Grieving at Work- Strategies for Coping

grief2I worked in the HR trenches for most of my career and at every job, the trusty EAP brochure was not far from reach.  The only trouble is, employees just don’t tend to use the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) benefits and resources as often as we would hope.  Honestly, more employees would rather have a chat with someone in HR or a colleague and tell us their most personal troubles than to search online or through a brochure for something to help whatever ails them.  I know EAP has so many great benefits from financial advice, life changes advice (marriage, birth of a baby, divorce) and even bereavement advice, I feel like there has to be more that HR can offer.

I recently lost my grandmother to Alzheimers.  I was very close to her and visited her often, especially during the last ten years of her life.  The company I was with at the time only offered one day of bereavement for the death of a grandparent.  No consideration was given to the closeness of the relationship.  No call was received to give condolences.  So, in my extreme grief, I decided to reach out to my friends on Facebook for some suggestions of how to cope with the tremendous loss since I had never lost someone so close to me.

My friends and chosen colleagues in the HR world first embraced me in the most loving support I could hope for.  Then, they shared their personal tips on how to deal with grief.  Since death is a part of life, I want to share the tips here today in hopes they will help you, someone you love, a friend, or even a co-worker in need.  Here we go:

  • Hugs- Take hugs from everyone you can.  The act of being embraced actually makes you feel better and helps calm your body’s reaction to the grief.
  • A good joke-  It may seem like the wrong time to joke, but laughing launches chemicals in the brain to help you feel better.
  • Getting outside- A nice long walk, a game in the park, or a run may be just what you need to get your adrenaline going.
  • Prayer- While I know not everyone believes the same truth, if you pray, it can really help you.  Some of my most comforting moments were sitting in church.  My grandma died just before Easter, so a challenging time to hear that message, but ultimately very helpful.
  • Good friends- As much as you may want to be alone, the company of a good friend can lift your heart.  It also helps them feel like they are helping you.
  • Remembering good times with the loved one-  This is one I found difficult at first.  I didn’t want to think about her at all because it hurt too much.  Over the months, this one has gotten easier and now, I find that remembering fun times with Grammy really do help.
  • “Embrace the Moment”- My good friend Prudence Kumming told me to do this.
  • Street Wisdom– My sweet friend David D’Souza gave me the advice to read this blog.  So glad he did because I would have never found it without his suggestion.  It’s the story of how you can use the environment where you live to help you work through issues, concerns and thoughts.  So creative.
  • Let people help- One of the hardest things to do, if you’re like me, is let anyone help you.  Of all times, when you’re grieving is when it’s comforting to have someone take care of you.  Embrace it.
  • Care for yourself and be gentle with yourself-  This one comes from a brilliant woman, Heather Bussing.  So often we don’t take care of ourselves in these situations, we are too busy worrying about everyone else.  I was guilty of this.  Once I sat down and focused on this, I started feeling more like myself.
  • Books- My wise friend Margo Rose made several solid book recommendation for dealing with grief.  Healing After Loss was one and books by Kahili Gibran are supposed to do the trick.
  • Grief counseling-  If grief is too much to bear, see a grief counselor.  This is where the EAP can come in handy in terms of recommending local experts to help you.
  • Music- One of the things I found helpful was to listen to songs I know my Grammy loved.  Celebrating them through music is a very uplifting experience.
  • Sticking to a routine- I remember during my first real job, an employee lost a loved one.  I thought they would take the week off as bereavement and they came to work.  To my surprise, he told me that it was easier to continue the daily routine so he didn’t feel so bad.
  • “Living the Full Catastrophe”- My dear friend Geoff Webb made this suggestion.  Allowing yourself to feel and experience ALL parts of the process is the only way to really get through it.
  • Celebrate the person you lost- I’m seeing this more and more.  Sharing pictures and stories of the person who passed is a way to celebrate their life, not grieve the loss.
  • Sleep/ eat/ exercise-  It should go without saying, but making sure you do all the life basics is key to grieving.
  • Time Alone- My amazing friend Eric Winegardner suggested taking 2 days, or so, away.  Go somewhere by yourself and just be.
  • Understanding how Shiva is observed-  My wise and feeling friend Naomi Bloom shared the Jewish practice of Shiva.  Even though I am not of that faith, I admit that learning about it and taking some cues from the steps were very helpful in my dealing with my grief.

