Category Archives: General

4 Red Flags That Administrative Work is Sucking the Life from Your Team

I am pleased to share my latest article posted to Entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs live to create, develop and refine products and services. They love using creativity to make a difference. The smart ones know they need the support of those who are comfortable with administrative stuff. Somebody has to make the trains run on time!

Administrative work needs to be valued but, over and over, I hear entrepreneurs complain they spend too much on administrative work of questionable value. “Administration” can become a behemoth that crushes creativity and steals time. Here are four red flags that administration may be interfering with your mission.

1. To get an answer you have to talk with many people.

If you regularly need to speak with five people to get one answer, you have a problem. Time is not only money but also energy. When no one knows the whole picture, then those with power will have more power but at the expense of profitability and the sanity of the employees.

2. Regularly hearing “not my job.”

Most employees sincerely want to do a good job. More often than not, employees welcome the opportunity to expand their skill. Of course, there is the occasional employee who will say “not my job.” But, what if that is something you routinely hear from different people in different words or ways?

The pattern may speak volumes. As insane as it sounds, the employees may have been instructed not to help. Use your people skills to ask directly and respectfully why the resistance. Listen not only to what is said but also what is not said. You may find the employee is uncomfortable with not helping as you are in getting the help you need. But, the employee is simply following orders.

3. Rigid rules instead of value-based rules.

We need values-based rules, such as not tolerating harassing conduct, and to enforce such values-based rules aggressively. This is different from rigid rules relating to operations that have no relationship to values or the evolving nature of business.

Every organization must have structure. But, some rules are implemented just to give those who enforce them power. In other cases, a rule may have made sense at a given time but no longer does. Ask why the rule exists. Sometimes people don’t even know why they have rules other than, “We always have done it this way.”

Other times the rules assume the worst of all employees. Guess what: that’s what they bring out, too.

4. Redundant paperwork.

A friend of mine refers to the term as “administrivia.” The more forms, the better. To increase the torture, administration insists on multiple signatures. Worse yet, only certain people can fill out those forms. A salesperson I met took a job for less pay because she was tired of filling out forms rather than taking care of customers.

If you are considering applying for a job with the government to escape the behemoth bureaucracy that hides under the label of administration, you have a problem.

What do you do? Stop complaining about administration if you feel your administrative function is out of control. Make sure those in leadership know where administration provides support or where it creates unnecessary obstacles.

If you provide factual concrete examples to leadership where administration provides unnecessary obstacles, you should get relief. If not, you may need to look to another employer to provide it.

Friends Do NOT Let Friends Engage in Harassing Conduct

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

As a result of the “great awakening” last year of the persistence and pervasiveness of sexual harassment, we all know that more must be done to tackle this scourge.  Companies are looking to enhance their preventive efforts, and, of course, that must start at the top.

To minimize the burden on victims, employers are empowering “bystanders.” For examples, employers are—or should be–modifying their anti-harassment complaint procedures to the extent necessary to make clear that an employee does not have to be the object of unacceptable conduct to raise a concern. Employees can raise concerns if they are “bystanders,” that is, if they see, hear or otherwise become aware of harassing conduct.

Leadership training also should include a bystander component. If you have power and you see or hear harassing behavior, you must make clear, “in the moment,” the conduct is unacceptable and then take prompt and proportionate corrective/disciplinary action.

I keep asking myself: what more can bystanders do?  I have one suggestion for consideration: peer-to-peer interventions.

Take the following example:

  • An employee sees his friend look a female co-worker “up and down.” To the best of the employee’s knowledge, no one but he has seen the unacceptable conduct.
  • The employee has no power over his friend. And, he does not want to get his friend in potential trouble by filing a complaint, but does not want to ignore the conduct either.

If the employee is a true friend, he will talk with his peer. Consider the following response:

  • I have bad news and good news.
  • The bad news is that the way you just looked Jane “up and down” is not okay.
  • The “good news” is that I am telling you now so you don’t ever do it again.
  • This conduct demeans women and makes you look bad, too.
  • Please promise me you won’t do this again and will review the Company’s anti-harassment policy.

