ALLOW SPACE FOR GRIEF
Jessica was the associate director of a small non-profit organisation in Boston when her 24-year-old colleague, Ellen, became gravely ill. After three months in the hospital, Ellen passed away. “She was the keystone of our organisation, and we were a tight-knit group,” Jessica says. There were 15 people who worked in the organisation. Ellen died right before the office closed for the winter holidays, and over the break, Jessica worked with the executive director to come up with a plan for the staff ’s return. “We knew this was going to be devastating. We had lots of conversations about what the right expectations were, how we should talk about the situation and how we should support people,” Jessica says.
When people returned to work, the atmosphere was “dark”. “Every single person – men and women – at some point came into my office, sat in my chair and cried,” Jessica says. But she never tried to stem the tears. “People have to fall apart before they can pull themselves back together. Unless you give people space to grieve, it will leak out in other ways.”
She met with staff members individually to help them process their grief and to make a work plan going forward. “People were wondering what to do: Do we work or not work?” she says. Jessica and the executive director told people to do what they could. “We wanted people to come in and do their best.” In addition to the individual meetings, they also got together every morning to check in as a group. This gave people room to express what they were going through and to connect with others. They did this for two weeks and then moved the meeting to once a month. “Eventually it morphed into a general meeting where we checked in about things outside