CoatingsPro Magazine

JAN 2009

CoatingsPro offers an in-depth look at coatings based on case studies, successful business operation, new products, industry news, and the safe and profitable use of coatings and equipment.

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CONTRACTOR'S CORNER Mourning the Loss of Your Dreams: Helping Employees Navigate through Economic Crisis By Rita Milios, LCSW B ecause of the current economic crisis, many of your employees are suffering. They have experi- enced sudden, unexpected, unprecedented losses. Many have lost their hopes for the future or their expec- tations of living "the good life" in their retirement years. Many have lost faith in their governmental leaders along with the trust they once had in large institutions. They are grieving. Such grief affects productivity in the workplace — and on the job site — as employees have trouble focusing on their jobs. They can experience mental confusion, and have problems with memory reten- tion. Others may become short tempered and irritable. A study by the Grief Recovery Institute (2003) estimated that grief symptoms affecting employee productivity cost employers billions of dollars annually. While the death of a family member, friend, or colleague naturally impacts productivity the most, grief symptoms related to finan- cial losses experienced by employees can cost employers up to $4.5 billion per year, according to the study. Clearly, crisis-related grief is a factor in the workplace and must be dealt with for your team to succeed. How can manag- ers help their employees? How can they balance empathy and understanding with the need to get employees back on task? Many people find "The Four Tasks of Mourning," outlined by William Worden in his 2002 book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, to be helpful. As managers, focusing on the tasks in Worden's book and combining them with the following tips will help your employees navigate their grief. Task 1: Accept the Reality of Your Loss Everyone resists facing reality when they 24 CoatingsPro J January 2009 fear it, and they fear that which they don't want to happen. But the sooner the situa- tion is accepted, the sooner the distraction can be resolved. As a manager, you can help your crew move past fear and denial and help them begin actively searching for a solution to their concerns. Since many employees are in the same situation, it might be a good idea to call a meeting to discuss the "elephant in the room" issue that may be distracting them from their work. Not only will you demonstrate that you under- stand and empathize, you will show that you are willing to work with them to solve problems, by suggesting ways to more consciously and effectively move through the grief related to their losses. Task 2: Experience the Pain of Grief Grieving a loss — whether that loss is related to a co-worker, a promotion, or a dream — is a tricky process. It is necessary to feel the loss and experience its pain in order to let it go. With emotions, what you resist persists; what you notice evaporates. But at the same time, if employees become too focused on sensing and feeling, they may not activate the other part of this process, which is to think through emotions, to analyze them and discover the deeper levels of meaning and opportunity within them so they can move forward. After acknowledging the fear factor, it might be useful to include a relaxation exercise in your meeting. This is a script for a simple exercise that is not only relaxing; it helps to dissipate some of the intense anxiety associated with fear: 1. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to fully experience your fear. Notice where these feelings are located within your body (often in your abdomen). Focus on this location and breathe calmly. With each breath, say to yourself: "I can be afraid and still be OK." At first, you may feel that you are adding to your anxiety, but within a few breaths, you will feel your fear begin to dissipate. 2. Now ask yourself the following questions: t What tangible losses are you experi- t encing at this moment? (Are these losses concrete? For example, are actual dollar losses out of pocket today? Or, are they perceived losses, as in the loss of "value" of a stock?) What can you control at this moment? (Perhaps your emotions are the only thing you can control right now, so focus on taking charge of them.) Task 3: Adjust to the New Reality This task has two parts. The first is to begin making new decisions based on the current economic reality, rather than on fear, anger, or hurt. This requires a commit-

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