Why is everyone so afraid of Divorce and Death in the workplace?

Divorce. It’s a word people shy away from.  They don’t like to say it, it makes them uncomfortable. For the individual dealing with it, it’s associated with shame, failure and regret. Seldom empowerment, opportunity or new beginnings. For the people associated with the individual – friends, colleagues, neighbors – they are worried it’s too personal. […]

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Divorce. It’s a word people shy away from.  They don’t like to say it, it makes them uncomfortable. For the individual dealing with it, it’s associated with shame, failure and regret. Seldom empowerment, opportunity or new beginnings. For the people associated with the individual – friends, colleagues, neighbors – they are worried it’s too personal. What if they say the wrong thing? What if they know both spouses, will they be seen as taking sides? Or as an employer, are you breaching the work life boundary if you ask how your employee is doing or offer to help them during this challenging time?

Death. Why do we find it so challenging to move beyond the words, “I am sorry for your loss”. Why are we nervous to ask how people are coping? Why are we afraid to ask the details, to be empathetic, to really care about the issue that our friends and colleagues are facing and to ensure that they feel they have a place to talk and be supported? Why do we assume they want to be left alone, for colleagues not to be informed, not to be bothered? In other words, to be left isolated, and feeling like the organization that they work for cares only about their return to work and not about them and the unimaginable loss that they are dealing with.

First of all, what is a work life boundary? If it ever existed before, it certainly does not now. And how did we ever get to a place where employers accepted a responsibility to be involved in all employee life events that have a positive impact – marriage, conceiving a child – all incredibly personal issues, but totally feign responsibility to support people when they are in crisis even though this impacts peoples’ performance by more than 40%? 

One of the few positive impacts of Covid-19, is the shift that it is creating in the workplace well-being space. Thankfully, corporations now finally accept responsibility for our employees during the more challenging times. Nudge Global is calling this the “Great Well-Being Realization” and Goldman Sachs just launched a more tailored approach to performance management which focuses on empowering managers to lead as coaches. Their Head of Human Capital Management, Bentley De Beyer, recently wrote that “In a talent-centric business – we only operate at our best when our people can too”. Hear Hear!  

But, how do we make sure that we do this right and truly integrate this change into the culture of our organizations? We need to recognize that emotional intelligence does not come easily to everyone. Just because someone is capable of managing the workflow and outputs of a team of 50 people, does not mean that they will know how to approach and speak with those valued people about sensitive life issues such as these. We need to ensure empathy training in our organization, both in the heart of our HR departments, and amongst our leaders. Let’s all now make a commitment to implementing change, not just talking about the fact that the well-being of our people is now our priority. Let us ensure that this change is forever, not just until we find a vaccine for covid-19.

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