continuity for the team and organization. And with teams dispersed into their remote locations, coming together in grief now becomes even harder.
“Although the void left by the death of a coworker can be overwhelming, it also may serve as a catalyst for inspiration, resilience and unity. Leadership must ensure that the sense of loss never dampens the spirit and mission of the organization.
"This is a shared process that ultimately everyone experiences together. Take the opportunity to channel the pain into renewed purpose, help people reconnect with values, reflect on what matters most and use this moment to nurture a culture of empathy.
“Do not rush to turn the page. Grieving is never a linear process, and everyone goes through it at a different pace. Emotions oscillate and may vary in intensity. Recognize employees in pain, help them find a renewed purpose and build resilience by focusing on maintaining a healthy mindset.
“Be accessible. Engage the team, build connectedness, create forums for coworkers to share stories and express feelings. Send the signal that it is encouraged to share their memories. Avoidance is never an effective long-term strategy to help the team overcome their deep-seated emotions and feelings.
"Extend support to the family. Employees will notice your actions to offer concerted help and support to the grieving family. This is an opportunity for the organization to build a sense of community and demonstrate its values in action.”