Normalizing Conversations Around Grief at Work With Jason Seiden

by | May 28, 2024 | Podcast

Normalizing Conversations Around Grief at Work With Jason Seiden

Welcome to the Life + Leadership Podcast, where we dive deep into how leaders like you can turn business challenges into personal growth opportunities. My guest on this episode is Jason Seiden, co-founder of Comfort Communications, which aims to normalize the conversation around grief in the workplace.

A trigger warning for this episode: We candidly discuss sensitive topics related to grief, including illness and suicide.

Both of us have suffered great personal loss, followed by the difficulty of going back to work where people didn’t know how to react well, if at all.  For me, it was my mother’s death from suicide on my wedding day, then having to return to work in a relatively new role with co-workers who responded poorly. For Jason, it was losing his daughter in 2018 to suicide after a long illness — and right as he was moving from consultant to full-time employee. 

Eventually, Jason and his wife decided to found Comfort Communications, which helps organizations overcome that initial barrier to dealing with grief. Knowing the right words to say in these moments isn’t easy, but people can do better when they have steps and guidance.

“We want every organization, every size, everywhere to be able to support and comfort employees who are going through grief,” Jason says. “And you start by helping people know what to say. Policy is going to take a long time to change. … But it doesn’t cost anything to be human, to be nice.”

Learn more about how Jason is striving to normalize grief at work and how leaders can help change the culture around these difficult topics.

Why We Need to Normalize Grief in the Workplace 

Grief is a universal experience. By normalizing it in the workplace, leaders acknowledge the reality of loss, help employees express their emotions and provide avenues for support. When grief isn’t normalized, by contrast, employees feel unsupported, ignored or, even worse, judged and doubted. 

Normalizing grief has multiple benefits. When colleagues show up for those who are grieving, they create a sense of belonging and support that influences the person’s healing process. Normalizing grief also breaks down any stigma or silence surrounding the topic. It encourages open and honest conversations about loss, which can lead to increased empathy, compassion and understanding among team members. 

That said, every company has to create their own norms around grief. “Your team’s ritual might be a little different from this team’s ritual, might be different from that team’s ritual,” Jason says. “So, we’re going to tell you how to stay out of each other’s way, how to interact in a human way where you may not have practice.”

The Acute and Chronic Aspects of Grief

Grief in the workplace has two elements: acute and chronic. In the acute phase, grief can have an immediate and profound effect on organizational culture and individual employees. As Jason notes, company leaders can do damage either by not showing up or by showing up in the wrong ways. He shares the story of executives who called an employee over Thanksgiving to check in but didn’t leave a voicemail — leading the employee to worry that she had to call them back in the middle of her grief.

If you’re an executive trying to help your employees in grief, Jason says, a good starting point is acknowledging that you see them as ‌human beings and that you’ll help them work through the administrative and policy issues. 

“That can go a long way. May not solve the problem, but it may buy you some space to do something,” Jason says. “In those moments, you’re not just talking to the person who’s grieving, you’re also talking to the team around them. As an executive, you’re setting an example, and a lot of people are watching you.”

The second aspect of grief is chronic. Leaders need to recognize that grief takes many forms, and it doesn’t have a set timeline. Employees may remain on this journey long after the initial loss. 

Jason notes that many grieving employees can experience brain fog, decreased motivation and difficulty focusing, which can affect their productivity and performance. During this chronic stage, the manager-employee relationship and performance review structure are insufficient to help employees, Jason says. Leaders need to be empathetic and provide extra support to help these employees move forward.

“For the acute moment, it’s a moment that matters. Set your culture, set the right example for the team,” Jason says. “And then, on the chronic side, make sure that you have a plan in place to manage performance back to where you want it in a positive way.”

Your Response as a Leader Shapes the Culture

We all experience grief in our lives, so leaders must develop the ability to help employees work through these difficult times. This isn’t just about one-on-one relationships — how leaders respond to grief shapes ‌company culture. That’s crucial in the modern organization, where employees expect more from management.