The emperor wore no clothes because no one told him he was wearing none.  There are degrees of unacceptable conduct, and sometimes a peer can jump in before what he or she sees or hears causes harm not only to others but also to his or her friend.

Of course, there are legal nuances that need to be navigated before incorporating peer-to- peer interventions into your employee training/education.  Those nuances go beyond this blog

For now, it is very simple: friends do not let friends engage in harassing behaviors.

 

5 Effective Ways to Upgrade Your Anti-Harassment Policy

I am pleased to share my latest article written for SHRM.

Good policies—including your anti-harassment policy—can help shape the workplace culture. Here are five general recommendations for HR professionals to consider as they revisit their organizations’ existing anti-harassment policies.

Don’t Be Limited to Sexual Harassment

Every anti-harassment policy should cover sexual harassment. But we cannot forget that other kinds of harassment are equally unlawful and must be addressed, too.

Simply stated, harassment based on any protected status is prohibited. This would include race, ethnicity and religion.

Imagine the question you’ll be asked at a deposition in a lawsuit from one of your employees if your policy addresses sexual harassment but not race: “Why do you think sexual harassment is worse than racial harassment?” There’s no good answer.

Avoid the question by making sure your policy is not limited to sexual harassment.

Avoid Legal Definitions

All of us have seen policies that quote regulations published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The legal definition is fine for lawyers but, without more context, provides inadequate notice to employees.

You must include real-life examples of unacceptable conduct in your policy, examples that will resonate in your organization’s culture.

Sometimes, employers struggle with how much detail to provide. I get it. You don’t want to make individuals uncomfortable with a policy that was designed to make the working environment more comfortable.

Why not make this concern explicit in the policy? State that your intent is not to make anyone uncomfortable but instead is to make clear what is unacceptable so that employees have a comfortable working environment.

Even with this disclaimer, please be thoughtful on how you describe prohibited conducted. For example, every policy should include the phrase “hate words.” But I would never use the actual words.

However, you can give examples without spelling them out. For example, you might say: “Use of hate words, such as the ‘n-word.’ ”

Don’t Focus on What Is Prohibited

In order for harassment to be unlawful under federal law, it must be, among other factors, severe or pervasive. The more severe it is, the less pervasive it need be. The converse is true.

However, employers do not want to wait until conduct is unlawful before prohibiting (or responding to) it. The goal is to prevent and remedy harassing conduct before it rises to the level of illegality.

Therefore, it is recommended that, within a policy, employers lead off the examples of prohibited conduct with something like: “The following behaviors are unacceptable and therefore prohibited, even if not unlawful in and of themselves.”

The law sets a minimum. You want to make clear that you will not tolerate unacceptable conduct, even if it is not unlawful.

On a related note, it is dangerous to start your list of prohibited conduct with something like: “Sexual harassment includes but is not limited to … ” This is problematic for multiple reasons.

First, the conduct at issue may not be harassment as a matter of law. Mocking a disabled employee’s walk is harassing behavior based on disability. But, at least under federal law, if there is nothing more, it is probably not enough in and of itself to create a hostile work environment.

Second, if your prohibitions are framed in terms of legal wrongs, your corrective actions may need to be, too. And here you risk defamation claims.

That is, the conduct may not be severe or pervasive enough to violate federal law. But it may be bad enough to meet your judgment as to what is unacceptable, and therefore, it may be prohibited. Why apply a standard to conduct you may not be able to prove?

Drill Down on Sexual Harassment

Of course, you will want to include quid pro quo harassment and give an example of what that means—for example, requiring an employee to submit to sexual advances as a condition of a promotion.

But you also will want to include examples of conduct that does not constitute quid pro quo harassment that may nonetheless give rise to a hostile work environment. Common examples include sexual bantering, sexual “jokes” and inappropriate touching.

However, do not limit your examples to the strictly sexual. In particular, do not forget to include examples that involve pregnancy as well as gender-biased statements, such as stereotypes about women or men.

It is not just comments about someone’s sexual desirability that may give rise to a hostile work environment. Comments about someone’s perceived lack of attractiveness can give rise to a hostile work environment. Sexual objectification—favorably or negatively—is unacceptable.

