Help Employees Navigate through Economic Crisis
By Rita Milios
Because of the current economic crisis, many of your
employees are suffering. They have experienced sudden, unexpected,
unprecedented losses. Many have lost their hopes for the future,
their expectations of living “the good life” in their retirement
years. Many have lost faith in their leaders along with the trust
they once had in large institutions.
They are grieving. Such grief affects productivity in the
workplace, as employees have trouble focusing on their jobs, they
experience mental confusion, and have problems with memory
retention. Others may become short tempered and irritable. A study
by the Grief Recovery Institute (2003) estimated that grief symptoms
affecting employee productivity cost employers billions of dollars
annually. While the death of a family member, friend or colleague
naturally impacted productivity the most, grief symptoms related to
financial losses experienced by employees cost employers $4.5
billion per year, and grief related to other major employee
lifestyle alterations cost companies $2.4 billion per year.
Clearly, crisis-related grief is a factor in the workplace
and must be dealt with. How can managers help their employees? How
can they balance empathy and understanding with the need to get
employees back on task?
Many people find “The Four Tasks of Mourning,” outlined by
William Worden in his 2002 book, Grief Counseling and Grief
Therapy, to be helpful. As managers, focusing on the tasks in
Worden’s book and combining them with the following tips will help
your employees navigate their grief.
Task 1: Accept the
Reality of Your Loss:
facing reality when they fear it, and they fear that which they
don’t want to happen. But the sooner the situation is accepted, the
sooner it can be dealt with.
As a manager, you can help your employees move past blame,
finger pointing and denial and help them begin actively searching
for a solution to their problems. Since many employees are in the
same situation, it might be a good idea to call a meeting to discuss
the “elephant in the room” issue that may be distracting them from
their work. Not only will you demonstrate that you understand and
empathize with their problems, you will show that you are willing to
work with them to solve them, by suggesting ways to more consciously
and effectively move through the grief related to their losses.
Task 2: Experience
the Pain of Grief:
Grieving a loss –
whether that loss is related to a co-worker, a promotion or a dream
– is a tricky process. It is necessary to feel the loss and
experience its pain in order to let it go. But at the same time, if
your employees become too focused on sensing and feeling the
intensity of feelings, they may forget to activate the other part of
this process, which is to think through emotions, to analyze
them and discover the deeper levels of meaning and opportunity
It might be useful to start your meetings with a relaxation
exercise. Here is a simple exercise that is not only relaxing; it
helps to dissipate some of the intense anxiety associated with fear:
1) Take a deep breath and allow yourself to fully experience
your fear. Notice where these feelings are located within your body
(often in your abdomen). Focus on this location and breathe calmly.
With each breath, say to yourself: “I can be afraid and still be
OK..” At first, you may feel that you are adding to your
anxiety, but within a few breaths, you will feel your fear begin to
dissipate. With emotions, what you resist persists, what you notice
2) Now ask yourself the following questions:
losses are you experiencing at this moment? (Are these
losses concrete–for example, actual dollar losses out of pocket
today, or are they perceived losses, as in the loss of “value”
of a stock?)
What can you
control at this moment? (Perhaps your emotions are the
only thing you can control right now, so focus on taking charge
Task 3: Adjust to
the New Reality:
This task has two
parts. The first is to begin making new decisions based on
the current economic reality, rather than on fear, anger or
hurt. This requires a commitment to change and a decision to act
rather than simply feel and experience. Second, it requires
managers to help employees move forward into a new, unknown,
uncharted reality, no matter how scary that may feel. Then it’s time
to formulate a plan.
changes need to be made (e.g., cut back on expenses, reduce
waste, secure additional revenue sources).
With a clear
head, begin to create strategies to achieve these goals.
to your employees that just as management occasionally has to
develop a new strategic plan for the workplace when major surprises
occur, they, too, may need to develop a new strategic plan for their
personal lives. If your workplace offers EAP services, perhaps your
EAP representative or HR person can work with your employees to
maximize the potential of their new plan.
Task 4: Reinvest
Your Emotional Energy in the New Reality:
When it is time to put the new plan into action, the intense
emotional energy generated by crisis can actually help. The
escalating tension and anxiety that accompanies fear is the result
of the mind’s attempt to make sense of two conflicting realities–the
one that we wished still existed, and the one that now is.
This mental tension, called thrustration, is a cross
between frustration and thrust, the energy behind movement or
activity. Crisis brings us to a point where we must do something
different. Thrustration provides the momentum to propel our
decisions into action. When we get thrustrated enough, we do
Encourage your employees to use the energy of thrustration;
it is the “opportunity” side of crisis. After formulating a new
plan, encourage them to:
Everyone grieves when they experience loss, and grief adversely
affects the workplace. By helping your employees focus on the
tasks at hand as well as the feelings they are experiencing, you
can help them remain calm during a crisis and think their way toward
a solution. And this will likely have a positive effect on your
bottom line, as well as theirs.
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