As you can see, there are many ways to deal with grief.  So, next time someone comes in your office and is struggling, feel free to give them the EAP brochure, but make additional suggestions.  They’ll welcome the input and information they may have never considered.

Be good to yourselves and feel free to share your tips on dealing with grief in the comments.  We’d all love to learn from it.

Who Is Lying To You? Everyone

Everyone lies.

Try to think of one person you’ve met who doesn’t lie.  It’s impossible.  From the moment we’re old enough to start having some shred of freedom to make decisions as children, we lie.  Of course when young children do it, we tend to call it a “fib” or a “white lie” because this implies that it is not a big deal.  “Johnny, did you color on your wall?”  “No mommy.”  Johnny says this even though he’s an only child and the only one in his room all day.  Why?  Because the power that Mommy has over him scares him and he’s afraid to tell the truth because he knows there will be consequences and he doesn’t want to deal with them.

We also deceive in order to:

  • Avoid disapproval
  • To manipulate
  • To maintain control
  • To avoid consequences
  • To save face for ourselves or others

That is really the essence of why people lie.  As adults we may try to convince ourselves or others that lying is a good way to spare someone’s feelings or avoid a sticky situation.  It becomes so routine that we do it almost involuntarily and even when we don’t need to lie.  Ever ask a co-worker how they’re doing and they say “great”?  Then a day later you learn they just lost their house or their spouse lost their job?  But, the person lies to you so they don’t have to deal with explaining how they really feel.  Most people would argue that this type of lie is about saving face or keeping things private.  That’s fine.  It’s still lying.

So, knowing that every one of us tells little half-truths, lies by omission, and some tell outright huge lies, what are some signs we can look for to determine if we’re being lied to?  As managers or leaders, how can we tell when it’s happening?  Working in HR certainly gives one the upper hand in spotting deception.  After years of interviewing, questioning, and investigating employee relations issues, I’ve been able to learn what to watch for.  Here are a few common tell-tale signs:

  • Body language–  When someone is being honest, they will turn their body toward you.  They will look you in the eye and you will not see them being nervous.  If the person is lying, they will do all they can to look away  or down without realizing it.  They will fidget and move their hands either to their face or mouth.
  • Speech and word choice–  In my experience, I’ve found two extremes in this area.  Some people will talk more quickly and become defensive.  You’ll notice that they are speaking in a way not normally characteristic of their behavior.  The other extreme is that the person may shut down.  They become quiet and do not want to answer your questions.  They also tend not to use words like “I” or “Me” in what they are telling you.  This is a subconscious attempt not to take responsibility for what is going on.
  • Changing the subject- Another tell is that the person will try to get you off the current line of questions and change the subject so that they can feel comfortable again.
  • Avoidance- You may not know that someone is lying behind your back.  One way to tell is the person will begin dodging you.  Do you have an employee that is normally friendly and chatty and suddenly they are not taking your calls or avoiding you when they see you coming?  It’s a definite sign that they’re avoiding you for a reason and this is a subconscious way people cut you out.

There are many other signs, but these are the ones that are often most noticeable.  What signs tell you that someone is lying to you?  Share them in the comments.


Work/Life Blend: Leader’s Series

The Leader’s Series on work/life perspectives is a hit.  The first three posts have been incredibly successful and generated quite a bit of discussion.  The first was ‘Work/Life Integration‘ by Eric Winegardner, the second was ‘Work/Life Unity‘ which I wrote, and third was ‘Work, Life, and Life/Work‘ by Bill Boorman.

Leanne Chase
Leanne Chase

Today is a special post on work/life blend by Leanne Chase.  Leanne is the founder of Career Life Connection, a business dedicated to connecting employers and potential employees in discussions about flexibility.  It also provides a platform for employers to post jobs where flexibility is valued and for job seekers to find a job that has the type of flexibility that will work with their life.  These employers understand that a more flexible work environment can lead to employees who are more fulfilled, loyal, and productive. Be sure to check out Career Life Connection.

With that, I give you Leanne.