As Jason reminds us, the pandemic brought us into each other’s living rooms, and we can’t revert to a “strictly business” approach. 

“Now we come in, ‘I can see you. I see you and I know you see me. You’ve liked my stuff on Instagram. You’ve seen my vacation photos. You’ve seen my kids’ birthdays,’” Jason says. “‘You have to treat me as a human. Anything less is unacceptable.’”

What should leaders do? Start by “showing up,” Jason says. But how you show up also matters. For example, instead of asking how someone died, ask about their lives, what they were like and what they loved to do. “Help me remember her. Don’t keep me in the moment of pain. Bring me into the light,” Jason says.

If you’re at a loss for words? “If you’re going to say, ‘I don’t know what to say,’ replace that with, ‘I have no agenda, other than just checking in and seeing how you’re doing.’”

People in This Episode

Jason Seiden: LinkedIn, Comfort Communications

Transcript

Jason Seiden:

Humans need ritual, and we’re not getting it from any place else. But your team’s ritual might be a little different from this team’s ritual, might be different from that team’s ritual. So, we’re going to tell you how to stay out of each other’s way, just how to interact in a human way where you may not have practice. And what you do with that will hopefully allow you to create some space where you can create a ritual for yourselves. And we’ll put enough structure in place where it works for everybody, right? Where it’s not getting in the way of work and, just the opposite, hopefully people are less distracted and getting back to productivity quicker, but still able to do this in a genuine way. And there’s absolutely an opportunity for businesses to certainly do a better job in this area.

Tegan Trovato:

Hey there. Welcome to the Life + Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Tegan Trovato, founder and CEO of Bright Arrow Coaching. In this show, we dive deep into how leaders like you can turn business challenges into personal growth opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned executive or an aspiring leader, this podcast is your go-to resource for unlocking your full potential in both your professional and personal life. Join me as we hear from executives, experts, and innovators about their leadership journeys, and learn how to develop better strategies and activate them for success. So, if you’re ready to fuel your journey to becoming an extraordinary leader who makes a lasting impact, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in.

In this episode, we’re diving deep into the topic of grief and its impact on the workplace. But before we get into it, a quick trigger warning. We will be candidly discussing sensitive topics in the realm of grief, including illness and suicide. Joining me today is Jason Seiden. Together, we’ll be exploring the journey of grief and how it intersects with the modern organization. We’ll also be discussing the organization Jason co-founded Comfort Communications, which aims to normalize the conversation around grief in the workplace. Jason shares his personal experiences with grief, highlighting the importance of showing up for those who are grieving, even if you’re unsure of what to say. He offers valuable advice for leaders on how to support employees experiencing grief, emphasizing the significance of empathy, and creating a culture that allows space for healing. In our conversation, we touch on both the acute and chronic aspects of grief in the workplace, highlighting the need for companies to have protocols in place to support employees during difficult times. The following insights remind us of the power of human connection and the importance of showing compassion in the face of loss.

Thanks for joining me today and welcome to The Life + Leadership Podcast.

Jason Seiden:

Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Tegan Trovato:

So, for listeners, it would probably be fun for them for us to take them back to how we met not too long ago. So, we were in-

Jason Seiden:

Many moons.

Tegan Trovato:

Yeah.

Jason Seiden:

Not even a moon.

Tegan Trovato:

Like three Weeks?

Jason Seiden:

Like half a moon ago.

Tegan Trovato:

You’re right, there hasn’t even been a full moon cycle.

Jason Seiden:

Fortnight. It’s been a fortnight.

Tegan Trovato:

So, we met up in Chicago at a dinner one of our colleagues threw, and we both happened to be invited to. And it turned out we had a bunch of people in common, which is awesome. And then, we didn’t really waste any time getting into a deep conversation.

Jason Seiden:

Yeah. Well, that’s what happens when you’re at a long dinner table packed up against the window with no place to go.

Tegan Trovato:

You had no choice but to talk to me, is that what you’re saying?

