49 -Grief Sucks & How to Be Better at It - Part II

Last week James Philipp taught us all about grief, leaving us with the ultimate cliffhanger: how can managers support grieves? We dive into that and more workplace grief situations in this week's episode!

Release Date: June 2022


[00:00:00] Speaker 1: Warning. This podcast is about the realities of working in people operations. This is not a stuck-up PC compliance-based or employment law podcast about stuffy, outdated HR practices. Shit will get real here, and we assume no responsibility.

[00:00:16] Alexa Baggio: Just another day in the office.

[00:00:18] Tyson Mackenzie: There's nothing better than a bunch of people who work in HR getting around Cawood, and sharing these stories. We have this noter body experience in HR where you're like, " How did I get here?" It's not that bad.

[00:00:28] Tyson: HR is not that bad. It's not.

[00:00:29] Alexa: Come hang out with Tyson and I on this podcast, we'll make you laugh.

[00:00:31] Tyson: This is the People Problems podcast with Alexa Baggio and Tyson Mackenzie.

[00:00:39] Alexa: How do you teach someone to know when someone maybe is or isn't doing the work? You're my manager, James, and I'm your-- I'll be the didn't deal with an employee, and Tyson can be the maybe can't get out of their own way employee, and is stuck in the other-- I'm doing too much. What were the two pathways you talked about?

[00:01:00] Tyson: I'm over grieving and you're under grieving.

[00:01:02] Alexa: Yes. I'm doing too much restoration/avoidance, and she's doing too much grieving, and too much of the hard work. What would be the way that you would work with two different types of people on two different ends of the spectrum?

[00:01:14] James Phillip: Base level for both of you is I'm having conversations with you, and in terms of achieving that tangible offering in the workplace and as a manager, it more comes down to, "I understand that this could be incredibly difficult. I want you to know that we are really comfortable with you working from home for a few days a week, or even the whole time. What is it you need related to that?"

Asking the questions, and being open to the fact that things may be different. In that sentence, it could be some people want to come back into the office, but we want to make sure that you do also have the space to process this, but some people really wake up in the morning, and it could be better for them to be at home. Normalizing that there are different options rather than saying, "I know I'm someone that would come back into the office," or, "Oh, when I lost my wife, I just came back in the office."

It's normalizing the discussion, and acknowledging the fact that everyone may have different requirements, and we are really okay to discuss what your needs may be. It's not saying, "What do you need?" We're talking about work from home in this example. Trying to really dig out--

[00:02:28] Alexa: What if I don't know what I need?

[00:02:30] James: Keep the space open. This is another thing, is, in our culture, we love to get quite attached to outcome. So, through my effort, through my text to that person, I expect them to be like, "Thank you so much! I really appreciate it." That person may not respond, but they may have still really appreciated it. This is another difficult thing with supporting grievers, is, we just can't get attached to what our actions are going to bring back to us, it needs to be really selfless.

In this example, people may not know what they want to do. There's also different avenues, as I actually spoke at Alexa's conference last week, and someone-

[00:03:12] Alexa: Correction.

[00:03:13] James: -Afterwards-- Thank you. Someone afterwards asked me about dealing with someone in her community that had lost their child. Sometimes, speaking may be too intense for someone, because they may be so used to people not bringing it up. Explore other avenues of maybe writing an email, or writing a letter. Be consistent. It's continuing to check in.

It's not looking like a hoverboard, but that person may have said, "I don't know what I need," and you can be like, "Is it okay with you that I do check in with you each week, and just make sure that you just know that you are safe to express whatever you need because it's totally understandable that right now you're going through some turbulence, so we want to make sure that you are taken care of." That's the answer for both you guys, right? It's like-

[00:04:02] Tyson: Yes.

[00:04:02] James: -we do in many ways have to follow the cues of the griever, and not force things on them, but providing an ear, providing tangible offerings. They may reject all their stuff, but this is the first step. If someone's rejecting everything, and they're not processing correctly, we're in a bit of a hole, but right now we are not talking about the subject, and we're allowing people to just move through the process, and then, they're very likely to feel super isolated at work because they know that people know, no one's bringing it up, no one seems to understand them, and the reality is that there's many different employees that if we are all being a little bit more open about our quirks, our mental health then, this space becomes safe to talk about it.

[00:04:46] Alexa: I love the concept of giving people space to just be a little different, because I feel like sometimes the thing that gets a little scary about breaching this is you either get someone, and I've had friends do this. I have a very close friend who, to this day, I still do not know how her mother passed away, and it's just the topic you don't breach. It's just, she's just very, very private. It was a very life-changing event for her very clearly in a lot of ways, it really impacted her. You can see it now many years later, but it's just like the silent bomb in the room nobody wants to talk about, or just can't. I just don't know that people are comfortable, and there's another question there, which is like, some people just don't want to share, that's their way.

[00:05:30] Tyson: Especially at work, right?

[00:05:31] Alexa: You can't force someone to tell you. Yes, it's even more so at work, but I love people. I love the idea of being like, "I need to have a conversation with you," to give you space to tell you, I don't expect you to walk back in here the exact same way you were before, because I can imagine, that's really hard for people, and I don't expect you to walk in here an absolute fucking mess and being stared at because you're supposed to be miserable.

[00:05:52] Tyson: Let's talk about that.

[00:05:54] Alexa: You to tell me where you need to be, and what needs to be. You anticipate being a little different, and we'll work with you to get through a period of that.

