Option B: Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg on Supporting Grieving Employees #SHRM18

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog regarding Sherl Sandbergs advice on how to support grieving employees.

I am excited to hear Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, speak later this month at SHRM’s Annual Conference & Exposition in Chicago.

Sheryl is best known for her 2013 book Lean In. In this blog post, I want to focus on the book she wrote last year, Option B, with her friend and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Adam Grant.

Option A is the employee’s life with a loved one. Option B is surviving without him or her

Option B is based on Sheryl’s loss of her husband, Dave, and her painful but inspirational journey forward. While the book is primarily about emotional resilience, it also provides valuable lessons for HR and other leaders. Here are seven:

  1. Do not avoid discussing the issue for fear you will remind the person of the loved one he or she has lost. Do you really think he or she can forget?
  2. Do not avoid the person. We may do that consciously or unconsciously to avoid the discomfort associated with the issue. Even Sheryl said she felt isolated. Try being as strong as the person suffering.
  3. Ask “How are you today?” rather than “How are you?” As she notes, this shows that you recognize there is something bigger than the day going on in the person’s life without expressly saying it.
  4. Don’t ask “What can I do?” She explains that this puts the burden on the person struggling to help you help them. Instead, offer a specific way you can help.
  5. Do something specific. Tell the person you are thinking of her. Buy him coffee. Send her a book by an author she likes. Just do it.
  6. Don’t say things that unwittingly diminish your colleague’s pain, such as “He’s in a better place.” Are you sure? Instead, tell the person you know it is hard and you are available to listen or help (but only if you mean it).
  7. Revisit your bereavement policy. You may want to add additional unpaid days that a person may take in some circumstances.

In addition to what I learned from Sheryl, I need to add a legal caution that, fortunately, is consistent with common sense.

Listen more than you talk. Do not ask if or suggest that the person is depressed or otherwise needs help. That could buy you a perceived disability claim under the ADA.

Of course, you can remind the employee of the EAP. Is there some risk in recommending the EAP? Sure. But not as much as appearing heartless.

I am excited to hear Sheryl at SHRM18. It is not too late to register.

Jonathan A. Segal

About Jonathan A. Segal

Jonathan’s preventive and corrective approach to employment/HR issues includes counseling, policies, training, agreements and audits. Areas of substantive focus include, for example: gender equality, wage and hour compliance, social media and employee engagement. When Jonathan isn’t counseling employers or dedicating his time to SHRM and the HR community, he can be found volunteering his time and efforts to animal rescue. Jonathan is also mad about Mad Men, writing and speaking on the employment issues arising out of the MadMen Era! Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law.