Consider the Scope of the Prohibitions

It is helpful to make it clear how the prohibitions apply. Here are a few suggestions:

◾ First, make clear that the prohibitions apply to employees and nonemployees alike. Your employees cannot subject nonemployees with whom they work to prohibited conduct, and they should use the complaint procedure if a nonemployee with whom they work engages in such conduct.

◾ Second, be careful not to suggest that the policy applies only in the workplace. At a very minimum, make clear that the policy applies to company-sponsored social events.

The policy should make explicit that the prohibitions apply not only to the spoken or written word but also to e-mail, text messages and social media posts. I have observed a steady rise in the number of cases of harassment involving text messages and social media, so employees should be put on notice.

Of course, some social media may be strictly private. That is rare but possible. Consider language to the following effect: The harassment policy applies to social media posts, tweets, etc., that are about or may be seen by employees, customers, etc.

Yes, the employee’s Facebook account may be configured as private. But if co-workers are friends and see the posts, the posts are fair game for corrective action.

Of course, a strong anti-harassment policy is only half the equation. The other half is a robust complaint procedure, which will be addressed in an upcoming column.

Warning About Implicit Bias Awareness Tests

Please read this important article I wrote for SHRM on how implicit bias is a real problem and so are the tests that purport to measure it.

We all know that not all bias is conscious. Some bias is unconscious—often, referred to as implicit bias.

This means that we may be engaging in bias without even knowing we are doing so. This is most likely to occur when we make snap judgments.

For example, most of us have read about, or at least heard of, studies that demonstrate the name on an application affects the likelihood a candidate will be selected for an interview. Men do better than women and candidates with names that are often associated with people of color are less likely to be selected than those with names that are not. In other words, Kesha will get fewer interviews than Karen, and Karen fewer than Kevin.

To help bring implicit bias to conscious awareness, some employers are using tests designed to measure implicit bias. One popular example is the Harvard Implicit Awareness Test (“IAT”).

However, these tests are far from conclusive. There is substantial debate in the psychological and neurological communities about whether the Harvard IAT or other tests truly measure implicit bias.

Further, these tests create evidence that may be used against employers. Let me give you an example.

Your executive team members take implicit awareness tests. Cindy is your Chief Information Officer, and the results of Cindy’s implicit awareness test suggests an implicit bias in favor of women.

Cindy promotes Susan over Zachary. Zachary’s counsel argues that the results of Cindy’s test help establish gender bias.

Are the test results admissible at trial? The law is not yet settled but the answer may be “yes.”

What do you do if admissible? Hire an expert to discredit the test you administered?

At a very minimum, you need to be aware of this risk. My raising this legal risk is not hypothetical..

Better yet, consider ways to get at implicit bias without creating admissions that can ravage you in litigation. The options are as vast as your creativity.

This blog should not be construed as legal advice, as pertaining to specific factual situations or as creating an attorney-client relationship.

The Risks of Bias Testing

I am pleased to share my article from SHRM’s HR Magazine posted on August 25, 2017. 

When hiring and promoting people, HR professionals and managers know that certain factors—such as gender, race, disability status and age—cannot be considered in the decision-making process under the law. What they may not understand, however, is that, without any conscious awareness, they actually may be considering these precise factors.

For example, a white male manager may know that gender and race lawfully cannot be considered in a hiring situation. But he, as a white man, may favor a white male candidate over a woman of color based on how “comfortable” he is with each of them, even though he has no idea that his comfort level may relate to race and/or gender.

Unconscious bias, often referred to as implicit bias, is bias that we are unaware of. It happens automatically and without any conscious thought process and is triggered by our brain making snap judgments formed, at least in part, as a result of the messages that we received growing up, as well as our own experiences, culture, mass media and other influences.

But how can we address a form of bias that we are unaware we have?

The first step is to acknowledge that bias exists and that no one is immune from it. Good people can—and do—make biased decisions. That’s one reason a training approach with a punitive tone won’t work well and, in fact, is likely to be counterproductive.

Implicit bias is both personal, in that the various stereotypes that employees have internalized can vary based on their experiences, and ubiquitous, in that we all harbor unconscious assumptions; it’s part of being human.

That doesn’t mean we should sugarcoat the issue—but it’s important to understand the dynamics driving unconscious bias and to think about how to best raise the topic so that individuals will be motivated to learn more about it and how it influences their decision-making. Raising awareness through bias testing, however, is a risky approach.