[00:06:01] James: I just want to add I believe that we can change-- Tyson I'm hearing, "Especially at work," that's totally right, but I do believe that we can change this culture and move it towards something new, especially post COVID. There's a big opportunity because there's this great resignation, there's this huge opportunity of like, COVID has changed the workplace forever, and that's similar to what you just said, Alexa, but we don't need you to come back to be exactly the same. we don't expect you to be, but let's just reflect on this one fact just like, only a few decades ago, it was rare for LGBT people to disclose their sexual orientation in the workplace.

Now, I think all of us have worked in workplaces where that is open information with your fellow colleagues, and I know that there's probably a lot of workplaces where that's not the case, but at least talking about the world that the three of us probably have perspectives from, that's absolutely something that people feel more comfortable today to be able to express that stuff, and I believe that we can move in that same direction with mental health.

[00:07:03] Tyson: I Feel one of the issues is, oftentimes, people don't want to share openly because, they feel if they share about a loss, then they might be putting a burden on the other person to make them feel better, because we all get awkward. People who haven't taken James's course get awkward when we're trying to support grievers. Right?

[00:07:23] Alexa: We all need to take the course, to be clear.

[00:07:25] James: Honestly, it is.

[00:07:27] Alexa: I'm very clear about that.

[00:07:28] James: I agree.


[00:08:13] Tyson: We all feel awkward, and the other person who's the griever might not want to make that awkwardness in the other person, and that's why I say especially at work, they don't want their boss or their colleague maybe to be burdened. One thing I do want to talk about is, we understand, and I'm going to sound like the coldhearted HR lady here. We understand that things might not be the same as they were before, but what happens when we have an individual who unfortunately maybe might not have the self-awareness of their grieving process, or what they need, and then things start to go downhill, then we start to see that--

[00:08:51] Alexa: This can get crazy by the way.

[00:08:52] Tyson: This gets hard, this does get hard. Now we see things, performance issues. I've actually even been in situations where the person has started to abuse drugs and alcohol, and we've had to self manage that.

[00:09:05] Alexa: Just physically act out.

[00:09:06] Tyson: Yes. Where do we go from here? And when do we need to also have the self-awareness that maybe we aren't the ones to deal with this, and that we should do our favorite thing, call in the EAP, or provide the person external assistance? When do we need to make those judgment calls?

[00:09:25] James: First thing, we don't want to place the burden on someone else. Through training, people like me coming into your office, speaking with the HR team-

[00:09:35] Tyson: So, we do it.

[00:09:35] James: -or even open up a space within the workplace to help us not feel so burdened. Within that communication is, "This is not a burden on me, we really, really want our humans to be taken care of," little sentences like that. Then, other part of your question was, grievers are not completely out of it and insane, in general. It's very fair to be able to approach a griever and say, "We've noticed that your performance has been struggling. We've noticed that you have been getting too drunk at our happy hours, whatever it is, we notice this, and this is a workplace. It's something that we really need to discuss, and we understand as well that you recently lost someone. They may be related."

This goes back to those questions I was talking about, these specific questions of, give them a space to be able to express what they need, and you guys keep on bringing up this example, "What if they don't want to say anything? What do they--" All that stuff, give them the opportunity. Right now, the default of where we are, it doesn't give anyone any opportunity, and we're just leaving it open. What this is going to do is it's going to save more employees' happiness, and for them to stay at the company and all this stuff than it is going to lose.

The ones that we lose are going to probably remain in the same position as they are now. But what this work does is it's opening up the opportunity for those that would respond to it well, to actually be able to move in a positive direction. There may always be people that we just can't-- It's going to get very difficult, but being very real about the fact that this is a workplace, I think is a conversation that we very realistically can have.

[00:11:24] Tyson: I think it's also important to think about the individual prior to the loss as well, and their behaviors before. Were they a superstar? What type of person were they, and how their behaviors have changed, and using that.

[00:11:43] James: Definitely.

[00:11:44] Alexa: As a bit of a guidepost. I think what's also interesting and probably hard about this conversation is if we were to click a layer deeper. Let's assume everybody gets to a place where they've got at least a system in place to put someone, the manager or someone from the people team in front of someone who's going through some real shit. "Hey, this isn't a burden on me, I want to talk a little bit about maybe some expected changes, I want to give you some space to like be a little different around here for a while. That's okay. What is that going to look like?" Then you get them to do the specific thing.

Like, "Hey, can I take you to coffee on your first day back in the morning? Would you be open to whatever?" Then you sit down with that person. What do you do besides, "Hey, how you doing?" Like, "How are you?" That feels like that question can be a little bit of a burden, I feel like.

[00:12:38] James: Big time.

[00:12:39] Alexa: Those conversations go a lot of ways. Those conversations can be like, "I'm good. I'm sorry I didn't get back to normal. I've got to get a support system." It's like a recap. Sometimes those conversations can be someone just bursts out in fucking tears three sentences in, or 30 minutes in, and it's awkward. It's awkward. It's weird. It's awkward. It's uncomfortable.

[00:12:58] Tyson: For everyone. For both sides.

[00:12:58] Alexa: Like, you poke the bear. For everyone involved, I would say, yes, for everyone involved. Maybe even more so for the supporter, because at least the griever is like, "I just have to own this because it is my emotion." The griever is like, "I poked the bear." What would be your thoughts to that person who maybe does poke the bear, or like once you're in the situation of like, "I brought over the lasagna and the bottle of wine, now, what do I say?"

[00:13:25] James: Just an initial reaction to that is, this is crucial information for you guys to collect. If she burst out crying, maybe she's not ready to be back. You're giving her the opportunity. In terms of support, we need to talk about how it's okay to be awkward. It's okay for us to feel a little bit awkward. A lot of people ask me, "What do I say?" Back to that very common story that I hear is, "I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing at all." I want people to take the pressure off themselves, whatever you say or do is not going to fix their problem.

