Grief costs American businesses upwards of $100 billion dollars a year. This is a staggering number. As an employer or a manager, how you help (or ignore) employees in crisis has a direct impact on your bottom line. The trailer of the Handle with Care podcast unpacks this data and frames how you can help employees survive, stabilize, and thrive in the aftermath of disruption.
You can listen to the entirety of the episode here. You can also find us on Spotify, Google Play, and iTunes:
Imagine the scenario, you’ve probably lived through something similar: you hear that Mike on the finance team just got diagnosed with cancer. You’ve done projects together and you both love the same sesame seed bagels in the break room. And you like the same college football team. You’re friends, kind of, and now he’s sick. You care, but you’ve never had cancer and you don’t know what to do…or what to say. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it, and you don’t want to say something stupid. So you don’t do anything. The next time there are bagels, you wait, avoiding Mike and the conversation. Weeks go by, its feels awkward and confusing, and you wish you knew how to help. Or maybe you’re Mike’s manager, and then it feels even worse, because you have no idea how to manage someone going through cancer.
Cancer, a divorce, a new baby, these are all examples of disruptive life events and they are happening every day in companies, large and small, across America. They directly affect productivity and we don’t know how to help.
And this lack of empathy at work has an actual cost to the bottom line of companies. In 2003, the Grief Recovery Institute did a study to look at the cost of grief to American businesses. The study drew on responses from 25,000 people and looked at events from the death of a spouse to a denied promotion to the passing of a pet. Workers suffered from a lack of focus; they took additional sick days and some even quit their jobs. Overall, the cost of disruption to American businesses was estimated at $75.1 billion a year. Adjusted for inflation, that is a cost, in 2019 dollars, of over $100 billion a year.
We don’t know how to show empathy at work, and that is why I am starting the Handle with Care podcast.
Each week, I welcome a guest who has lived through something hard. They will share their story: what they were thinking and feeling in the midst of disruption, sort of a behind-the-scenes look at pain their journey.
Most of the time, we never get that story; we get just a glimpse. And they will share the good, the bad, and the ugly stories of the ways that people supported them…and the ways that they were missed. We will end each episode with some actionable tips for what you can do as a co-worker, a manager, or a friend to support someone going through a disruptive life event.
When I talk about building empathy at work, the phrase has two parts. First, on the Handle with Care podcast, we are specifically talking about empathy in the workplace. Although there are definitely take-aways for life outside the workplace, most people spend more waking hours at work than they do at home and they bring these disruptive life events to work, whether they want to or not.
Disruptive life events are already affecting your workplace, the question is whether you are proactively working to create support and stabilization or always playing catch up. Second, empathy at work implies that empathy has to translate into meaningful action. You can feel empathy, you can want to help, but until you put this empathy to work, it doesn’t accomplish much.
Beyond the numbers, this podcast is birthed out of my personal experience. I was 27, in the midst of an MBA program, preganat with our daughter, Mercy Joan. At my tenty week scan, we found out that all was not right; she had a birth defect called an encephalocele. The base of her skull had not closed and doctors didn’t know: could they operate, would this be terminal? So, we waited and hoped. I gave birth to her on February 15, 2011 and she died eight days later.
Fast forward a few years to another disruption, when my youngest, a little guy named Moses, was born. Moses has a heart defect called tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia. A normal heart has four valves, and you need all of them. His heart was missing one valve entirely. Without surgery, he wouldn’t be able to breathe on his own, he’d turn blue and die. But, it is amazing what surgeons can do with the heart. Moses is four and doing really well, but the last few years have been marked by hospital stays, uncertainty and multiple open-heart surgeries.
From the death of a daughter to the ongoing care of our son, I have experienced the deep comfort of caring co-workers, friends, and family, the people who were ready with a word of timely encouragement or an almond-milk latte, as well as the pain of the silence, absence, or just careless remarks of those that missed me.
So, if you want to become a better manager, a better co-worker, a better friend, this podcast is for you. If you have lived through something awful, if you have struggled to put words to what you want or what you need, this podcast is also for you. Through the stories that are shared and the lessons that we learn together, lets live out empathy at work.