Understand the Evidence

You can start by familiarizing yourself with the scientific evidence demonstrating the existence of unconscious bias. In a 2002 study by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” researchers sent recruiters virtually identical resumes that differed in only one way: the applicants’ names.

They found that individuals who submitted resumes with “white-sounding” names received 50 percent more callbacks than those whose monikers were more likely to be associated with black applicants. In other words, all else being equal, Karen will fare far better in her job search than Keisha will.

Another classic study, 1997’s “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians” by the National Bureau of Economic Research, involves an orchestra that wanted to increase gender diversity but was having trouble finding women with the requisite talent.

After the orchestra had no luck with the traditional audition process, individuals were asked to perform behind a curtain. Magic! As a result of this step alone, women were 50 percent more likely to proceed to the final round of auditions.
In both cases, conscious and unconscious bias were likely at work. But as the latter example—in which the orchestra stated a genuine desire to increase gender diversity—shows, it is often people’s implicit prejudices that steer them toward partial outcomes.

 

Know the Basis for the Bias

What is the basis for implicit bias? Part of the answer may lie in neurology and social psychology.
Stereotypes that are perpetuated and reinforced by messages we receive through the media, societal cues or our individual experiences can become embedded in the amygdala region of the brain, which is activated when we make snap judgments based on pictures, images or names that can correlate with a characteristic such as race, gender or age. As a result, we make unconscious associations, which can be either positive or negative, based on these factors.
 
Understand the Risks Of Testing

There are a number of tests that individuals can take to become more conscious of their unconscious biases. One is the Harvard Implicit Awareness Test (IAT), which measures implicit bias in 14 areas, including gender, race, religion, age and sexual orientation.

The test shows images and words associated with a color, gender, religion, etc. Generally, the slower the test-taker is in pairing certain words or images with a specific group, the more likely he or she has an implicit bias, according to the assessment.

A report published in the European Review of Social Psychology in 2007, “Pervasiveness and Correlates of Implicit Attitudes and Stereotypes,” found that:

  • 68 percent of respondents had a more favorable automatic association with people who are white than they did with people of color.

  • 76 percent made a greater connection between the words “men” and “careers” and “women” and “families” than they did with the converse concepts (“men” and “families,” and “women” and “careers”).
But while the IAT and other such tests may be instructive for individuals, these assessments are far from conclusive. For example, there is considerable debate among psychologists about their reliability. (A discussion on this topic appears in “IAT: Fad or Fabulous?” in the July/August 2008 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology.) Moreover, the tests may create legal risk because the results are discoverable in litigation.

Consider the following example: Greg chose Jim over Jane for a promotion. Soon afterward, Greg is deposed in a claim by Jane alleging sex discrimination. The plaintiff’s attorney initiates the following line of questioning:

“You took an implicit awareness test?” the attorney asks.

“Yes,” Greg replies.

“Did you have any implicit bias in terms of gender?” the lawyer continues.

“I was surprised to learn that I favor men over women,” Greg says.

 “And you picked Jim over Jane. Is that correct?” At this point, the plaintiff’s attorney is thinking about using the money her firm wins in this case to purchase a summer home.

“Yes, that is correct, too,” Greg says.

“But you admit both were qualified?” she asks.

“Yes, but …” Greg trails off.

Now Greg’s company would need to bring in an expert to discredit the test that was used, and even then the jury could find the test to be more valid than some psychologists may find it to be.

So think carefully before reflexively using implicit awareness tests. At a very minimum, consider their potential usefulness as well as the legal perils that they may create.

Fortunately, there are less-risky steps employers can take that are helpful in identifying and addressing unconscious bias. I will cover them in next month’s issue.