[00:14:06] Alexa: It's not going to make it better.

[00:14:08] James: It's not going to bring their person back. It's not going to heal them. The fact that people don't say anything because they don't know what to say, they won't say the right thing, it's just putting too much pressure, and it's putting too much weight on their response.

[00:14:21] Tyson: We think we're bigger influence than we are.

[00:14:24] James: We're not. We're not going to fix things.

[00:14:26] Alexa: You can't control anything, and you're not fucking important, such as to be human.

[00:14:32] James: You're not going to change their reality.

[00:14:32] Alexa: That's very good advise though, people forget, like you're also not going to ruin their day. Their day is way more ruined than the way you [unintelligible 00:14:39] that text message back to them.

[00:14:39] James: Here's a big one, I don't want to remind them of their person. In early grief, they're constantly thinking about their person.

[00:14:46] Alexa: That's not up to you.

[00:14:47] James: Don't worry. Like, don't worry. You are not going to ruin things.

[00:14:54] Alexa: I always tell myself I just don't want to be the friend that didn't say anything. I just don't want them to look back and be like, "Alexa never even acknowledged that this happened to me." Even if whatever I said back, or did, or whatever was under fucking whelming, because I didn't have the confidence to do it differently. Now I feel more confident having had this conversation, but I always I'm like, "I just don't want to be in the camp of like, she didn't fucking say anything that was cold."

[00:15:17] James: Not saying anything makes people feel really, really alone. What is like the main thing that humans want, they want to be part of a collective, they want to be part of a community. The first piece of advice I'll give you is, acknowledge it, and be real about it. Not sorry for your loss, but I can't imagine how hard that is for you right now. If they're open to it, you can even ask, because we like to give advice as well, kind of unwarranted advice, but our experience is our own experience, just like that could relate to, it could be a really nice space for them.

Here's like, "Oh, I have an experience that comes to mind. Like, are you open to me talking about it? It's not advice. Don't worry about it." Talking about an experience of loss that I've experienced, or something like that, or it was really, really hard for me to go back to the office, and just being curious, and there's a whole podcast that I found in the UK called How is today? It's all about curious. Like, ask curious questions, be curious, rather than run away from them where they're like, "I'm living this life experience right now, and everyone around me is acting like it doesn't exist."

[00:16:31] Alexa: Also, you don't want to patronize people. You don't want to assume and treat them like the victim. Like, "Oh God, you must--" "Oh, you're not okay." It's like, you don't know how to treat someone else if they're-- I think it's hard for people because it's, not only do people their own perspective mutes or distorts the situation, but also, you just don't know the entity you're dealing with anymore. So, your framework for how to read that person, and how to engage with that person, like we rewrite it when something like that happens. [crosstalk]

[00:16:58] James: That's why we need to ask questions. To our ear could be the biggest thing, but it also informs us on actually, have a better idea of what this person could use. It's like, it's finding out whether food is a really big struggle within their family now because they lost the main chef, for example.

[00:17:16] Tyson: I like the idea though of acknowledging, like I can't imagine how difficult that is because, oftentimes, like what we try to do as a defense mechanism for ourselves as a supporter is try to toxic positivity.

[00:17:31] James: Silver lining.

[00:17:33] Alexa: Everything happens for a reason.

[00:17:33] Tyson: Like if someone has cancer, and you're like, "Oh, just think positive." Like, if-- [crosstalk]

[00:17:39] James: At least [crosstalk] some years ago, look on the he bright side.

[00:17:43] Tyson: Or like, "At least you have another dog."


[00:17:46] James: If there's at least in your sentence, ditch it.

[00:17:47] Alexa: At least you dumped him before you got married and had kids.

[00:17:50] James: If there is at least in your sentence, ditch it.

[00:17:54] Tyson: Don't say it.

[00:17:55] James: Trust me, because you're minimizing their experience, and making them feel that shame insane.

[00:18:01] Tyson: Wait, we've talked a lot a lot about dealing with an individual, but you touched on something at the beginning of our conversation, which is a collective grief. In the workplace, obviously we know the COVID thing, but, we see this a lot again in the workplace. Examples that I've seen is, so whether they're work-related or un-work-related. One example was that there was a terrorist attack outside an office building, one of our offices, we had to deal with that collective grief. Then an internal thing might be massive layoffs where we've all just seen a lot of our colleagues leave.

There's so many ways either internal to work, external to work where we experience collective grief. Let's talk about that, and then that includes the managers who could also be grieving, and the HR team, the people operations team that are also grieving. Let's talk about those situations.

[00:18:55] James: In a situation where everyone in the office is grieving, having someone come in to talk about grief, and the experience that people may be going through, and highlighting the many different ways that they may be responding, because everyone in the office is going to be reacting in their own way. In that situation, taking the weight off the managers. Maybe there will be some managers that feel more equipped, but not putting the expectation that the managers need to be the ones to create this because the managers are human too. They may be struggling a lot.

What this does is, we address and acknowledge. That's a collective, acknowledgement is through an experience of having someone come in and facilitate this type of discussion. Someone actually asked this about this at the conference last week as well, and she said, "Oh, should I have someone come in once every six months?" My recommendation was at least once a month, and don't make it mandatory, but start creating these little avenues that allow, so, one, you've normalized it, we've discussed it.

