Create a Virtual Plan for Grief during COVID-19

By Barry Pruitt

employee meetings

dateFri, Aug 14, 2020 @ 11:03 AM

This Saturday, my aunt will be buried. She's the last of my dad's generation for my family. She passed employee meeting due to complications of cancer, and my grief is further complicated by COVID-19. I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to not attend the funeral in Stephenville, TX. I have great memories of that little town, but I wonder if I’ll ever return. We all need a virtual plan for our varying experiences with grief during this time.

I recently saw this graphic posted by Boston-area Vistage Chair Phil Holberton.


Vistage Chair Phil Holberton Human Grief Chart


It reminded me of a recent challenge I see many executive teams face—accepting where team members plot on this graph of Performance/Self Esteem vs. Time. Many executives don’t feel that they have the time for members to work through the 13 stages depicted. Some don’t even realize that they, too, are on the graph. Instead, they prefer that their team go straight from Shock to Action Planning. Newsflash: it doesn’t happen.

In fact, your team’s experience with grief is much more complicated. The fact that they aren’t all experiencing the same stage at the same time complicates things. You could have 13 team members dealing with the grief of possible job loss, home-schooling, fear of COVID-19, depression, lack of human touch or physical interaction, civil unrest (and more) and have each team member at a different stage at the same time. Your listening, empathy and patience skills will be thoroughly tested.

Each case is independent and must be treated as such. For my clients that have had an explosion of business, team concerns are different than those who have had loss of revenue. For those that still work from an office, it’s different than those that work from home. For my clients in healthcare, some team members are angry, worn-out and broken-hearted over what they’ve seen. For my son in Atlanta working on a film set as part of COVID-19 safety enforcement, he feels he’s at risk doing his job with minimal training. For my soon to be in-law installing technical equipment in hospitals (where some facilities are enforcing masks and others seem unaware of their use), he just tested positive for COVID-19. In each case, the human reaction is different and therefore needs different leadership.

So, what about you? While reading this, you may have been thinking about your team and placing them on the X/Y axis. First, you should think about yourself. An ability to recognize self on the graph is a positive sign of emotional intelligence. Your ability to lead will be governed by where you lie on the graph. Once you’ve placed yourself on the graph and can see your path forward, then you’re ready for two pieces of advice. One is to assess your team members individually, the second applies to you and your team.

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My 1st Piece of Advice:

Start with team member assessment. If you aren’t having regular one-to-one meetings, now is the time. Set a calendar schedule to regularly meet with direct reports. If you have 25 direct reports, you may only have bandwidth to meet with each twice per month. If you have five direct reports, you may be able to meet with each one individually on a weekly basis. It depends on the number of team members yet it must be more often than you remember prior to March 2020. Consciously meeting more often requires scheduling the recurring meetings—not just as one event. You should share the graphic with members during the meeting so they can communicate which stage they are in as it regards the company and COVID-19 (personally and professionally). This leads to…

My 2nd Piece of Advice:

Do not try to convince yourself or a team member why they should self-identify further along the graph timeline. The stage where they think they are is their truth. The stage where you think you are is your truth. Accept it, and focus on solutions. Ask, “What can I do, or what resources can the company offer that will help you move to the next stage?” Your only focus should be the next stage beyond where they are, not on the last stage of Action Planning.

Your goal is not to shortcut the stages, but rather to help members (and self) move as quickly as possible through one stage to the next.

We’ve all experienced different levels of stress and loss. We are all experiencing the grief accompanied by current stress differently. To my amazement and in regards to my aunt's death, I believe I’m on the upside of the graph, somewhere between Uncertainty and Sadness. It seems I vacillate between these two stages day-by-day, hour-by-hour. It took time and energy to get to this point on the graph and knowing where I am in the journey allows me to work on solutions to move as quickly as possible to the next stage. My team has been supportive along the way thanks to executive leadership having built a supportive communication channel at Rhythm Systems.

Your challenge is to build and then utilize a supportive communication model at your organization. Determine first where you fall on the graph during these uncertain times and focus on moving forward to the next stage. Next, schedule time with team members to share the graph, gain insight on which stage they currently are experiencing, and then work collaboratively to build a path of progress to support them moving to the next stage. Doing that for team members, individually, will make you a better listener, more empathetic and a better boss. Besides, you’ll get better results, and that’s one more reason you need a virtual plan for grief during COVID-19.

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Here is more information on managing remote teams:

Take Our Team Accountability Assessment to see how your team stacks up.

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images 

Barry Pruitt


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images