Jason Seiden:

I was controlling the ingress and egress, as I recall. I appreciate your indulgence right at that conversation.

Tegan Trovato:

Oh, it was so good though, really. I mean, what I love is, you meet someone, you have something in common, but it’s not always the case that you have a lot in common on a personal level. And one of the things Jason and I got to quickly was that we both had similar grief stories and grief journeys in corporate America. And this is before I even realized what you did.

Jason Seiden:

And for those of you who don’t know you or me, there will be grief on the table, but we’ll pull you back. Neither Tegan nor I are people who wallow, which I think is why we got along so well. I just want to drop that in because I know this is going to make sense to you, but I’ve been in enough rooms where I’m happy. And then, I mention that I have this grief story and people look at me like I have three heads. Like, “How can you be joyful?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s magic. Just wait for it.”

Tegan Trovato:

Or it triggers their own grief and they wonder how long they have to sit in the discomfort. So, I appreciate you bringing up that we’re going to keep it light and we’re going to go deep and we’re going to laugh and we’re going to talk about some serious stuff in the mix. So, love it.

Jason Seiden:

Right?

Tegan Trovato:

Well, first of all, part of the reason I was intrigued to have you on was to talk about the organization you have founded, and it was born of your personal experience. So, first of all, can you set the stage and tell the listeners what Comfort Communications is about? And then, we’re going back into how it was created.

Jason Seiden:

Yeah, so thank you so much for that opportunity too. So, Comfort Communications exists to normalize the grief conversation in companies. So, we want, and I’ll talk about who the “we” is in a second, we want every organization, every size, everywhere to be able to support and comfort employees who are going through grief. And you start by helping people know what to say. Policy is going to take a long time to change. We all have different cultures floating around, mixed up in our organizations. Policies are different. But it doesn’t cost anything to be human, to be nice. That’s doable. We get hung up for a variety of reasons. We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what the protocols are.

So, my co-founder and I started Comfort really just to break down that first wall and help people know, “Oh, this is what I can do.” And basically, what ends up happening is we provide a protocol to HR. HR then can take care of the team around the person, and then that team can take care of their colleague who’s going through some stuff. And just in a very simple but profound way, we line up all the interests and make it easy to do that.

The how it got started, you alluded to you and I sharing grief journeys. Llet me take you back 35 years. My wife lost her mom, when she was 16, she lost her mom to suicide. Had to lie about it for years. So, this has been a lifelong journey for her. And we get together. And then, in 2018, I lost my daughter, Al, technically to suicide, but she was sick. She had a very painful disease and she was just like, “I’m done being in pain.” And I was switching from consultant to full-time employee. So, if you think you’ve got an awkward conversation story about what to say to a recruiter, I guarantee I’m in the mix. I don’t know if I can top you, but I’m in the mix, right?

Tegan Trovato:

Right.

Jason Seiden:

“So, my daughter just died. Are we still talking?” That was fun. So, she was really attuned to the problems with keeping secrets and getting the message wrong. So, she very quickly became my one-person comms team. And fast-forward a year, year and a half later, I was out of that organization. The organization had a great culture. The leadership team, the woman in charge of culture, phenomenal. It just had put a lot of really good people in place and they had a lot of really good tools for a lot of things. Grief was a gap.

And I happened to have people on my immediate team who were not blessed with the natural ability to know what to say. And so, it hurt. But a year and a half later, that huge investment that they made to bring me on, I was out the door. And a lot of it boiled down to just that gap, and not getting that stuff right at the individual level. And so, it took a little time. This was pillow talk, so eventually, it’s like the light bulb went off, we’re like, “Oh, you know what we can do with our comms and marketing and talent backgrounds and personal experience around grief? We can solve this.” And Comfort was born.