If we have the power to, we've had one on one discussions, we've had that group collective discussion responding to the fact that some people may not feel comfortable at all with a group, but they may feel more comfortable with one-on-one, so we're offering different avenues here, right? Once a month, or once every two weeks, having an allotted time that's on the calendar that really, really is sold in a way of like, "This is totally normal, and we totally understand that you could be reacting in a way that's actually making it hard to be in the office, or making it hard to do X and Y and Z," and having those continuous check-ins, and giving people an obvious space.

Because right now it's not always obvious which direction we go in. Do I talk to the HR person? I already know the HR person. Do I talk to the manager? They haven't mentioned it to me, so I don't feel comfortable with that. We want to give some form of obvious opportunities, and another thing would be offering a budget for people to be able to sign up for therapy, or a course like mine, or a collective thing like that, which is completely outside the office, but is giving them potential answers, and not running away from it.

[00:21:22] Alexa: I do think it's interesting. I'm sure, again, everyone will approach this differently, so it's like, are you a group fitness person or not depending on what the style is that helps, but something you just said I think is fascinating, which is-- And, Tyson, thank you for asking about collective grief, because I think that's really important for us to touch on, especially after the last two years is, I almost think this is the one topic, and I'm spitballing here, but I think this is the one topic where it has to go both directions. You can't expect your manager, you said it right at-

[00:21:52] James: Exactly.

[00:21:53] Alexa: -the beginning when Tyson asked the question, you can't expect your manager to have the answer here, but also, you can't be in a position where you're not asking your manager how they're doing. Grief is the one thing where everybody's got to be able to go up and down, and all over the ladder, because it's the only way that you'll figure it out together as humans, and be able to process together, versus if you're like, "Oh, well I'm feeling really shitty about this COVID thing that just happened, and I'm really scared, but I'm not really allowed to ask my manager how they feel because I report to them, and they're not really saying anything, but I think they're kind of anxious."

It just creates a lot of doubt, and it's such an opportunity for not even just healing, but collective sharing, and it's like one of the only moments in working together you get to be super fucking human together, and nobody can really judge you regardless of where they are on the ladder. Grief is universal, as we started this conversation with.

[00:22:48] James: Actually, I want to add something real quick to what you said, I love the thoughts that you've just expressed, Alexa.

[00:22:55] Alexa: Sometimes I have good thoughts.

[00:22:57] James: Sometimes.

[00:22:58] James: Opportunity, a lot of what we're talking about is these difficult scenarios, and I want to paint the picture that actually--

[00:23:05] Alexa: It sounds fucked up because this is actually my favorite part of working with people, is this kind of shit, is like, "Oh, I have to really be a part of this person's life for a moment." Like, "Wow. Okay."

[00:23:10] James: Yes, also.

[00:23:14] Alexa: They're happy, or sad, or whatever.

[00:23:16] James: For us to be able to ask our managers, it's building a collective human feeling company, and it’s like, all of a sudden, we've bonded over this experience, and some of us went through a really hard time, but I actually felt, and my colleagues were there for me. We talked about it, and I understand that my manager, who sometimes in the past may have viewed as almost not human because I just report to them, and we don't banter about anything or anything like that. It's like, this can bridge--

[00:23:46] Alexa: They've just been out for two weeks because I heard their grandma died or whatever, I don't know how to bridge [crosstalk] that.

[00:23:52] Tyson: Lean on your HR team but don't dump it on them. I have this memory, I literally laid off I think almost 30 people in a single day between me and a colleague, and at the end, it was like, one of the higher-ups was like, "If you want to talk to someone, go talk to HR." I'm like, "Look, I just ruined 30 lives today, don’t come talk to me today. I'm burnt out. Don't come talk to me. Y'all have to deal with this one." As managers, speak to your people.

[00:24:27] Alexa: I just call bullshit on that whole scenario. At no point, it may be your burden to deliver, it is not your burden to bear-

[00:24:34] Tyson: Absolutely.

[00:24:35] Alexa: -on behalf of someone who does not want to bear it-

[00:24:38] James: And this is the one we all need to do the work.

[00:24:38] Alexa: -especially when you talk about collective stuff where no one can escape it, like COVID is fascinating, and people, at first, with eye roll a little on the collective trauma thing, and I think it gets thrown around a little loosey-goosey right now, especially in the wellness community, everybody's trying to sell services. I do think it's true in that it's the only time that the working population, aside from maybe 9/11, right before that, has to sit down and go, "I don't have it figured out, and you don't have it figured out." For this particular moment on this particular subject, we're all on the same playing field. There is no right, wrong, up down, I'm better than you. The hierarchy just blows up when it comes to this.

I would argue it blows up on any truly core human experience like grief. Love is another one, is why everybody like, "Oh, you're out for your wedding, great, cool, super lenient." I just think that's what it is to be human. I guess my question would be, you've given a couple of pieces of advice so far, but what are just some other tips and tricks you would give to people as they talk about like how to get on a human level with people, and we've talked a lot today about the immediate experience of grief, so and so's mom just died, or such and such's dog just passed away. Let's talk about how to elongate this experience as a supporter.

How do you support someone just as a friend full stop after someone dies? Not two weeks after, not two months after, but like my friend that I mentioned before. This person is irreplaceably changed from the experience of losing her mother. She is literally a different person, and we all know there's just this thing in her past that's there, and has informed a lot of decisions and things for her, and like I said, it's the quiet elephant in the room, but she's still clearly dealing with that, and I'm sure most people have friends or family members that it's like long COVID, you have long grief for some things.

[00:26:31] James: Grief is a lifetime.

[00:26:33] Alexa: Bad joke.

[00:26:34] James: People say, how long are you grieving? It's like, how long are you going to be alive? Grief doesn't need to be this blockbuster in-tears experience all the time. We grow our lives around grief. Grief will always be present.