The Privilege of Talking with Your Lawyer

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

Almost every HR professional deals with an attorney.  With strong relationships, sometimes you will refer to the lawyer as your lawyer. Not so fast. Here are 6 recommendations to keep in mind when you deal with “the” lawyer:

  1. The lawyer engaged by the Company represents the Company and not you. So be honest about work issues but be careful about issues that may be adverse to the Company. If you are thinking of exercising your legal right to bring a claim, do not give the Company’s lawyer a heads up! He or she, ethically, cannot retain your confidence.
  2. The attorney-client relationship covers only communications in which you ask for advice on behalf of the Company or the attorney gives advice to the Company through you.  It does not cover, for example, an offensive “joke” that you tell the Company’s lawyer in confidence.  By the way, don’t tell the “jokes.” Full stop.
  3. While only the Company can waive the attorney-client privilege, steps HR takes may be used to argue the Company has indeed waived the privilege. So, do not tell others, except those within the Company with a need to know (narrowly defined and fact specific) about the legal advice provided.
  4. Label e-mails where you seek or respond to legal advice “privileged and confidential” or “attorney-client privileged.” Avoid labels that may imply such but still can be less than fun to address in litigation, such as “Help! I am going to jail.” You should win on the privilege issue but who wants to win an issue that can be avoided.
  5. Do not put “privileged and confidential” or “attorney-client privileged” on business documents. That does not shield it from discovery. It only makes the label, where you legitimately have it, questionable. If everything is privileged, then nothing is.
  6. If you have a conversation with the Company’s counsel and a manager during which you make a business decision, that decision was made in a privileged call. Unless you want to risk having to disclose what you discussed, including the risks of the business decision, have a separate business conversation with the manager and without the lawyer.

These are but a few issues to consider when dealing with the Company’s counsel. More to common in a future blog!

Oh, by the law: this is not legal advice :-).

An Alternative to Voluntary Retirement Programs

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

Under federal and state laws (most or all), employers can have voluntary retirement programs. Of course, there is much litigation on whether and when an employee’s decision to retire is truly voluntary.

However, even if there is no pressure placed on an employee, think about the message that the program sends and/or likely will be heard as sending: we want to get rid of mature employees. This places “age in the air” and can be used to argue age bias when an older employee later is discharged or laid off (even where there is no bias).

Here’s the argument: you tried to incent me to leave; when that failed, you removed me involuntarily. And, how will a jury react?

Jurors have only one common denominator: everyone on the jury hopes they have gift of longevity; that is, that they, too, get older. So there may be sympathy and empathy for the mature worker.

There is an alternative, and safer, approach: a voluntary severance program that is offered to all or groups of employees regardless of age. Older employees with more seniority usually will be eligible for more by virtue of their seniority but the program is not aimed at them.

But what if someone applies and you want to say “No?” No material worries (absent saying “No” in a discriminatory way).

If a voluntary severance plan is properly drafted and distributed in accordance with ERISA, an employer should be able not only to exclude from consideration certain groups, positions etc., but also to reserve the absolute right to say “No” to any particular employee in a non-excluded position who applies for an exit package if the employer’s concludes that the employee’s departure is not in the employer’s best interests.

So this year, the 50th Anniversary of the ADEA, I encourage you to think beyond whether a voluntary retirement program is lawful. I ask you to think about the message it sends.

It is not only a legal issue. It is also a cultural one. What message do you want to send to workers with the experience you need to compete?

This blog is not legal advice, should not be construed as applying to specific factual situations or as establishing an attorney-client relationship.

 

Think You Don’t Have a Boys’ Club? Take This Test and Be Sure.

I am pleased to share my latest post to Entrepreneur.

We read a lot about “boys’ clubs.” They are power circles of men, mostly white, who control, formally or informally, organizations or silos within them.

The gender demographics of the senior leadership team may be relevant but is not dispositive as to whether a boys’ club exists. I have seen organizations with senior leadership teams lacking in gender diversity that are not, in my opinion, run by a boys’ clubs. Conversely, I have seen organizations where the numbers at the top look good in terms of gender diversity but a core boys’ clubs calls the shots.

So, how do you know if you have a boys’ club? Of course, there is no test. So, I have created one. Warning from this lawyer — write your answers on a piece of paper and then throw it away. Don’t want your self-evaluation to be used against you in litigation by a plaintiffs’ lawyer.

