Widowhood - Is Your Workplace Prepared?
Today, June 23rd, is #InternationalWidowsDay. Please allow me to share something that is near and dear to my heart.
I became a widow in 2006. The domino effect of a widow’s secondary losses, such as their support system, co-parent, second income, friends, home, and in some cases, even the loss of their extended family, is not something that widows "get over." They hopefully can move through the stages of grief to get to the point where they can find a "new normal" with happiness and joy in living, for their normal will NEVER be the same. Day-to-day living, holidays, and vacations all become different. Even work, which would seem not to be something that would change, does.
For most widows, upon the death of a spouse, work becomes essential. It may become the only source of income and benefits to support their household. It may be the only place that they can escape the different landscape of their home environment. It may be the place where they have colleagues who are like family, but removed enough from the situation, to be an empathic ear and a sounding board for “what should I do now?” It may be the only time that they can eat lunch out without feeling like they are being looked at or judged if they go to a restaurant alone. It may be the place that they look to for compassion and flexibility to survive the next few months of adjustment without additional stress.
If you are the manager of a new widow, here are some ways you can help:
- Understand that they have times that they are emotional and allow it to the extent that it is not disruptive.
- Understand that they may need flexibility to take care of required legal matters, pick up the children from school or day care, use sick time to regroup when they are overwhelmed.
- Recognize that they may need to adjust their work schedule, no longer be able to take work home to complete it or work extensive overtime. They may now run a single-parent household.
- Know that they are not necessarily thinking of all of their options clearly, and volunteer to refer them to HR for FMLA or counseling services. It is not their job to know the laws – it is your job as the manager to know what your responsibilities are and what benefits your organization may offer to assist them. Be an advocate for them. It will help your organization in the long run.
- Be patient. This is one of the most challenging life changes one can face, and they are facing it alone. As they work to establish a “new normal”, so this will happen within the workplace as well. Unless your employees are isolated from one another, the death of the spouse of a co-worker can impact your entire department, and not just the widow.
- If your organization doesn’t have a policy in place, consider adopting one. Most organizations are not immune to having this happen to one of their employees. It can be a value-added benefit in this day of competitive talent recruitment.
Think of your life - what would you have to take on, in addition to everything you already do, if you were suddenly alone? What could you lose in one life-changing second? Becoming a widow is an event; a point in time. Living as a widow is an ongoing, permanent, life-altering and sometimes overwhelming process day-after-day. So today, I honor and stand united with the strongest, most resilient women in the world!