3 Ways Customer Service Leaders Can Encourage Grief in the Workplace

I’m going to cut to the chase: I had to put my dog, Miso, to sleep two weeks ago.

He was 11. I had him for almost 6 years. He was my little fur baby and I was his proud mama. He was always excited to see me after I had a long day at work of dealing with customers who may not have been so friendly. He made me laugh when I was feeling stressed. He sat on my lap when I worked from home, making me smile throughout the day. We traveled many places together. He and I shared a desire for brief cuddles then going to our own sides of the bed to sleep. He was klutzy and silly and I loved every moment with him, even when he was being stubborn or wouldn’t stop humping another dog. He had the face only a mother could love. He taught me about customer service. He had an Instagram account. He was my little fur baby.

He had cancer. He wasn’t completely gone but he was deeply suffering. He didn’t walk or eat much anymore. I couldn’t let him suffer. The hardest decision was made. A peaceful in-home service took him to heaven.

As you could imagine, I am a mess.

Working is the last thing on my mind. But, of course, I have to work. My employer understands this situation is hard and thank goodness, gave me the time I needed. They offered kindness, support and lots of hugs. I took a couple days to collect myself. My department is very busy and we are falling behind.

So, I return to work. I hide in the bathroom to cry. I don’t feel like eating. I just want to sleep. I have no energy to pretend I am happy. I just want to be sad.

All of this makes me think:

Grieving is hard when you’re in any customer service job. 

I mean, really, it’s hard in any job. But, in a role where people expect you to check your baggage at the door, be happy and help them with their problems, it’s hard to turn on the sunshine when your spirit is really freaking sad.

So, these last two weeks, I’ve been working quietly. I’ve been working without really talking to other team members. I plug in my headphones, listen to music and zone out. And that’s what I need. I can’t pretend I’m not sad. I also am grateful for a company that allows me to feel my feelings (while still getting my job done). But, I felt some serious fear around feeling my feelings at work. I felt embarrassed to be bursting into tears at my desk. How do I acknowledge this and still help people?

In our society, this sort of thing isn’t typically welcomed. We’re expected to stuff those feelings down and get to work. But, what if we, as customer service leaders, prepare for the worst, and allow our team to grieve if they need it. 

If my employer would not have given (and is still giving me) permission to grieve, I’m not sure what I would have done. I’m still grieving and I’m crying as I write this post. The cheesy cliche “time heals” keeps running through my mind.

 

My goal in writing this post is that losing isn’t easy. A family member. A friend. A pet. Losing any loved one isn’t easy.

And, the reality is that we at some point will return to work and resume life as normal. We will be OK.

In the meantime:

3 Ways Customer Service Leaders Can Encourage Grief in the Workplace

  • Don’t Try to Fix: This isn’t a situation that one can just adhere a band-aid. It’s not something that a hug can fix (though, hugs are nice). Be present for your team member but also give them space and the quiet they need.
  • Encourage Sadness: If your employee is sad, let them feel sad. Let them cry. Buy them tissues. Set up space to listen to them talk if they need.
  • Flexibility: Arrange coverage as you need to help your team member cope. Allow the team to step up to help their teammate.

This is such a sticky situation to write about, as clearly, we’re in business and don’t want to work with mopey employees who let work slide. But, we must create a culture of acknowledging emotions. How can we do this effectively? EQ comes to mind, but that’s a whole other post.

I would love to hear how you’ve dealt with a situation like this in your workplace. We all have to deal with it – so what are you doing to encourage grief? Please do share in the comments below!

 

In the meantime – give your friends, family, dogs, cats, or other pets extra hugs today for me and Miso.

Jenny is the Customer Care Manager for DMV.ORG. With over a decade of customer service experience, Jenny has been recognized through social media channels as a thought leader. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on the Customer Service Life. When she's not helping or singing to customers, she can be found making her fiancé laugh, making her niece smile, hanging out her friends or her cat, Taquito, practicing yoga, eating cheese, drinking wine or all of the above at the same time. Be sure to follow her on social media!

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