Tegan Trovato:

I love it. And you used a phrase the other day that I loved, which was, “We’re not going to therapy our way out of this, out of our ability to communicate and hold space with folks when they’re grieving.” And I empathize with folks who don’t get it right because it is so difficult and there’s not a lot you can say that makes anyone feel better when they’re in deep grief, but I appreciate the potential of providing organizations with talk tracks and steps they can take and gestures they can make to help ease the process for somebody who’s grieving. So, for listeners, the thing Jason and I had in common was that grief story, like that same journey almost to a T.

And before I share mine, the one thing I’ll say is Jason and I had a similar timeline as well. So, when I had my loss, so I lost a parent to suicide on my wedding day, and had to go back to work to a job I’d only started three months prior, who had paid to move me across the country and relocated me for a huge global role. And then, I ended up feeling turned inside-out emotionally. And what I came back to was solicitation of evidence that my mother had died this way because it was so shocking. Co-workers who just said really unkind things about what they saw online, and that’s a culture problem.

I think what’s interesting is, and what I appreciate about the timeliness of Comfort Communications being born is that most of our execs are of an age where they’re going to have parents passing for the first time, many of them, children passing unexpectedly. Grief is well ahead of us at work. It’s always been there. But when we think generationally about who’s in leadership, the typical age demographic, that they’re dealing in supporting aging parents and children and young adult children, this is a protocol that we should all have, and it’s a skill also that needs to be developed. And frankly, being up close to many leaders and execs over the years, it’s a skill that takes practice to get good at. And empathy being one of those. It’s an emotion technically, but it’s also a practice.

Jason Seiden:

Yeah, and you’ve said a lot of good stuff that I want to key off of. The need for this has never been greater. We’re coming off of COVID and a pandemic where in the U.S. alone, let’s just look at the U.S., we lost the combined populations of Boston and Miami. When the impact is diffuse and happens over the course of two years and it’s a person here and five people there, you don’t realize how big it is, but that’s huge. So, with that, the ratio of people at work who are impacted by grief, and I am blanking on the source, but it went from one in nine people to one in five. So, this is much more prevalent today. Grief brain and fog brain and all the impacts are much more prevalent than they were. And that’s before you get to the demographics and how the largest demographic now is our aging parents’ age. And then, layer on top of all of this, the societal shift.

A decade ago, I coined the term profersonal and I would stand on stages and talk about how, “You can try and keep your professional and personal world separate, but the overhead of maintaining that just doesn’t work in a social media world.” Now, with Zoom over the last couple of years where we’ve let our co-workers into our living rooms, we’re not willing to tolerate the old world of business where it’s, “I’m going to be a professional. I’m just going to talk work and ignore it.” Now we come in, “I can see you. I see you and I know you see me. You’ve liked my stuff on Instagram. You’ve seen my vacation photos. You’ve seen my kids’ birthdays. You have to treat me as a human. Anything less is unacceptable.”

And so, the tools that most companies have, they’re structural tools. And the bottom line is we’re not going to change policy quickly. As strong as your company culture is when we’re dealing with grief, it’s my culture, not the company culture, that wins out.

Tegan Trovato:

Well said. Yeah.

Jason Seiden:

It’s my religion, my family, my community. You’re coming to me. And then, so you’ve got empathy training, but that happens periodically and then has to be remembered and translated to the moment, or you have an employee assistance program which directs people to therapy, and there’s 200,000 therapists in this country and 150 million workers, 30 to 37 million of whom are actively grieving a recent loss. If this is all they did, they’d each have a caseload of 185 people. That’s why we’re not going to therapy our way out of it. We have to go to empathy. And just the last thing I’ll say on it, we don’t want to know what to say. When we started Comfort, I looked at training. And I know a lot of people who do a lot of wonderful empathy training, but sometimes you just need someone to tell you, “Say this.”

When I was going through it, I knew who had read Sheryl Sandberg’s book because people kept asking me, “How are you doing today?” I’m like, “Okay.” After the 15th time, it’s a little repetitive, but I’m still like, “OK, but you’re trying.” So, having that protocol, having just given me the answer, I’m smart. I will figure out by the response why it worked. So, the learning will happen in reverse. But all of that was at play where we’re just like, “Yeah, the time is now. We need this. People aren’t accepting the status quo and there’s just too much of this and the impact is too high. Let’s go.”

