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  • Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • About three years ago,

  • I lost my daughter.

  • She was sexually assaulted and murdered.

  • She was my only child

  • and was just 19.

  • As the shock wore off

  • and the all-consuming grief took over,

  • I lost all meaning and purpose in life.

  • Then my daughter spoke to me.

  • She asked me to keep living.

  • If I am not around,

  • she will have one less heart to continue to live in.

  • With that, my partner Susan and I started our desperate climb

  • out of this deep hole of trauma and loss.

  • In the journey back to the land of the living with grief,

  • we unexpectedly found

  • a rather unlikely and very helpful ally:

  • my work.

  • At first, I wasn't even sure if I should go back to work.

  • I had a lot of self-doubt.

  • As a senior executive,

  • I'm responsible for thousands of employees

  • and billions of dollars.

  • After all that trauma,

  • is my mind still sharp and creative enough for that job?

  • Can I still relate to people?

  • Can I get past the resentment and regret I felt

  • about all the time I spent working

  • instead of being with my daughter?

  • Is it fair to leave Susan home alone,

  • dealing with her own grief and pain?

  • At the end,

  • I made the decision to go back to work,

  • and I am very glad I did.

  • We all experience grief and loss in our lives.

  • For most of us,

  • that means, at some point, getting up and getting back to work

  • while living with the grief.

  • On those days,

  • we will continue to carry the incredible burden of sadness,

  • but also a hope that work itself can restore for us

  • that much-needed feeling of purpose.

  • For me, work started out as just a productive distraction,

  • but evolved to being truly therapeutic

  • and meaningful in so many ways.

  • And my return to work proved to be a good thing for the company as well.

  • I know I'm not indispensable,

  • but retaining my expertise proved to be very beneficial,

  • and my return helped all the teams avoid disruptions and distractions.

  • When you lose the most precious thing in your life,

  • you gain a lot of humility

  • and a very different perspective free of egos and agendas,

  • and I think I'm a better coworker and a leader because of that.

  • For all the good that came from it, though,

  • my reentry into work was far from easy.

  • It was very hard.

  • The biggest challenge

  • was having to separate my personal and professional lives completely.

  • You know --

  • OK to cry early in the morning,

  • but slap a smile on the face promptly at eight o'clock

  • and act as if everything is the same as before

  • until the workday is over.

  • Living in two completely different worlds at the same time,

  • and all the hiding and pretending that went with it,

  • it was --

  • it was exhausting,

  • and made me feel very alone.

  • Over time, I worked through those struggles

  • and I gained the confidence

  • and the acceptance to bring my whole self to work.

  • And as a direct result of that,

  • I found joy again in it.

  • During that hard journey back to work,

  • I learned the power of having a culture of empathy in the workplace.

  • Not sympathy,

  • not compassion,

  • but empathy.

  • I came to believe

  • that a workplace where empathy is a core part of the culture,

  • that is a joyful and productive workplace,

  • and that workplace inspires a great deal of loyalty.

  • I believe there are three things a company can do

  • to create and nurture a culture of empathy in the workplace in general

  • and support a grieving employee like myself in particular.

  • One is to have policies

  • that let an employee deal with their loss in peace,

  • without worrying about administrative logistics.

  • Second, provide return-to-work therapy to the employee

  • as an integral part of the health benefits package.

  • And third,

  • provide training for all employees on how to support each other --

  • empathy training, as I call it.

  • In the first category of policies to help deal with the loss,

  • the most important policy is regarding time off.

  • It's true that there is no expiration date to grieve

  • and time cannot undo a loss,

  • but time away from work helped me

  • figure out how daily life can coexist with grief.

  • We don't want a grieving employee to have to cobble together vacation days

  • and sick days

  • and unpaid leave and whatever else.

  • A formal time-off policy

  • that also allows the employee to come back to the same role they had

  • before their time off --

  • that policy will make a real difference.

  • Personally, I was so grateful to come back to my old role.

  • The familiar work, familiar people,

  • provided a lot of comfort.

  • The second category of help companies can provide to employees

  • is return-to-work therapy.