I really do think some of the ways we think about work/life are generational.  These are gross generalizations…but that doesn’t mean they don’t still hold true.  For example:

  • Gen Y women are asking about maternity leave policies right out of college.
  • Gen X prefers to work where and when they want and be left alone to do so as long as they do their work well and on time.
  • Boomers are notorious for separating work and life as two distinct and separate worlds – until now when they are interested in retiring but not interested in stopping work altogether.

Enough on that – now on to my work/life blend.  It is truly a blend and has been for more than 20 years for me.

I can thank workplace flexibility for my graduate school degree in my 20’s.  The company I worked for paid for my tuition.  They gave me time off during the business day to take classes (I’m talking 1-4p classes each semester – not leaving early for a 4:30p class) and I worked into the night to complete my tasks.

Later in life companies I worked for recognized that some things are more important than filling a chair 9a-5p – like family.  My Dad had significant heart disease since my teenage years.  While his health was a slow-moving roller coaster it was a roller coaster none-the-less.  Most of the companies I worked for during that time understood that being with him in critical times was better for me (and in the long run for them) than being in the office.  One employer didn’t get it…I left.

But I have also understood that it is my responsibility to manage my work-life blend and that it is all in my control.  For instance I took a year off from working all together to travel the world with my husband.  We had been going at breakneck pace in our careers and saw little of each other.  After 8 years together we decided to put on the brakes and actually spend some time together.  It was great and our work lives did not suffer long term effects from taking time off.

Now that I am a mom my work/life blend has truly ramped up.  There are daily responsibilities at home now that cannot wait.  They need attention.  For that reason I, like many others, have left corporate America to start my own business.  It gives me the autonomy I need and want to manage my work/life blend.    There are days I would much rather have a boss than be the boss…but for now it is not worth the trade offs.  I am encouraged by some of the steps being taken in the corporate world to try to work in work/life blend and hold others accountable for their actions.  I saw this article about workplace flexibility just today.  Imagine holding a vendor accountable for how they treat their employees?  A new era is dawning…I’m very excited to see how it evolves.

Thank you to Leanne for her thoughts on work/life flexibility.  Please take time to leave a comment for her.

Work/ Life Leader’s Series: Balance? Not For Me!

When I started the work/ life leader’s series last fall, I could never have predicted the level of insight that leaders would share with us.  This project continues to be something that you are asking for.  So, I continue to reach out to various leaders in human resources and recruiting to learn as much as possible.

Today, I am privileged to have someone I consider a true friend post his thoughts on the topic.  Jason Seiden is not only a kind and generous friend, he is a professional speaker, coach, and author.  Jason’s books, ‘Super Staying Power: What You Need to Be Valuable & Resilient at Work and the award-winning How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What’s Left of Your Career are two of the most popular business books on the market. Jason is also a family man who takes that role seriously.  Be sure to check out his site at

So, read on to learn how Jason makes it all work.  Then, leave a comment and let us know what you think.


When Trish asked me to guest post on work/life balance, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Though to be clear, I revere work/life balance about as much as an atheist believes in God.

So here’s my answer to, “How do I achieve “work/life balance?”

I don’t. I have spent extensive time the past few years doing things to lay the foundation for what I’m doing now (writing/speaking). At the time, these things caused major scheduling conflicts. I did them anyway.

I have no expectations. Rather than try to force things to happen on my schedule, I put myself in the way of opportunity and adjust quickly when it presents itself. I go. I do. I get caught up in things. Periodically I step back to assess my priorities, my strengths, and my interests: where are the themes? I ask myself. My passions find me, but only when I let go of expectation.

I grab moments when I can. My book Super Staying Power has four chapters on how to create “Magic Moments,” those perfect life moments that turn into lifelong memories. The model is real, I use it all the time. I work a lot, so I often invent ways to include my kids in my life during what would otherwise be “dead time.” I don’t worry about blocks of time, I focus on moments.

Hugs, all the time. Love is not an after-hours thing, it is a whenever-I-am-with-someone-I-love thing.

Work, all the time. Work is not an 8 to 6 thing; it is a whenever-I-get-inspired thing.

People come first. Every once in awhile, I’ll take an extended lunch with a friend. Usually, I don’t have time for it. But afterward, I’m always glad I did it.