Now, as for each of the five questions:

1. If you generally agree, answer A
2. If you are not sure, answer B
3. If you generally disagree, answer C

1. We don’t have a boys’ club.

Almost everyone knows that boys’ clubs exist. But many believe that they exist only at the employer next store. Certitude is a good thing. But, on this issue, a little doubt is a good thing. Indeed, if you are sure that you don’t have a boys’ club, you probably do. So give yourself:

– 2 points for A
– 0 points for B and C

2. We don’t need a system for raises or promotions. Merit will prevail.

Often the gender gap at the top is because women don’t have the opportunities they need to get there. Absence of meaningful opportunities also contributes to the gender pay gap. No one system works for all. But “no system” never works.

No system often leads to what the EEOC calls “people like me” bias. Those in charge of opportunities give them to those just like them — often other men. So some vehicle to measure equal access to opportunity is essential. Merit will prevail but only if there is equal access to opportunity. Time to score it:

– 2 points for A
– 1 points for B
– 0 points for C

3. More than a few informal meetings are held in bars.

Social inclusion is a form of business inclusion. Information is shared, strategies are developed and relationships formed and/or cemented. Of course, many men don’t relish business in bars. And, there are women who do. Bu the local watering hole is often the club house for the boys’ club. The same is true of the golf course. Let’s score it:

– 2 points for A
– 0 points for B and C

4. The pay gap is due to employer practices and employee choices.

There is no doubt that there is a gender pay gap. Those who doubt it sound as credible as men who deny the existence of labor pains because they never have experienced them. But the gender gap is not due solely to employer practices. If you step out of the game to be the primary caregiver, when you step back in, you will make less. And, women are still more likely than men to be primary caregivers. As for points, the pattern you may have predicted no longer holds.

– Subtract 1 point if you picked A (you have thought about the issue.)
– No points for B or C, but if you picked C, you may see bias in certain cases where it does not exist.

5. Women mentoring women is essential to shutting down the club.

No. And here’s why. There are fewer women at the top so women mentoring women will deprive women disproportionately of access to the top. The burden of gender equality cannot be put entirely on women (particularly since men and women alike benefit from gender equality). The benefits to cross-gender matching are significant in terms of what each gender can impart and learn.

– 2 points for A
– 0 points for B
– Subtract one point if you picked C (again, you have thought about this issue).

Now, add up all of your points, subtracting points where you have earned them.

If you have five points or more, you may have a boys’ club in your organization but don’t see it. If you have fewer than 5 points, you still may have a boys’ club somewhere in your organization, but you are primed to help dismantle it.

Batman: Sometimes You Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb

I was sad about the death of Adam West. I was a bit surprised at how sad. Adam West Batman

I am not alone. All over the weekend, social media—as well as print media and TV—was “all things Batman.”

For many of us, and our parents, Adam West was not “a”
batman but “the” one and only Batman that we all watched
together.

Of course, there is the pure joy of nostalgia. Who can forget Batman doing the Batusi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiiuvtzK3SQ

And, there were brilliant lines. Remember: Some days you can’t get rid of a bomb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIPZROBiNik

For the record, Batman did get rid of the bomb without hurting anyone. Sometimes
getting rid of the bomb just takes a little extra effort.

And, the villains were purr-fectly delightful. Who didn’t have a favorite villain among
Cat Woman,  the Joker, the Penguin and the Riddler?

The good “guys” were good and the bad “guys” were bad. And with bat magic, the good “guys” always won.

And, now we find out that Adam West and Burt Ward remained friends for 50 years. So the dynamic duo was not just on the reel but real.

It was a comedic fantasy in a time of both great turmoil and greater innocence. Once again, we find ourselves in a time of great turmoil. What we are missing is the “bat”
innocence.

Bam!

Managing People: What Do You Do When An Employee Loses A Loved One?

I am pleased to share my latest article written for the Philadelphia Business Journal.

We all know that employees do not leave their personal selves at the workplace door. The experiences we have outside of work inform who we are at work.

That is why we spend so much effort – or we should – on helping develop a culture that makes it easier for employees to manage work and life. But, there is one part of life that is often left out: death.

That brings me to Option B by Facebook COO and author of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, and her friend and psychologist, Adam Grant, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Originals. A fantastic collaboration, Option B is based on Sheryl’s loss of her husband, Dave, and her painful but inspirational journey forward.