[00:26:49] Alexa: How do we support it? How do we just be generally more supportive of grief, full stop, all the time?

[00:26:57] James: Ask yourself, am I comforting or am I supporting? That's something I just want to differentiate is, am I patting them on the back? That's a lot of our responses, or am I actually helping bear the weight and allowing them to function? Acknowledge and validate. That's a really huge one that we've talked about already, but validate their experience. Don't say at least, and actually acknowledge what you understand they've gone through.

[00:27:22] Alexa: "At least you have another parent."

[00:27:24] Tyson: What? No one would say that like, come on.

[00:27:28] Alexa: I don't know, man. People say crazy shit.

[00:27:31] James: People say crazy shit.

[00:27:32] Tyson: They will say, "At least you still have your mom."

[00:27:35] James: Exactly.

[00:27:35] Alexa: Yes. They will.

[00:27:35] Tyson: People say that shit all the fucking time. It's the same derivative. It's a derivative of the same fucked up thing.

[00:27:41] James: At least a big breakup, or the loss of a partner. "Oh, you should start dating. At least you can find someone else."

[00:27:48] Tyson: Yes. Someone who's six months into being single in their 30s, I get a lot of that, or at least you weren't married with kids. It's like, "Well, at least, fuck you."

[00:27:57] Alexa: Wait, we didn't even talk about like the wanna thing. Like, if it was like, "Oh, at least you didn't lose both your parents like I did," or something.

[00:28:10] James: The worst. Remember, this is about the perception of the loss. It's not about ranting. [crosstalk]

[00:28:16] Tyson: You losing your dog might be as hard for you as me losing my parent.

[00:28:21] James: Exactly. It really could be. It really, really could be. A piece of advice is like, be present. That's the continuous check-ins, and there's something called co-regulation here. This is something that I talked about at the conference as well, and why I believe that all of us employees, not just the HR team, need to be doing this work, because, if I learn of the death of someone's loved one, and I actually pay attention to the semantics, what we talked about at the very beginning, is like, if I'm freaking out, then I don't actually have the capacity to hold space for someone else.

I'm actually in panic mode, and there's this really cool science experiment in physics where there's two tuning forks, and one has a low frequency, and one has a higher frequency, and the lower frequency one will attune to the one with the higher frequency. Us just being present, making eye contact, and being comfortable, and confident in a space, and that's not necessarily saying anything can be so, so, so powerful. They will feel that. Be curious, ask questions, except that sometimes it'll be awkward.

Allow the pain to exist, be with them, and allow it to be present in the space. Don't try and get rid of it, push it away, correct it. Listen is a huge one, and in fact, really, really important is offer actual help and assistance that's tangible, concrete and specific. Those would be my flash tips.

[00:30:00] Alexa: You need an acronym. We need to get you an acronym.

[00:30:02] James: Oh, my God. I need to.

[00:30:03] Alexa: Cabalt? That's what I got out of that one.

[00:30:07] James: [unintelligible 00:30:07] I'll try and make one.

[00:30:11] Alexa: We're going to get you a good old ROYGBIV. We got to get you one of those.

[00:30:16] James: Love it.

[00:30:18] Alexa: Anagram? Is that what that's called?

[00:30:20] James: I don't know.

[00:30:20] Alexa: What's that called.

[00:30:21] Tyson: I've no idea.

[00:30:21] Alexa: I feel like I'm using the wrong terms here. Otherwise, it's been a long day.

[00:30:26] James: That's general advice for people, reflects on anyone. Something that's been mentioned a few times in the late parts of this conversation I wanted to respond to was, we shouldn't be relying on just an HR team, as you've mentioned, or just our managers. What does a strong culture do? I know we roll our eyes at the word culture, because people are so inauthentic with what they say about their culture, but a strong culture influences behavior.

If we have a culture where people are displaying that they show up for others, that they ask questions, that they offer actual support, and they allow someone to express the way that they feel, then others are also going to start doing that. That's the tuning force. I think it's really important that everyone in the office starts getting more comfortable with these subjects, and that's through doing courses like [unintelligible 00:31:21], all the different types of offerings, but normalizing that conversation.

[00:31:27] Alexa: I think it's normalizing. I also think it's not trying to, what's the right way to say this? Not trying to systemize it. It's why everybody roll their eyes when we talk about bereavement leave policies, and how badly done they can be. I've actually had more experience with loss than I realized, James.

[00:31:45] James: Exactly. All of us have.

[00:31:48] Alexa: We've been just talking about this. Jesus. I had a colleague whose parent passed away, someone that worked for me, passed away. This was a while ago. I had no idea how this person was going to respond, and it was very clear that this could happen. It wasn't completely sudden, but it happened pretty quickly, and it was like, "Oh, boy, okay. Father passed away. Yikes!" I was very like, "As much time as you need. I'm very flexible with that stuff." I'm like, "This is your process. I can't tell you if you should be back in a week. I can't tell you you should take two days. I can't tell you should take two weeks. You tell me what you need, and we'll just keep the conversation going, and we'll figure this out together."

That person's response was, "I'll be back tomorrow. I'm going to take a day, and I'll be out for the funeral in two days, but I'm basically largely going to come back." I was like, "Okay, that's your way. I'll keep my spidey senses up for anything super weird." What was very obvious was that his way of coping was that-- We do team meetings at the end of the week, and we celebrate things whenever. He would just take moments and talk about his father. He would wear the shirt that his dad-- The Red Sox shirt, whatever that his dad gave, he would wear it a lot all of a sudden. I was like, "I'm not going to comment on you wearing T shirts all the time." It's just like, "We're not going to comment on that. You wear that shirt as much as you want to but for a while."