  • Therapy helped me muster the courage needed

  • to bring my whole self to work

  • and merge the two parallel worlds I was straddling into one,

  • and just have one life.

  • A couple of years ago,

  • I spent a weekend scattering my daughter's ashes in the Pacific.

  • It was a --

  • it was a horrific time.

  • When I returned to work from that that following Monday,

  • one of the first meetings was to arbitrate a very passionate debate

  • on office wallpaper.

  • I needed therapy to figure out how to be considerate

  • of others' normal lives

  • when my own life is so very different.

  • Therapy helped me give myself permission to be vulnerable.

  • Even if vulnerability is not often seen as a strength in the corporate world,

  • when seemingly unrelated and just trivial things

  • triggered deep feelings of sadness

  • right smack in the middle of the workday,

  • therapy helped me deal with them.

  • And when painful anniversaries and events tried to hijack the day,

  • like when I got a call from Texas Rangers

  • regarding an arrest in my child's death,

  • I was at work.

  • Therapy helped me stay productive

  • while still remaining true to the unique realities

  • and the painful realities of my life.

  • During the course of the return-to-work therapy,

  • I had realized something.

  • I had realized that many of those learnings,

  • they would have been very helpful for me at work all along,

  • independent of my loss.

  • And that realization brings me to the final category

  • of things companies can do.

  • Provide empathy training to the employees.

  • Look, I know it sounds odd,

  • but empathy can be a learned behavior.

  • For some, showing empathy comes naturally.

  • A colleague came to see me;

  • I had this electronic photo frame on my desk,

  • rotating through pictures of my daughter.

  • As she was leaving, she simply said,

  • "Tilak, when you're ready,

  • I would love for you to tell me the story behind each of those pictures."

  • She didn't ignore my sadness;

  • she didn't dwell on it.

  • She simply gave me permission to be myself

  • and made a human connection.

  • This was her version of empathy,

  • of which I'm sure there are many.

  • But not everybody is a natural with empathy,

  • and traditional work cultures don't always emphasize empathy.

  • One person said to me,

  • "I can't believe you made it back to work.

  • I don't think I could have done it."

  • Boy, did that make me feel awful.

  • Is my love for my child not strong?

  • Another person decided to be my spokesperson,

  • guiding other folks on how and when to interact with me,

  • all without my knowledge or consent.

  • A few folks just maintained absolute stoic and deafening silence,

  • which in some ways trivialized my loss.

  • Some spent a ton of water-cooler time

  • speculating if I would be any good at all at work,

  • coming back from such a devastating loss.

  • Time, frankly, would have been better spent

  • in figuring out how to help me instead.

  • And then there was that moment where I had to console someone,

  • very distraught,

  • who said, "I understand your loss.

  • My dog died last year."

  • Empathy training can help avoid that inherent awkwardness

  • in dealing with loss.

  • It can give people the confidence to bring their whole self to work,

  • and the people around them,

  • the awareness to accept them for who they are.

  • And together,

  • we'll all be better for it.

  • Empathy training can help people acknowledge

  • that a coworker is a very different person after a life-changing loss,

  • and ask that simple and direct question:

  • what would you like me to do differently to help you?

  • There will come a day when I finally see my daughter,

  • my little girl,

  • again.

  • And as she always did,

  • she's going to make fun of me for working so much.

  • But she knew.

  • She knew that she was the top priority --

  • number one priority.

  • And she will be thankful that work helped Dad live a purposeful life

  • after she was gone.

  • It is such an incredible relief

  • that the loss I experienced is not as common.

  • A child dying ahead of the parent is just absolutely horrific --

  • the most nightmarish and unnatural thing to happen.

  • But loss in itself is not uncommon.

  • When done right,

  • returning to work can help us survive loss and grief.

  • And companies can help do it right,

  • by fostering a culture of empathy in the workplace.

  • It's not a burden or a lot of effort or expense.

  • And creating such a workplace,

  • where empathy is core to the culture --

  • it will be one of the best investments a company can make.

  • Thank you.

Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/19
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