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

While the focus of the book is emotional resilience, the book is also a clarion call for leaders (and other colleagues) to be more supportive when an employee loses a loved one. The platitude, as Sandberg apyly calls it, “sorry for your loss,” is not enough.

Here are eight (8) recommendations for business leaders (and other colleagues) to consider that are based on the book (as well as my own experiences and observations.)

1. Bereavement Leave 

Many companies provide a few days of paid bereavement leave. That may be enough for some, but it won’t for all. It was not for Sandberg. Consider offering more unpaid time, where feasible. Of course, if PTO is available, be flexible in allowing the employee to use it.

2. Talking with Employee

For some, it is easier to give grieving employees time off than it is to speak with them. Sandberg wrote about employees avoiding her so that she felt “isolated.” And, we are talking about one of the most successful and powerful leaders in America.

Sandberg states that people were afraid bringing up the subject would remind her of Dave. When I heard Sandberg speak, she said “you cannot remind me of Dave.” His absence is never absent.

Don’t avoid the person or the topic—unless you receive a signal to do just that (discussed below).

Talk with the employee. But what do you say? Or, not say?

3. Please Avoid

Be careful not to say things that you may intend to be comforting but may come off as dismissive or designed to make you feel better:

  • “He is in a better place.” No he’s not.
  • “With time, you will feel better.” That may be true, but bromides like this are not helpful at the time.
  • “I know how you feel.” It’s not about you.
  • “Everything happens for a reason.” And, there is a reason I want to get away from you.

4. Offer to Help But

Easier to know what not to say than it is to be clear on what to say. Well-intentioned people often say “how can I help?”

But, as Sandberg explains, this well-meaning gesture shifts the burden to the grieving person to find a way for the colleague to help them. No bad intent, but a bad result.

Don’t ask generally “how can I help.” Instead, ask “can I do X?” Or, just do it.

Pick up a task for the employee to get rid of a loose end. Do something kind, like buying them a cup of coffee. Do something specific!

5. And, Getting More Direct 

So, now we have dealt with doing. It’s time to get to feelings.

Should you ask how the person is feeling? How should you ask?

As an initial matter, don’t ask if you don’t want to hear. Ask only if you sincerely care.

Avoid “how are you” and ask instead “how are you today.” Why?

Sandberg: “I described how a casual greeting like “How are you” hurt because it didn’t acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary had happened. I pointed that out that if people instead asked “How are you today?” It showed that they were aware that I was struggling to get through each day.”

6. Should You Relate?

Sometimes, in the act of caring, we share our own loss to let the person know we have a sense how the person may feel. But, we remember, we all grieve differently.

It is okay to share a loss and mention that you may have an idea of how the person feels. But don’t pivot to your loss. Not the time for person to take care of you or for you to work through your own grief.

This is delicate balancing act. I try to say: “I don’t know how you feel but I lost my dad and it was and is very hard for me. I am available to talk if you want to talk about the loss of your dad/mom.”

7. Be Careful How You Care

I know: caring can create legal risks. If an employee tells you they are depressed, and you later terminate them for poor performance, they could argue that you terminated them because you perceived them as mentally disabled.

But there is a real risk not caring, too. Employees who at their emotional nadir remember who helped them when they are emotionally stronger. If they don’t feel they were cared for when they needed it most, they may leave your organization.

Sandberg: “Providing support is both the compassionate and the wise thing to do.” The support engenders “a more loyal and productive workforce.”

Further, you can mitigate the legal risk but listening more than talking. That’s a good idea independent of the law.

Also, avoid clinical labels, such as “depressed” in talking with or about the employee. Again, this is good ideas independent of the law: you are a colleague; you are not the employee’s therapist.

So care. Just do so carefully.

8. Give the Employee What They Need 

Not always obvious, it is not about making you feel good about helping. It is about trying to make the unbearable a little less so for your colleague.

And it’s not about the golden rule: Sandberg:

“Growing up, I was told to follow the golden rule … instead of following the golden rule, we should follow the platinum rule: Treat others as they want to be treated.”

Some employees may want to talk. Other employees may want to keep things private. Respect their wishes, either way.

There are a lot of ways as colleagues we can help with Option B. Thank you Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant for talking about the Elephant in the Living Room.