Tegan Trovato:

It is such a unique time where employees are very clear with their employers that they expect and need more. I appreciate that many executive teams are trying to figure out how to respond. And what hits me all the time about this, I’m speaking generically, whether it’s about birth or death or just the need for people to have a break or take their vacations or their sick time and just their human needs. And what hits me all the time about this is that it’s not just an employee versus executive team problem. It’s an opportunity for us to decide how we want a human from now on.

When we think about the fall, if you will, of organized religion, that people are coming away from that en masse, no pun intended. Just trying to find a different way to be together is a challenge. And then, you’ve got the social media in the mix, which is not truly intimate. It’s a false sense of intimacy at best. I think there’s a gap to be solved for that is obvious, and work has this beautiful opportunity to be that spot. But that really is an individual calling on each of us to figure out how we want to be with our coworkers, how we want to show up. And then, there’s a groundswell over time of community if enough individuals choose to use their workplace in that way.

Jason Seiden:

I think one of the places where I’m hoping to shift the narrative when I talk about normalizing grief is there’s what you’re going to do and there’s how you’re going to do it. And usually, it’s like pick one, but don’t try and do both. With Comfort Communications, we really focus on how it’s like how you’re going to show up because we don’t really know the “what.” But I agree with you, I think there’s an opportunity for companies to come in and really use this tool or something like it to say, “Look, we’re going to create space. We don’t know what the answer is. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We all need a ritual. Humans need ritual, and we’re not getting it from any place else. But your team’s ritual might be a little different from this team’s ritual, might be different from that team’s ritual.”

“So, we’re going to tell you how to stay out of each other’s way, just how to interact in a human way where you may not have practice. And what you do with that will hopefully allow you to create some space where you can create a ritual for yourselves. And we’ll put enough structure in place where it works for everybody, where it’s not getting in the way of work. And just the opposite, hopefully people are less distracted and getting back to productivity quicker, but still able to do this in a genuine way.” And there’s absolutely an opportunity for businesses to certainly do a better job in this area.

Tegan Trovato:

And I don’t know about you, the role I was in at the time of my wake-up call is what I’ll call it, was visible, high-stress, global teams to manage. And the grief I experienced was traumatic, as was yours. I felt like I was out of my body —

Jason Seiden:

And complicated.

Tegan Trovato:

Yeah, but I felt like I didn’t come back into my body for at least a year after that experience. I was going through life — it wasn’t robotic. That’s not even fair to myself, but I was just surviving inside of myself for a year, much less with all that stress. So, I’m curious how it was for you, trying to come back and be a leader in that chapter.

Jason Seiden:

Can I ask you a question before I answer that question?

Tegan Trovato:

Yeah. Oh yeah, of course.

Jason Seiden:

Well, you and I talked about this a little bit, but you were on your honeymoon and your mom dies of suicide?

Tegan Trovato:

Right, that’s correct.

Jason Seiden:

I have family in the business in L.A., and I hear that, and I’m like, “I should go call them because this is a movie script.”

Tegan Trovato:

It is.

Jason Seiden:

What are you talking about? What do you mean that happened? That’s the craziest thing —

Tegan Trovato:

It’s unbelievable.

Jason Seiden:

Yeah, so I’m so sorry.

Tegan Trovato:

Thank you.

Jason Seiden:

But that must’ve been so complicated then to come back and to have people say, “I don’t believe you. Show proof.”

Tegan Trovato:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Seiden:

So, what are the emotions that go through your body when that’s the reaction?

Tegan Trovato:

Oh, these are juicy questions, Jason. So I mean, this was almost 10 years ago now, which I’m very thankful to say, but it feels like yesterday, as I’m sure when you think about your own loss, it’s just imprinted as if it’s present all the time. First of all, I was so in a state of shock, I think literal psychological shock for several months following that. So, I felt hurt, but I was also so depleted that my anger even felt flat. I was just so emotionally exhausted. But also for me, the gift was it was also a lightning bolt moment of, “Oh, I’m not going to be able to make the difference I’m interested in making inside of this system. I’m going to be outside of it from now on and play as big as I can,” because the box got too small right then. Does that make sense?

