Empowering the Freelance Economy

Self-care spotlight: How to spot Grief in yourself and others and overcome it

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Grief is often associated with the loss of a loved one, but it can manifest in many forms, and what it may ‘look’ like for one person is not necessarily the same for another.

According to an article in the McKinsey Quarterly, ‘The Hidden Perils of Unresolved Guilt’, grief can, more broadly speaking, be resistance to change in one’s personal and work life. “When people lose their sense of identity or purpose, when they feel they’re losing control or their connection to the things that are important to them, they experience grief,” according to the authors, Charles Dhanaraj, the Piccinati Endowed Chair professor and chair of the Department of Management at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver and George Kohlrieser an organizational and clinical psychologist and Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD).

“For leaders, such grief may make it hard to be at their best at a moment that unquestionably demands it. They may have difficulty bonding with others. Managers and employees outside the C-suite are also dealing with all manner of loss: a missed promotion, loss of a key customer or client, end of a project, disbanding of a team, retirement of a beloved colleague without in-person celebration. These can all spark feelings of grief that include shock, anger, sadness, and fear,” said the report.

The authors are confident that skilled leaders “sustain hope by building psychological protections for employees and organizational cultures that are flexible, celebrate individuality, and enable employees to be their best selves at work”.

However, most leaders themselves are experiencing loss both on an individual and company level, and many people (self-employed or not) will be concerned about showing any signs of ‘weakness’ in a working environment where redundancies are outnumbering job opportunities. That leads o the question, are we all facing loss and no one really knows it?

For many experiencing grief or loss, work can sometimes be the one thing can get you through it, but what happens if work is what is also causing the grief or has been taken away through job loss or furlough?

Here are some signs to look for not just in yourself, but those you work and collaborate with. The National Health Service also has a mood assessment tool that you can try here.

Spot the signs

Emotional unavailability: this sign, according to the McKinsey report authors, stems from unresolved grief that could have happened anywhere from one to 20 years ago, and often makes executives ‘live below their capacity’. They may have difficulty bonding with peers or direct reports. They often prefer to play it safe. This can be true even when the loss involved isn’t the death of a loved one.

Overly defensive or sensitive to constructive criticism: Someone that has experienced a loss of a loved one, and in the most acute of cases, a child, will feel persistent internal anger and guilt and by association a loss of control that they could not stop the loss from happening. Bitterness is also a symptom since they feel those around them will never understand what they have lost since they have not been through the same ordeal.

Psych.com has devised a quiz to spot signs and symptoms for what it called ‘complicated grief’, which often revolves around the loss of a loved one. You can take the quiz by linking here to assess where you or someone you know may be at in the ‘grief timeline’.

However, if someone has lost out on a promotion, a bonus, or has experienced a declined job application, they will also feel defensive to others, including family, because they feel they cannot provide financially as they would like. They may have the skills for the job, but lack in other areas, such as delegating or showing polished presentation or speaking skills. The blow can be two-fold if the perceived failure of not getting what they wanted may also mean a loss of their lifestyle or salary potential.

Growing anxiety or newfound phobias

According to Psych.com, if symptoms of initial anxiety after a loss do not dissipate, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorderSymptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • excessive worry
  • restlessness
  • being easily fatigued
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • sleep disturbance
  • muscle tension
  • specific phobias
  • social anxiety

The only way that you can spot your grief or loss, is by acknowledging it, and then determine on an individual level what you can do to constructively to move grief to the side of your life and not at the centre of it, so that you can take control of your financial and emotional welfare.

If you have staff, you must also acknowledge that employees are at times experiencing loss and by turning a blind eye to it because you don’t want to deal with it, is bad management. How can you expect staff to do their best when they are missing purpose, drive, and support? Support does not always have to be monetary, it can be flexibility in work hours, for example, while not having to compromise on output. It can be asking about new areas staff members would like to explore in the business. It is about empowering staff by letting them know you believe in them because you are giving them the opportunity to prove themselves.

Turning loss on its head

Taking a cue about loss and grief from New Orleans’ Jazz Funerals

In the throes of a major loss, celebrations are rarely considered, but if you are from New Orleans it’s another story altogether. In the iconic Southern US town where jazz reigns supreme, so does the city’s take on death through its Jazz Funerals. Acknowledging the loss initially with sad music in the funeral procession and then celebrating the deceased’s life with celebratory music and dancing enables a healing process by actively creating new memories, good memories.

The concept of celebrating one’s life can be explored in many different ways and you don’t have to be from New Orleans to do it. All that has to be done is to think of what would have made them happy, what will provide a lasting memory in their name, and how can you help keep memories alive? This can be done in so many ways from charitable works, tree plantings, ceremonies, to special trips.

One reader fulfilled her father’s wish to have his ashes spread at sea. To create a lasting and positive memory, rather than something sad, the reader decided to teach her children how to fish in the ocean following the ash spreading ceremony. The day was a great life lesson for her children, accompanied by Frank Sinatra music that her father loved to add a celebratory mood to the occasion.

“Our family doesn’t do grief,” said the reader who wished to remain anonymous. “Our coping mechanism was to turn something sad into something positive, even when we were at our lowest. I don’t know what the psychologists would say about how we dealt with our loss, but it worked for our family. We have photos of that first catch to remind us of the memories we made that day.”

Editing career hiccups

When the loss is career-related, that too can be turned on its head. By asking for feedback, acknowledging it, and then doing something proactive immediately after to ‘edit’ the situation – practice your presentation skills, edit that CV, add a skill to your CV by signing up to a course, or read up on learning to read body language so you can take visual cues in those all-important video calls.

Even the most prized writers need editing, and so do our careers, our attitudes in the working world, and how we use feedback to our advantage when we don’t hit the bullseye for the first time.

Put in the time and invest in yourself when you can acknowledge the loss in your personal or working life. It will be the best investment you make.


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