I’m lucky. One thing my wife has been very clear about since the beginning is that breaking up is never on the table—whatever the challenge, we’ll figure out a way. I wouldn’t dare preach to anyone how to keep a marriage strong; on this score, I just got lucky.

Honesty. A client once remarked during a negotiation that I don’t dance like other vendors, I wrestle. So I do. If there’s an issue, let’s deal with it. I get paid a lot of money to help people figure out how to successfully move through office politics, which get created when people chose not to deal with the underlying issues. I’ve gotten good enough at it to know that the most efficient political maneuver is to hit issues head on whenever possible.

I have a long term perspective. Work/life balance is a lifetime thing, not a day-to-day thing.

I say “yes. I know the advice about equating “saying ‘no'” with integrity. I think that’s bullshit. Integrity means owning up to mistakes, not pussyfooting through life for fear of making one. The point at which you are in balance is as close to “over-commitment” as it is to “under-commitment.” What, if you err to one side, you’re OK, but err to the other side, and you suddenly have no integrity? Horse feathers. It’s as important to know how to say “yes” to the things you’d like to do as it is to say “no” to the things you know you can’t. If you start feeling that your integrity is on the line when you talk balance, you’re just screwed.

I manage risks rather than eliminate them. Safety is an illusion. This is life: I will get burned and that there will be tears—no question about it. No need to live in fear of the inevitable! I find a lot of success in life comes from simply accepting the risks.

I have goals. I make sure to do something every day to move forward toward my goals. For instance, I tell people about them. (You can’t help me unless you know what I want. Which right now is as many speaking opportunities as I can land, thanks.)

I don’t hide from my emotions. I use my emotions as guides. I don’t always know what they mean, but I don’t ignore them. When they speak, I listen.

I actively enjoy my life. Some days naturally suck, others are naturally great. But other days, my attitude has a big impact on my surroundings. If I notice people around me all being nasty, I assume that I must not be enjoying myself and that they’re responding to the negativity I’m emanating. Rather than get mad at them, I try to find something around me to appreciate, and I focus on it until I change my mood. When you’re having fun, you don’t worry about balance.

I live in a home, not a house. We have no “no touch” room, no nice furniture, and no rules that prioritize things over people. After all, my couch will not be at my funeral.

There it is: a relatively raw “brain dump” spurred by thoughts of that fantastical myth, “work/life balance.”

I can’t imagine there’s anyone else around whose brain goes to the same place mine does when s/he hears the question, “How do you achieve work/life balance,” and that’s probably a good thing. So take from my musings what you can, laugh at the parts where I’m ridiculous, and find that path that works for you…

Me? I’m off. I’ve got clients to call and a kid downstairs who doesn’t even know she’s got a tickle torture on the way…

Survival Guide: Top 10 Ways to Survive Holidays at Work

work-partyAre you starting to feel the stress and pressure of holidays at work?  From knowing which ones people celebrate and when it’s appropriate to ask, to feeling guilty if you don’t want to participate at all, I’ve heard all the reasons that workers don’t like this time of year at work.  Here are my top 10 ways to make it through December unscathed:

  1. The holiday pot luck-  Don’t go for it.  If you have to bring something, opt for napkins or plates.  Stick to the store-bought food… you never know who made those Christmas cookies that look like Santa but are a little fuzzy.
  2. The office gift exchange-  I’ve often been lulled or even guilted into playing along with the office “Secret Santa” game.  Don’t follow suit!  You know who I always got stuck with?  The boss.  Or that one person I worked with that seemed a little creepy.  The only easy way to get around it is to just “forget” to put your name in, then say to your co-workers that you’d just rather see the joy on their faces as they get their $10 worth of holiday trinkets over the next week.
  3. To decorate or not to decorate-  You know what?  I spend a few days trying to put up three Christmas trees, decorate all throughout my house and even put up all the blow up and light up figures in my front yard.  The last thing I want to do is decorate at work.  If you must, grab a poinsettia at your local grocery store for your desk and be done with it.  Who needs the hassle?
  4. Holiday sweaters-  Steer clear!  The only time that is fun is….never.
  5. Adopt-A-Family-  Obviously the best thing to get involved in.  No matter what your holiday politics at work, this is a winner.  Who doesn’t have fun buying toys and needed items for a family?  If you’re investing in participating in anything, this is YOUR thing.
  6. The dreaded holiday party-  I’ll keep this one simple because you can find 100 other posts that detail all the things you need to do to survive the holiday party.  My advice is simple.  Don’t get drunk.  Be professional.  If you don’t think you can handle those two things, don’t go.  Simple.
  7. Holiday cards-  For clients, yay.  For all your office, nay.
  8. Holiday vacation time-  If you’re lucky enough to grab it on the schedule in January, do it.  Otherwise, plan to be annoyed each year between Christmas and New Years when you’re the only one in the office.
  9. December workload-  Here’s a concept…. actually use December to get ahead for the coming year.  You know why?  All your colleagues are slacking this month because of all the holiday distractions.  Then they all have to work twice as hard in January to get caught back up.  Don’t fall prey to this one.  Keep the pace in December so that you can ease into the new year.
  10. Gifts for the boss-  Best not to do it.  If you must, a bottle of wine or nice ornament can do the trick.  Keep it generic.  And red.  Never give white wine.