Jason Seiden:

Yes. To me, yes.

Tegan Trovato:

So, I understand in my own trajectory how that was a moment of opportunity that came out of real darkness and it set me on the trajectory I was meant to be on next. And it was a painful one, but it was lovely, as the HR person who had to come ask me for this — who was a peer — was like, “I would like to fall through the center of the earth, and I’m going to ask you this question. Was there an obituary?” And I said, “Why?” “Well, the CHRO wanted me to ask.” And I said, “You know, buddy, what my answer to this is, right?” And I just looked at him. And he was like, “OK. Well, thank you. I just needed to say I asked the question.” He’s looking at me like he wanted to just die that he’d been sent on this mission.

And I’ll never forget him because he really did have to do it. And it was so clear, his heart and energy, and it was a weird gesture of support in a toxic place, if that makes sense. And any of us who’ve worked in a toxic workplace, we know what those small gestures are. It was one of those. So, I think it was just a clarity. So, from that anger, anger is extremely activating, I felt really motivated to figure out what I wanted to do next. And yeah, it helped.

Jason Seiden:

A couple days after Al died, I was a mess. There’s no blueprint for this. I hadn’t really told anybody that my child was even sick because when you’re an independent consultant, who’s hiring you and you have that stuff going on? So, to a lot of people, this came as a shock. And you can imagine, anybody listening who has somebody sick in their life, I mean, there’s anticipatory grief and there’s the complexity of watching somebody turn into somebody new, who’s always in pain and has a different perspective on life, and the relationship just fundamentally changes. I mean, that’s a mess. So, as a parent watching your child go through that and then you lose your child, you’ve just lost a kid. Also, your kid’s no longer in pain, so there’s a part of you that is relieved, and then there’s a part of you that feels incredibly guilty that you’d feel anything but pain over this.

And then, you want to show the world how important this human is to you. And the most obvious way of doing that is to just hug your pain and hold on tight and fall to pieces and let the world see you, and no one would blame you. And boy, game, set, match. And I think a lot of people go down that road. I got lucky. I touched that third rail of I’m just going to disappear into my grief. And it was like touching a third rail. It just rejected me. And I’m divorced at this point. I’m in my apartment. I’m all alone. I’m like a cat in that little square of light through the window on the floor. And I touched that void and not only got ejected from it, but all of a sudden, I’m overwhelmed by this feeling of gratitude, and this feeling of here is this person who, with her birth as my firstborn, extended my capacity for joy beyond what I thought possible. And now, with her death has expanded my capacity for grief beyond what I thought possible.

And how do I feel anything but appreciation for someone who gives me the ability to experience more of my life? And I wasn’t happy, but it was joyful. It was a pure joy moment. Then you start talking to yourself and you’re trying to talk yourself out of it because you’re like, “Well, that’s cute. If that were a grandparent or a mentor, that would be a cute little feeling. But this is your kid. You’re not allowed to feel that.” And I start debating with myself. I’m like, “You know what? Shut the hell up, self. This is going to hurt for a long time. I’m taking the five minutes of joy right now. I’m just going to ride them for all their worth.”

Tegan Trovato:

Good.

Jason Seiden:

And that really served as a True North for me.

Tegan Trovato:

Yeah. And with that, I mean, what’s coming up for me as you talk about this is you mentioned joy, the capacity we have to still experience that even in our grief. And I don’t know what else you’ve experienced from a growth perspective, from your grief, but I feel like my grief in that particular grieving that I did then expanded my capacity to love, just blew my heart open in a way that I did not know it was not open until that experience. Now, not overnight. I mean, I feel like it just exponentially grew my capacity to just be with people and understand them and love myself because I think that touching darkness that deep and dark can really be catapulting in a positive way, which I wouldn’t say to someone early in their grief. Hello, everyone listening, please do not do that.

