How leaders shine in 3 life changing events

Recently my father passed away and it gave me the opportunity to reemphasize my commitment to leadership relationships in the office. Sheryl Sandberg reports, in her book Option B, that after the death of a loved one only 60 percent of private sector workers get paid time off – usually just a few days. In the United States alone grief-related losses in productivity may cost companies as much as $75 billion annually.

Take it from me, who can count on one hand how many sick days I’ve taken throughout my executive career, three days off for bereavement would have never been enough. Your employees will come back tired, unproductive, possibly resentful, prone to costly mistakes, and incredibly disoriented if they haven’t had time to distance and begin to heal from the immediate distress of losing a loved one.

My coworkers made a momentous impact on the difficulty I had with my father’s suffering and death. The result inspired me to share the following tips on personalizing your leadership during life changing events.

1. A baby is something to celebrate

Share your joy at the announcement. Invite a discussion about any work concerns they may have. Be excited! Create a pool around the forthcoming birth date or weight. Have an office shower/lunch with a theme – favorite picture book. Hang a photo of the baby in the department. Email photos to colleagues. Send the parents a photo of the team holding a sign that says “Congratulations!”  

2. After a death in the family, be present. Give the employee time to grieve and attend to family needs

New parents prepare for months for the birth of a child. In a flash you could lose a loved one. It can derail the best employee with unexpected family, house, medical and financial anxieties. If employees return to work too soon they may not have had time to allow the trauma of death to wane to fonder memories of life. Surviving spouses may need help with living arrangements financial support, children. Give employees at least the equivalent of a week off. Send a meal home and/or flowers to the funeral home. Show up and pay your respects. Send cards. Offer flexible hours upon return. They will never forget your loyalty at this difficult time.   

3. Affirm reasons for a leave of absence with employee – and the team

If an employee is taking an approved leave, assure him or her that you will work together to create a plan to make the transition as easy as possible on them. Affirm their need for personal time and that you will support them in any way possible. Ask them to set a schedule of what projects and tasks they hope to accomplish before they leave and to create a list of all ongoing responsibilities in their absence so that together you may have things well covered for their return. Decide if anyone in the organization can attend to the tasks or if temporary help is needed. Share this plan early with other team members who are worried what will be expected of them. Hang a “Welcome Back!” sign upon return.

If you think your company is too big to provide these personalized touches you’re wrong. Have your marketing and HR teams meet to roll out an employee centric brand for your organization that includes some of the items listed here. Forgo giving a free lunch to build engagement. People want to know the company cares about them, that they have flexibility and professional development. Make it personal before your most important assets take your disengagement personally.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at