So there you have it…my simple guide to surviving the holidays at work.  Do any of these hit close to home for you?  Just remember to try not to go too crazy on the spiced egg nog and you should be fine.

Happy Holidays!

Feeling Overwhelmed? Strategies to Overcome Work and Personal Obstacles

HR professionals wear many hats. When you work in HR, the moment you take off one hat, another one pops into place.  One minute you’re thinking like a recruiter, the next you’re handling an employee relations issue, the next you are strategizing with a leader on a plan or program.  One hat I like wearing is that of coach and counselor.  I use my skill and experience to guide managers and employees and often, it spills over to family and friends.

Regardless of whether I am at work or at home, there are people who need advice and guidance on how to best respond to certain situations.  Quite frequently, it involves the individual being completely overwhelmed with the demands that others put on them and that they put on themselves.  Even I have fallen prey to these feelings in the past.  There is one exercise I have found to be helpful in this situation.  I call it the One Small Thing.

Here’s how it works:

  • Make a list that includes each area of your life where you feel overwhelmed. For example, work, spouse, children, personal.
  • Now, each day do one small thing that can ultimately lead to change in that area of your life.
    • For example, if the problem is your job and you think you can repair the relationship, one small thing may be scheduling a call with your boss and communicating more. If you feel like you need to move on and repairing the situation is not an option, use each day to make one call to someone in your network who can help you find a new position.
    • If the issue is at home with your children, the one small thing might be asking them to spend time taking a walk or talking with you, going on a bike ride, finding something around the house to work on together.
    • If the issue is personal and you’re not building in any time for your personal interests, the one small thing may be to commit to scheduling at least fifteen minutes a day to do something selfish, just for your enjoyment.
  • Each day, keep track of what you’re doing in each category.

If you follow the ‘one small thing’ exercise, I guarantee that after a couple weeks, you’ll find that you’re much father ahead in creating situations where you can be successful and fulfilled.  By approaching a problem in incremental steps, you will find that you are no longer overwhelmed.  You will be taking control over the things you CAN control and that is the right approach.

Know of other ways people in this situation can overcome the obstacles?  Share with me in the comments…

Work/life Leader Series

Life ebbs and flows.  It brings all the sweetest moments and peppers in some of the most trying challenges.  Through it all, we somehow each find our way.  Over the years, I’ve looked to my mentors to guide me through with advice on how they handle specific situations.  With that in mind, back in 2009 I started a “Work/life Leader Series” of posts that would give various leaders a place to share their ideas and experiences on the age-old issue of work/life balance.

While I haven’t heard much about work/life balance in the last year, it seems that lately it’s resurfacing.  Often, I get asked by new readers to share my thoughts on the topic.  With that in mind, I decided to take all the posts from the Work/life Leader Series and share them here.  As you’ll see, regardless if you’re male or female, the consensus is that there is no such thing as “balance” when it comes to juggling home responsibilities with work.  Enjoy!