Thinking about all the executives who are going to be listening to this, and many of them who will be decision makers about how they care for the community of employees, why do you think it is particularly important for executive sponsors and executives and organization to get this right?

Jason Seiden:

This is where your culture is made or broken, period. There’s a couple pieces to this. There’s an immediate and there’s a long tail, right? There’s an acute and a chronic element to this. The acute piece, your culture, this is where it’s made. Well, listen, we all know the horror stories of companies not showing up well. But after a year of conversation, I also keep hearing horror stories of companies that are trying to show up well. And one woman in particular, she had heard from multiple executives at Thanksgiving. And nobody left a voicemail saying, “Don’t worry about calling me back. I just wanted you to hear from me.” So, instead of grieving, she’s going off in the corner with her brother trying to find her Zen because she thinks she has to call the executives back and she thinks she can’t cry on the phone with them.

So, as an executive getting it right, if you believe in this, knowing how to show up in that moment and creating safety for somebody, just seeing them, bearing witness to what’s going on, being like, “Look, I see you. Maybe the policies are great, maybe they’re awful. I know these don’t help. I know there’s going to be some administrative. I know there’s a lot of noise going on. I just need you to know human to human. I see you.” That can go a long way. May not solve the problem, but it may buy you some space to do something in those moments. You’re not just talking to the person who’s grieving. You’re also talking to the team around them. As an executive, you’re setting an example and a lot of people are watching you.

The chronic piece of this is you’ve made an investment in this person. They’re going to come back, they’re going to have brain fog. Performance is going to be — there’s going to be questions. If the only tools you have in place are the manager-employee relationship, the project lead and the performance reviews attached to them, which are awful, which people are not trained for, and then you layer this on top of it, you’re asking for problems. You’re asking for productivity problems, you’re asking for all kinds of issues, not just degraded performance, but degraded culture, checking out…

Last week, I heard a talk. John Baldino gave a talk at Epic HR, and he talked about forgiveness and how much time people spend in conflict at work. And they lose multiple hours of conflict, and that’s in normal times. This amplifies conflict. So, both for the acute moment, it’s a moment that matters. Set your culture, set the right example for the team around you. And then, on the chronic side, to make sure that you have a plan in place to manage performance back to where you want it in a positive way. That’s why this is so important.

Tegan Trovato:

We’re not allowed to be punitive. So, that’s the performance side when someone’s having a hard time.

Jason Seiden:

Right, and it’s 20% of your workforce, 25% of your workforce.

Tegan Trovato:

Right, at any moment, constantly.

Jason Seiden:

Constantly.

Tegan Trovato:

That is huge. One thing I want to point out for listeners is you and I have talked about traumatic grief through this from our personal experiences, but that is not all grief and that is not the only grief we’re talking about. I had an employee a couple of years ago who, single lady, lost her dog and that was her family, literally. And she spent all her free time volunteering in shelters and animal rights, and this is her passion and her purpose. And so, her loss felt like anybody’s human loss. It was so real and painful and tender. And so, I think we need to be conscious of how different grief looks and that we don’t get to decide whose grief matters. So, as we think about programming our protocols and humaning, we really need to be spacious with how we define grief and tend to it in our organizations. I don’t want us to lose track of that as you and I have these big freaky stories, they’re not all like that.

Jason Seiden:

Yeah, we just have to handle grief better. And the more opportunities we have to step into it and honor it and create a little sacred space for people to go through it, the better. Whether it’s anticipatory or a parent or a child or a sibling or a miscarriage or a mass event or a weather event, or there’s just too much psychic damage related to loss right now, let’s get better.

Tegan Trovato:

Absolutely. Well-said. On that note, thank you. You teed me up perfectly. I know our listeners would love some advice. They can go and apply immediately. So, if you think of our listeners are leaders, what could they go and do as it pertains to caring for their employee experiences, the ones who are experiencing grief and loss? What tips or advice would you give them?

