Managing grief and loss in the workplace during COVID times (1)

ONCE UPON A TIME: the relevance of history in risk management (final)
Alberta Quarcoopome

It is just over a year ago, when we first heard of the COVID -19 virus and its devastation among the people in China. We thought it was too far away to get close to Ghana. Now it is with us in our churches, schools, workplaces and even in our homes. I therefore dedicate today’s article to all leaders who are managing staff in stressful conditions such as these. Under the Risk categories, this falls under People Risk. Under a strong leader and manager who appreciates people risk, the chance for errors, frauds and losses do not escalate. With the rise in COVID cases in Ghana, some bank staff have been infected and passing the virus on to their families are home. Others have even decided to call it quits. Under Operational Risk Management, this falls under the category called “People Risk”. Inaction can therefore affect the bank’s bottom line. It is therefore appropriate to discuss the issue dispassionately.

Kudos to Mr. Daniel Asiedu, Managing Director of OmniBSIC Bank

I was deeply touched when a ward of mine told me that she received a telephone call from her MD, Mr Daniel Asiedu! She had been infected by COVID 19 and was convalescing at home. Apart from checking up on her, he also prayed for her! On second thought, I am not surprised by Mr Daniel Asiedu’s gesture, considering his towering personality as a seasoned Banker, (CEO of various banks – Zenith, ADB) Financial Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Business Coach and renowned Reverend Minister of the Gospel of Christ. In addition, she had also received calls from the Head of Human Resources, Mr Steve Adeakye about three times, checking up on her health. This is the way to go. It may seem just like a nice little gesture, but for a COVID 19 patient, it is a BIG thing. This is the time to replicate such therapeutic actions in our workplaces. The supposed little things we do remain etched on people’s minds forever. OmniBSIC, well done.

Death in the workplace

Dear manager, have you heard about or directly experiencing the death of someone you know, including co-workers and loved ones, during the COVID 19 outbreak? As people who work side by side sharing work and personal experiences, co-workers can become a significant part of your life and these losses can impact you and everyone in the workplace. Recovery takes time and can be even more difficult with the realities of physical distancing policies. You may not be able to experience and cope with grief in ways you would otherwise, such as physically spending time with colleagues, friends and family; visiting a place of worship; or attending a funeral in person. These changes can be traumatic and may impact grieving. You can support colleagues who have lost loved ones and cope with the loss of a co-worker by gaining an understanding of grief, loss, and how to interact with co-workers after a death.

COVID in the workplace

Recent statistics reveal that staff working in the frontline of financial institutions are contracting the COVID 19. This disease was previously known to more deadly in vulnerable people with underlying health conditions. Recent reports of more younger people dying from COVID, has created fear and panic in offices. Everyone is vulnerable. This calls for serious discussions on the modalities to be followed to prevent a catastrophe in our workplaces. In 2020, I devoted two articles to the new strategies to be adopted in the Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) for financial institutions. The soft skills of managing COVID-related grief is now paramount.

Honing the Management skills of leaders

Are managers in banks taking strategic measures to ensure a seamless business continuity plan? How are these being followed? This is the time for managers to start upskilling their interpersonal relationships with the staff. How proactive is the HR department to guide first-line managers who themselves are at a loss on what steps to take? Inability to handle such issues may cause staff exits due to fear and panic.

Supporting employees through grief

The process for how to support employees through grief is, unfortunately, one of the hardest and most delicate tasks one can undertake as a business leader. When a death impacts a single employee or your entire staff, it can have a major effect on your workplace in terms of absenteeism, productivity and your team’s long-term emotional and mental health. To work toward minimizing grief’s impact in your workplace, it is helpful to consider the following questions:

  • How can you support your team members through a tough time and successfully transition them back to a normal work routine?
  • How do you balance the emotional needs of your people with the need for your business to continue operating as usual?

With those guiding questions in mind, let’s take a closer look at how to support employees through grief.

  • Expressing yourself to a Grieving Co-worker

It can be difficult to know what to say to a co-worker when learning about the death of their loved one, but not saying anything can make them feel isolated in their grief. Here are a few ways to show your colleague you care:

  • Show empathy

Simply stating that you are aware of their loss, how difficult this may be for them, and that you are there to support and help as needed, is often the most we can or need to do. You might also send a brief email or direct message such as:

  • “Even as we maintain physical distancing, I’m here for you.”
  • “If there is anything I can do to make your life easier, please let me know.”
  • Allow the person to grieve

Allow the person to go through the grieving process. As one comes to terms with their loss, they can experience days when coping and grieving seem more challenging than others. Try to check in with them regularly. When you ask them “How are you today?” invite them to talk more freely, beyond just responding, “I’m fine.”

  • Offer your support

Offer your help and assistance in a way that will not add to any difficulties they might be experiencing by making them feel pressured to accept. You can say, “Making funeral arrangements at a time like this can be extra hard. If you need help figuring things out, let me know.”

  • Respect their privacy

Depending on how close you are with them, they may or may not want to discuss their loss. Even if you are close, they may not be ready to share their grief. Just listen and be ready, if and when they want to talk, but never pressure them to share. You can say, “I’d love to hear more about your loved one whenever you are ready, but I also respect your privacy.”

  • Phrases to avoid

Phrases to avoid when talking with a colleague who has just lost a loved one:

  • “Time heals everything.”
  • “They are in a better place.”
  • “You’re going to be fine.”
    • “You’re still young, so you can still have a great life.”
    • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • Consider granting bereavement leave.

It is an opportunity for your organization to demonstrate and uphold its values, which should involve caring for people. It allows people space to grieve privately. It gives employees time to take care of necessary personal business in the wake of a loved one’s death, such as planning funeral services or making burial arrangements.

  • Monitor/Keep an eye on your employee

In doing so, look out for signs of mental health issues arising out of the grief or sickness. These can be exhibited in various forms such as declining productivity, change of behaviour, anti-social and reduction of focus. Sometimes they can be referred to a professional for help. Be caring and empathetic. Demonstrate a personal touch by chatting with him or her.

Bereaved employees resuming work

It is good to maintain an open-door policy in which your employee knows they can share concerns with you, and you will be available to listen. It is time to transition back to normal routine. Depending on the nature of work, managers may consider any of the following:

  • Allow them to work from home more frequently if the business permits.
  • Provide continued support to the employee during this time.
  • Lighten their workload upon returning to work.
  • Help them to avoid environments or situations that remind them of their grief.

Easing workloads and expectations can give the employee space to heal. It also requires an ongoing dialogue with your employee and related team members to assess and address specific needs.

After all, much of the success of your business relies on the talented people in your team. If you take care of them and meet their emotional needs, everything else will follow.

I will pause here. Next week we shall look at managing covid 19 victims when they resume work.



Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations ethics and fraud.


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