April 8, 2020

While clinicians and staff are rising to meet the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19, many are experiencing losses in their daily lives—big and small. To support staff, one of the most important steps leaders can take is to pause and account for those individual losses—and the grief associated with them.

Starter list: How you can support frontline staff during the Covid-19 crisis

Below, we've outlined guidance you can use to support your team (and yourself) through the stages of grief.

Grief lives on a spectrum—and it may look different for each of us

The well-known axiom that people fear change is wrong. What people fear is loss. Change carries loss. This moment is loaded with loss—both direct and indirect—as well as fear of loss: loss of family and loved ones, loss of safety and security, loss of employment and income, loss of freedom and certainty, loss of standing, loss of competence, loss of identity, loss of social connection.  When we experience loss, we grieve.

We tend to think of grief as loss associated with death and dying—and there are many frontline workers dealing with that loss today as the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 surpassed 10,000 this week. But it's important to remember that the loss of a patient or loved one is not the only loss staff may be struggling to cope with right now. 

Unless individuals and teams are able to identify and account for loss and attendant grief, they are liable to get stuck; paralyzed, weighed down, or mired in conflict. Below are three steps you can take to help staff navigate their grief.

  1. Hold space for one another

  2. The first step is creating space for your team or colleagues to acknowledge their losses—without judgement. Often we feel guilty for mourning everyday losses like going out to dinner or celebrating a graduation relative to losses that others are experiencing around us: their jobs, their safety, their lives. One can feel privileged and grateful while still feeling loss and grief.  

    To help create a space for your team to mourn the losses—big and small—consider asking the questions below during a huddle or in one-on-one conversations.

    • What’s been hardest for you since this all began?
    • What do you miss most?
    • If you could go back before this began and give yourself advice, what would it be?
  3. Resist your urge to 'fix' it

  4. As leaders, one of the most difficult parts of asking the questions above is knowing that we can't change the outcome. Your natural instinct may be to: try to fix it to show your support; try to minimize the loss relative to others to make it feel smaller; or share a similar loss to make your colleague feel less alone. But, in this case, the value is to simply listen, suspend judgement, and acknowledge the loss. Simply saying: "that sounds really hard" is enough.

    At this time, one of the most important things you can do is show compassion to one another and give your team space to feel their losses without judgement or comparison.

  5. Remember to seek space for yourself, too

  6. As you create space for colleagues and team members, remember you are not immune to loss and grief either. It’s critical that you continue to secure space for yourself. Seek out someone you feel comfortable with to share your own losses: a trusted friend, mentor, colleague, or family member. Also, be sure to extend the same grace to yourself that you extend to your team.  Do not judge the things you are grieving. 

    In the weeks ahead, in addition to continuing to confront the technical challenges of this epidemic and the health and economic fallout that follows, all of us (and leaders in particular) must create space to acknowledge and grieve overwhelming loss.  This is a time for extreme caring and compassion. 

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