Jason Seiden:

Start with show up, right? 90% of winning is showing up. Show up. Focus group of one, but the isolation was the hardest part. If people show up and they say the wrong thing, it’s annoying. The same way a nurse showing up every hour to wake you up to take meds is annoying. It’s annoying, but you would prefer this than being forgotten in the hospital.

Tegan Trovato:

Than silenced. Yes.

Jason Seiden:

Yeah. So, show up. When you do, there’s some phrases that people default to. “I can’t imagine.” I don’t personally like that phrase. Why would you imagine? This is horrible. I’m about to spend an ungodly amount of time and money in therapy to get out of this hole. Why would you try to imagine the hole? Throw me a rope. What I loved was people telling me, “That is an unbelievable loss. And I was thinking about how to honor her, so I had my family put their phones down at dinner last night, and we looked each other in the eye and we paid attention to each other. And I was inspired to do that because I know you can’t, and I just wanted you to know I’m doing it for you.” That made me feel better.

“How did she die?” People want to know how she died. Ask me about her life. “What was her name? What did she enjoy? Did you guys have a favorite movie? Is there a ritual that you two shared? What are you going to miss most? Was there a vacation you were looking forward to?” Help me remember her. Don’t keep me in the moment of pain. Bring me into the light. Bring me back to something special. And by the way, that just makes for an easier conversation too, because then you can be like, “Oh, yeah. We listen to the same song. I do something similar with my kids.” There’s a way to then connect and move forward. And then, the third specific suggestion I’ll say is, if you’re going to say, “I don’t know what to say,” replace that with, “I have no agenda, other than just checking in and seeing how you’re doing.”

Tegan Trovato:

Love that. Jason, thank you for those. It gives us a lot to work with and a lot to think about. And might I add, let’s all give ourselves some grace. If you’ve heard some things on here that we said, “Don’t do that,” forgive yourself. We are not born with an instruction manual on how to do this well, and that’s why we’re having this podcast episode today, so we can all get a little bit better. I personally took away some lessons that are adding to my arsenal, so thank you for that, Jason.

Jason Seiden:

My pleasure. Thank you.

Tegan Trovato:

As we close, are there any last parting thoughts or anything else you might want to share with listeners?

Jason Seiden:

I actually would just tell people to go rewind a couple of times and listen to what you just said again about giving yourself grace. It’s why I started with. Show up, even if you’re going to say the wrong thing. People are like, “I don’t know what to say.” I’m like, you know what? I hope you never deal with this situation often enough that you figure out what to say. Just let someone else help you with that or screw it up. It doesn’t matter. Get in the room. Lace up, glove up, get in there and be a part of it. And if you screw it up, but at least you’ll go down swinging.

Tegan Trovato:

Awesome. Jason, thank you again.

Jason Seiden:

Thank you. Great being here, Tegan.

Tegan Trovato:

Grief is a universal experience that inevitably intersects with the workplace, and it’s crucial for leaders to create environments where employees feel supported and understood during times of loss. Conversations like Jason and I had today remind us of the power of empathy and the importance of fostering a culture of compassion in our professional lives. When leaders acknowledge the reality of grief and provide avenues for employees to express their emotions, it not only enhances wellbeing, but also strengthens organizational resilience. By prioritizing empathy and understanding, we not only cultivate healthier workplaces, but also, build stronger teams capable of weathering challenges with grace and unity.

Remember, showing up for others during their darkest moments can make all the difference. It’s about more than just offering condolences. It’s about actively supporting colleagues through their grief journey, whether that means providing flexible work arrangements, offering counseling services, or simply lending a listening ear. Each act of compassion contributes to a culture where employees feel valued, respected and cared for. So, as you navigate your leadership journey, remember the profound impact you can have by prioritizing empathy and creating spaces where vulnerability is welcomed and supported. Be sure to stay tuned for our next episode of The Life + Leadership Podcast. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube Music. And if you like what you hear, share this podcast.

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