What I realized is, that's a super different way than I might process that same situation. I don't know how I would process that situation because it never happened to me. I imagine that anyone else on my team may have a very different reaction. When we try to say, "Oh, well, the policy around here is we send you a gift basket, and we give you five days." There's got to be a range and an ability to work within that, because some people, it will be, they just need to be heard, and they need a little time to be a little out of sorts, and maybe just be publicly more emotional than normal, and other people, it's like, the flowers and the gift basket really is the right thing, and that's how they receive love. It's a little bit of like love language is almost, like grief language is.

[00:33:42] Tyson: As like the HR person, if someone reaches out asking about the Bereavement policy, that should be your cue to reach out and have a human conversation with them as well. It's not just like, "Oh, yes, for immediate family member, you get five days, blah, blah, blah." Like, don't just reiterate your policy, but that's probably a really good time, because although we say, "Yes, don't just dump everything on your people team." I think that as a strong HR partner, showing up in those situations is super important as well, because we talk about-- [crosstalk]

[00:34:14] James: Not just the cues, people actually mention, like when someone says, "Sorry, I haven't been around, I lost my mother." I have a few other little jobs as well, like dealing with sales and stuff like that, but a recent conversation was, "Sorry, I went dark, I actually lost my father." I saw that as, "This person is telling me about this. Here is a clear opportunity for me to talk about the work that I do, and open up that space." Even in a sales arrangement, we now are on texting basis, and also, the deal's going to close, but notice those cues. I think that is a really important point, Tyson, and partly education is, but because we can be so avoidant, and HR people are human too, here are some signs that actually this is a clear opportunity to have the conversation

[00:35:09] Tyson: You're a piece of that culture puzzle, like if we want to use that word and say like, "Hey, this company has a culture where we treat people alike, and we're compassionate, and empathetic and all this stuff, HR is a piece of that puzzle. So, it is important to show up, the more people that reach out, the better, right?

[00:35:27] Alexa: It's also really important. I think we have to stop looking at all this stuff as like, "Okay, I'm your manager, I have to deal with your grief because you're my employee?" It's like, "No, I have to use my counsel," and your counsel is the other people that have dealt with this on their team, your HR team, your individual team, the other colleagues that work on your team.

[00:35:47] Tyson: Other cultures do this well, like not Americans.

[00:35:51] Alexa: Yes, western culture is very like, "Oh God, deathbed." It's our protestant founding, a lot of guilt involved, a lot of guilt and shame, not a lot of celebration, but yes, I think that's super important, and I also think it's like, again, you can't slap a five-day policy on this and expect that not to backfire on you, sorry to say it, but culturally, you've got to empower the ecosystem, which is in this particular situation, their co-teammates, people on their same level, their manager, and that manager's HR team, to work together as a team, and say, "We think the appropriate way to handle this person situation is X, and X is within a reasonable set of boundaries." "Hey, we gave Suzy the day off for the cat, we gave Mike two and a half weeks with some other support services because mom died after an eight-year battle with cancer." Or, "Dad has Buerger's."

[00:36:47] James: That alone communicates so much. The policy been that we will talk with you, and work with you, that says so much that rather than-- And also, talking about this policy before it happens, so being very clear about this policy in place before someone actually needs it, because what it does is that it communicates. COVID taught us that we should start treating our employees like adults, because this whole need to be in the office five days a week, or they're not going to perform, so treat them like adults, and let them tell us, rather than a family death, could be a best friend, could be a dog, could be some distant relative that you were estranged from, but now there's all this guilt because you left all this stuff unsaid, whatever it is, but allowing them to explain to you that they're going through a really difficult grief process, so give them that opportunity.

[00:37:39] Alexa: Yes, I think people get worried about-- and I hate that we have to wrap, because the best conversations are always, there's so much more to be said, but what I think is interesting is just when you think about the thing that Tyson brought up earlier, which is like a little bit like, how do you get people back to the office? If someone is asking for three weeks to grieve their cat, obviously, that's a ridiculous example, but that tells you something. That's a really big piece of truth about someone on your team, is like, this person thinks that it's a normal request, first of all, and second of all, is either, A, using this as some sort of opportunity to grieve something else, or like, "Wow, I didn't realize Wendy was so attached to her cat, maybe I should try to spend a little more one on one time with Wendy and make sure everything's okay, or she's really attached to her cat, I didn't know." It just, it's so much data on the other human, I feel like that's why I get so worried that people try to slap a policy and a gift basket on this shit, and it's like-- [crosstalk]

[00:38:35] James: The policy is the five stages, it's formulaic, it's one-size-fits-all, it's all this kind of stuff.

[00:38:40] Tyson: They don't make sense, because they'll have like a bereavement policy. Like, I've seen this at companies, they have this bereavement policy, but then they also have unlimited PTO. So, it's like, "No, you're only allowed to have three days off for the loss of your aunt." Also, we have unlimited PTO.

[00:38:54] Alexa: I was thinking about this before this conversation, I was like, "We have unlimited PTO, and our policy is don't be an asshole." I would argue that policy holds here, which is like, if you can look me in the face and say that, "Yes, I think I need three weeks for my cat," and you believe that, and that's just based on what I know about you and your relationship with your cat, okay, then we're going to figure that out together.

[00:39:13] Tyson: This is a segue to the people problem, because it's literally the people problem.

[00:39:15] Alexa: All right, people problem, here we go.


