Managing compassionately during coronavirus

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Emma Payne is the founder of Grief Coach, a text-based counseling service, which she decided to start about five years ago after speaking at a friend’s funeral. Payne said she saw a need for better grief support after reconnecting with dozens of friends and family who had expressed deep sorrow that they neglected to reach out to her when her own husband died by suicide more than a decade earlier. During her flight home from the funeral, she came to a realization.

“I thought about the fear and discomfort that had kept people from reaching out. I thought about the pain that their distance had caused me — but also the pain that their distance had caused them,” Payne writes in a blog explaining why she started Grief Coach. “For over a decade, people I cared about had been carrying around guilt and shame. It all seemed so unnecessary. I knew we could do better.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been a hardship for many, but the crisis has been particularly acute for those suffering the loss of loved ones, friends and colleagues. The isolation of families, friends and coworkers who may be grieving is a unique part of the current crisis that has added more mental strain on the workplace, as a growing number of employees may be grieving loved ones. For workplace managers, the new environment will create uncomfortable challenges in how to manage compassionately.

The impact of death and grief on a person’s mental well-being should be a top priority for employers, Payne told senior editor Alyssa Place in our feature story, “The burden of bereavement.” Most employers have maintained a standard bereavement leave policy of one to four days, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Some progressive companies, such as Facebook, Mastercard, Airbnb and General Mills have expanded their bereavement leave to 20 days, led most notably by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband in 2015.

Longer leave is just a start. Some employers are still behind the curve with tech offerings like telehealth and online EAP benefits offering mental health support, which will only become more important as the country continues to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Associate editors Kayla Webster and Evelina Nedlund wrote about such services, including global EAP provider ComPsych, which is providing users with strategies for calming fears over coronavirus, and connecting users with people who are experiencing the same concerns. Similarly, we interviewed Buoy Health CEO Andrew Le, who spoke about how his AI-based platform for health is helping to ease anxiety as the nation emerges from quarantine.

The common thread about all of these services — whether it’s Grief Coach, ComPsych, Buoy Health and other helpful benefits and offerings — is that even in states of detachment or semi-isolation, employers have an important role in helping employees cope and stay connected. As Payne may put it, we all could do better.

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