Work/life Leader Series

Work/life Integration Eric Winegardner, VP of Client Adoption at Monster Worldwide

Work/life Unity–  Trish McFarlane

Work, Life and Life/work–  Bill Boorman, Founder of TRUevents, Recruiter, Trainer

Work/life Blend–  Leanne Chase, founder of Career Life Connection

Work/life: 10 Tips to Implement Flexibility Programs–  Beth Carvin, CEO & President, Nobscot Corporation

There’s No Such Thing As Work/life Balance Mike Vandervort, Social Media Community Manager, Publix

Work/life: Zen And The Art Of Focustime–  William Tincup, CEO, Tincup & Co.

Work/life Balance?  Not For Me!–  Jason Seiden, Author, Speaker, and Founder of Ajax Social Media


5 Strategies To Coach Employees Who Have Become “Institutionalized”

~ He’s just institutionalized…The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood, fifty years. This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man, he’s an educated man. Outside he’s nothin’ – just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn’t get a library card if he tried…these walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s ‘institutionalized’…They send you here for life and that’s exactly what they take, the part that counts anyway.~ Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding

I was watching the Shawshank Redemption this morning.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time.  It’s one of those stories that has so many poignant lessons about relationships, trust, fear, motivation, and well, life in general.  Even though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, one part really hit me this morning.  There is an older gentleman, Brooks, who has spent his whole life in the prison.  When it comes time for him to be paroled, he breaks down and wants to commit a crime in prison so that they’ll be forced to keep him.  His friends prevent him from committing the crime and Brooks is paroled.  Brooks tries to fit in out in the real world, but having been in prison so long, he just cannot adjust.  He eventually commits suicide.

Institutionalized in the Workplace

The movie made me think about the workplace and employees who have worked their whole career at one organization.  As I was growing up, my dad taught me that it was an honorable thing to choose a career and then stay with that employer for the entire time.  Think about it, many people born in the 1930’s- 1950’s have been able to accomplish this.

There are certainly employees who fit this description and who stay engaged and are the best representatives of  the organizational culture.  But, most workplaces have those employees who are just there and going through the motions.  They do this year after year.  They continue to come to work and just do the minimum to get by.  They might as well be carving a hash mark into the desk to represent each passing day.

So, what can a manager do with these employees to turn being “institutionalized” into a positive?

Coaching Strategies for Managers

  • Be Direct- Don’t ignore the situation.  Even if your organization has a “contribute and stay” mentality, a lesser engaged long-term employee can cause real morale issues in your department.  Often, these employees have been there many more years than you have as the manager.  The only approach is to be direct.  Have that tough discussion and find out why they stay, what would make them more challenged at work, what makes them feel valued, etc.  Then, act on what you learn.
  • Find their strengths–  When you get to know your staff on a more personal level, you may learn that they use skills outside of work that will benefit the organization.  For example, if you have someone who is a deacon at church or who is very involved in planning and organizing at functions for their children’s school, capitalize on those skills and use them in that capacity on the job.  When you recognize someone’s skills and praise them for is, they will be more engaged at work when they get to use the skills.
  • Loan them out– With the economy the state it’s in, we’re all working to do more with less.  This includes staff.  But, if you can find opportunities to give up a long-term staff even for a couple days a month, you can improve their engagement.  Loan them to another department to help expose them to another type of work.  This will also spread the good will and demonstrate your willingness as a leader to look out for the organization as a whole.   Each time the employee returns, have them tell about the experience at the next staff meeting.  Other people on your staff will see the enthusiasm and may learn something as well.
  • Job Shadow–  I recommend using this strategically.  For example, if you have an employee who could use a specific type of coaching, pair them up with someone from another department who does really well in that area.  This will be a non-threatening way to coach the employee.  I also use this technique when I need to assess how a particular employee is doing in their role.
  • Capture their knowledge–  One of the things that managers struggle with is losing the long-term employee’s knowledge when they retire or resign.  A way to address this is to find ways to capture that knowledge before they leave.  Start a private collaborative site online and teach your staff how to use it. Ask them to write about everything from processes to ideas on how to handle issues.  Not everyone is a writer, so provide training on how to write and edit.  Make sure they feel comfortable sharing their knowledge, then recognize and praise them when they do.

By focusing on ways to improve engagement of long-term employees, you may actually turn them into your greatest asset. What techniques have you used as a manager in order to coach your staff?  Share them in the comments.