[00:39:27] Tyson: Okay, the question is, how do you deal with people who abuse unlimited PTO? Personal time off. [laughs]

[00:39:34] Alexa: Oh, man, I don't know, James, how do you feel about unlimited PTO?

[00:39:37] James: What do you mean, abuse the unlimited time off? They are off all the time or?

[00:39:40] Tyson: They're abusing it.

[00:39:41] Alexa: Maybe put some parameters on what you think would be abusing it, you, Tyson, as probably the person with the most experience.

[00:39:52] Tyson: Yes, so typically, one thing that people really hate is when you take like every Friday, that's like a real pet peeve, when people start taking every Friday.

[00:40:01] Alexa: Yes, a lot of Fridays back to back.

[00:40:03] Tyson: Yes, or, I guess you might take like, abuse of PTO usually happens in small chunks. It's not like someone takes a month, and then another six weeks, it's usually like they're taking little tidbits of time, three days here, then two days there. It just bleeds in, and then you scale out, and you're like, "Shit, this person has taken a lot of time off." It's usually in small clumps of time.

[00:40:28] James: One thing is, you obviously have data on how much time off every employee is taking. I feel like you can have a conversation with them and be like, "You are taking 65% more time off than any other employee. That's a wake-up call because remember, at the core of everything, we want to be part of something, right. You're now standing out and sticking out like a sore thumb."

[00:40:56] Alexa: This is so interesting as the business owner in the group, that my response to this is different. I will say I have had this experience. My first question to myself is always, "Why do I not trust this person? What's going on? Is that me or is that them?" Then my second question is like, "If they're performing, why the fuck does it matter?" If they're performing, they are by definition, not abusing the policy.

If they're abusing it, odds are that you're having performance issues with this person. The only time I've ever doubted someone's use of the PTO policy is with someone that did not or does not have clear goals, and I cannot point to clear outcomes for that person. That makes me worried about performance managing them, which then makes me feel guilty about the amount of time they're taking off, because I'm like, "Are you taking advantage of me?"

[00:41:38] James: Yes. If they're getting the goals done. If the goals are clear, and they're getting them done, then--

[00:41:40] Alexa: Exactly. If the goals aren't clear, and that's why you're like, "I can't point to the work getting done," step one is fix that fucking problem. That's easier said than done. I've definitely struggled with this in my career, and still to this day struggle with this with even people on my current team, is like, how to do this and do this well, and not be an asshole, but also not get taken advantage of.

So many people talk about like, "Oh, employers don't give enough vacation, and unlimited PTO is just so no one will ever take vacation." It's like, "No, actually, for most employers--" I think most employers are trying to do right by their people. We don't want to be taken advantage of. This is a sensitive topic, but I also think the question is like--

[00:42:15] Tyson: It's so often [crosstalk] though. It's very hard to cop out. [chuckles]

[00:42:18] Alexa: Yes, it can be. For sure. I actually have a rule on my team, which is-- I think we've talked about this. We have a mandatory minimum of two weeks. You have to take at least two weeks off, I will force it on you-

[00:42:28] Tyson: Well, the law dictates that, usually. [chuckles]

[00:42:28] Alexa: -and then I also give you benefits. Not necessarily, because you can just pay people for it, and let it roll over, which is, that's the workaround, is people just pay you for your PTO.

[00:42:38] James: Oh, America. [chuckles]

[00:42:39] Alexa: The other policy is, I'll force it on you so I just do what the SEC does, which is, I'll be like, "Nope, you don't work between Christmas and New Year's because, if you're burned out, at least I will guarantee that you get some recharge over the holidays with family." In business, nobody's doing any fucking work in the United States between Christmas and New Year's.

[00:42:51] Tyson: Everyone does. Yes. I feel like closing over the holiday is nice. Yes.

[00:42:53] Alexa: Yes, it's a great time to catch up. Yes. I do feel like this last year was the first time where I was like, "Oh, I'm not the only person with a 10-day out off--" You're the only one whose whole team has a 10-day out office between Christmas and New Year's.

[00:43:03] Tyson: I feel like everyone does that. Yes.

[00:43:04] Alexa: Everyone did that this year. I get it. It's quite European of us.

[00:43:07] James: Alexa, one thing. I completely agree with you about the clear goals and performance, but then there's these tricky roles, such as ones that I've been in the past where one of the untalked-about goals is that you are constantly present for clients, for example, and answering their questions, and where calls get really gray area. It's like your presence is just important. Then it's like, "Well, crap, how can I take two weeks off right now when I've been doing really, really well, and I kind of deserve it?" I think a big issue is companies not having enough staff for people to take time off. That's [unintelligible 00:43:46].

[00:43:46] Alexa: Yes, I agree with that.

[00:43:47] Tyson: That is [unintelligible 00:43:47].

[00:43:48] Alexa: If you can't cover somebody when they're out, that's a fucking problem.

[00:43:50] James: Yes, that's a problem.

[00:43:51] Tyson: [crosstalk] one person and the lights turn off, you're not in a good place business-wise.

[00:43:54] James: Yes. I've been at companies where that happened.

[00:43:55] Alexa: I'm not going to get on my soapbox about boundaries again right now. The vacation time is a boundary, and it's got to be a healthy boundary. Look, I think the other thing that blurs this, and again, I'm speaking from experience, is when you're really flexible, especially with things like work from home, and remote work, like I'm about to go work from different countries for five months, I can't give anyone on my team shit for having a different Zoom background week to week, because I'm about to do it.

I am the kind of person that I'll be just as fucking productive because I have to get my shit done. I'm just that person. I trust the people that I hired to also be those people. When you're also letting people work from anywhere around the world, and you're giving them unlimited PTO, and you're covering all these other things, and you're helping them in all these personal situations, you can also feel like as an employer, again, don't fucking take advantage of me, which is hard. It's a fine line.

