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Grief – Supporting Your Team

December 2, 2022
4 minute read

10 years I had worked for my last company, dedicated and ambitious to make a positive difference. I got promoted through the business to be part of the head office support team and things were going well. I was proud and seeing my hard work pay off I was dedicated.

That's when my mum got diagnosed with terminal stage 4 cancer. Suddenly, I went from successful dedicated career woman to facing the prospect of losing my best friend.

I remember, trying to juggle the demands of hospital appointments and caring for my mum whilst trying to work.

I reflect and ask myself now, did I ever approach my manager? The answer is yes, we spoke about my mum's illness in passing but I was never given the option to flex my work or given someone to talk to.  I just got left to figure it out.

I remember one day, I was driving to work and my mum she was in agony, I turned the car around to get to her and called my manager and everyone else on my appointment list for that day.

I got to my mum and the nurses from the hospice were already there it was time for her to go In. I'll never forget the pain of that day.

I continued to work as mum was in the hospice but I dropped the ball on numerous occasions, answerphone messages got unanswered, my statistics for my region dropped, I couldn't concentrate.

I was asked to go to a meeting with my manager, I went along and found she had invited a representative from HR. They asked me if I thought I should leave the company, they highlighted everything I had done wrong over the past couple of weeks and they encouraged me to leave and focus on my family. I felt like a cornered, frightened animal.

Looking back now, I can see how wrong this heavy-handed approach was.

Why am I telling you this? Grief is a very real and very painful journey. The illness and death of a loved one is life changing and our response as leaders needs to be kind.

So what should leaders do?

1. Have an open door policy -

Leaders are busy, but knowing your leader has time for you is essential. An empathetic ear. Somewhere to go when you just need to take a breath.

2. Have regular supervisions

Quality if work when working with children can't be compromised so regularly supervise your team member. What support do they need? What can they continue to do and what needs to change?

3. Redistribute work load where possible

Does this person have any extra workload that could be redistributed? Can Key children's observations be supported? How about a buddy system so there is someone for them to lean on?

4. Be prepared for absence

Staffing is difficult at the best of times, however, when a staff member has a loved one who is dying you can expect their attendance to be fragmented. Is there a bank member of staff who would be happy to cover their hours and work alongside them?

5. Consider changing working hours or offering holiday or unpaid holiday

Can you offer your staff member a change in working hours to support them on a temporary basis? Can you allow unpaid holiday for exceptional circumstances like this?

6. Know that grief is different for everyone

We have all heard of the stages of grief, did you know these can begin even before the death of a loved one? Try to listen to the individuals' experiences and respond to their changing experience with compassion.

7. Be patient

Leaders are busy and under pressure and it can be hard to have another thing to juggle. However, when you have a dedicated staff member it is worth the investment of patience. When this staff member is able to they will forever be grateful.

So how about you? As a leader if you are suffering from grief?

I wish I could have told myself 'Don't try and be the hero' or 'You can't do everything' or ' insist that your manager support you'

What I say to you all as Early Years Leaders is, all the above but also, find someone you can talk to, don't try and do it on your own.

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