[00:44:44] Tyson: The only thing we didn't talk about is, if this is, again, a change in behavior. If all of a sudden they're taking all these days, what the fuck is going on? Is there something else going on? I have had situations where we noticed this weird absentee, like someone was taking a lot of time off, and I think they were getting some health treatment. Then it became a conversation like, "Okay, how do we accommodate this?"

[00:45:09] Alexa: That's a noticeable, like all of a sudden, a recent accumulation. I think it much easier to identify than like, "Oh, Brian always sneakily takes every other Friday off." [laughs]

[00:45:23] Tyson: Well, those things happen. That's happened before as well, where like people have taken, and whatever. It was a childcare issue. They didn't want to talk about it, because how dare you have to pick your kid up from daycare?

[00:45:35] James: That's why we need to create an environment where we are able to talk about the things that are going on with us.

[00:45:39] Tyson: Exactly.

[00:45:40] Alexa: It's why unlimited PTO happened, is because people were like, "It's fucking ridiculous that I have to take one of my vacation days to go to the eye doctor for half a day." It's fucking ridiculous I have to take a "day" or leave "early" to go pick up my kid school, who gets out at 3:30. Nobody leaves the office at 3:30, at least not. They used to, they used to not do that. Now that's very normal. I would assume going back into the office, there'll be a lot more rush hour traffic at 3:00 than at 5:00. I think it's all part of the same conversation, which is like, you got to give people space to be human, but also like--

[00:46:11] Tyson: Talk about your feelings.

[00:46:12] Alexa: Yes. Also, why are you taking so much fucking time off? Do you not like this? Do you not feel supported here? Are you burned out? Why do you need so much time off? Why do you not like being here? What about being here and doing this work is not working for you?

[00:46:28] James: That sounds like specific questions. It's very similar to a lot of what we're talking about. It's like, "Let's have an honest conversation."

[00:46:35] Alexa: Oh, look.


[00:46:38] James: Now you're blushing.

[00:46:40] Alexa: I know. I learned so much today. I got a sticker. All right, James, if people like what you have to say, and/or they want to check out your course, where can they find you?

[00:46:48] James: supportinggrievers.com is my website. You can also find me on LinkedIn, and on Instagram. I don't have much going on in Instagram right now. It's more just like promoting the course, but I want to make this a cooler, more exciting space. I've changed the way I view this. I'm now excited about it. Before I was like, "Ugh, I don't want to do that."

[00:47:12] Alexa: What? Social media? You know you're in the presence of social media royalty here, right? Which is Tyson, not me. [laughs] That's with all things, Tyson and I are exactly the opposite here.

[00:47:25] James: I used to find it very [crosstalk] overwhelming to think about, and now I'm more like, "Oh, this could be a really cool extension of my interest in grief."

[00:47:34] Alexa: I literally think you could just post little stories about the shit that people tell you, and it would be fucking passionate.

[00:47:40] Tyson: It's a really good niche, so it will take off on Instagram.

[00:47:43] James: Cool.

[00:47:44] Tyson: Start making Reels.

[00:47:44] James: Thanks, guys.

[00:47:47] Alexa: We're going to make you hell of famous. Just kidding. Thank you for our listeners.

[00:47:51] James: supportinggrievers.com is where you can find me. You can also find my email, that's james@supportinggrievers.com. Please do reach out. I'm such a yes man with anyone that is into this work, and is interested, I want to talk. I offer one-on-one work and this beautiful, six-week group course, the next one is in October.

[00:48:15] Alexa: I'm so excited. I think you're going to do one for the people of society too. I'm going to get in on that.

[00:48:19] James: Getting on corporate since I'm having more conversations about corporate.

[00:48:22] Alexa: I'm going to audit that. I love It.

[00:48:25] James: Beautiful. Saying yes to these podcasts and all this kind of stuff. I'm out there, I'm expanding this. I really believe in this work, and how it can change the world. It's already changing people's lives. If you're going to do one thing, go check out the testimonials on my website, and you'll feel the excitement, and the energy that's coming out from people from doing this work.

[00:48:46] Tyson: I can feel your energy just coming out of the screen right now. Thank you so much.

[00:48:49] James: I've had so much fun with you guys.

[00:48:53] Alexa: Of course. Thank you so much for doing this with us. We think what you're up to is super important. Like I said, I've been a huge supporter of this idea since you told it to me however long ago, that was, so I think the corporate world fucking needs this.

[00:49:05] Tyson: Absolutely.

[00:49:05] James: I agree.

[00:49:05] Alexa: Keep it up.

[00:49:06] James: Five days a week in this place. I couldn't believe it more. Thank you so much, Alexa and Tyson, this has been very fun. Just fun and fluid. I can't wait to hear it. [laughs] I've got a lot of stuff from listening to it. [laughs] All right. Thanks, guys.

[00:49:24] Alexa: Thanks.

[00:49:25] Tyson: Wait a minute. Before you leave, take some time to leave as a five-star rating. We'd really love your feedback. Also, if you'd like to see our lovely faces each week as we're recording these episodes, check us out on our new YouTube channel. Thanks.

[00:49:37] Alexa: This episode was executive produced by me, Alexa Baggio, with audio production by Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. Our intro music was also done by the wonderful Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. You can find more information about us and future episodes at people problems--

#HRtok #humorousresources #hrtiktok #careertok #hr #humanresources #employeecheckin #hrlife #peopleoperations #peopleops #peopleoperations #work #worklife #remotework #notHR

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