Embracing Grief: Why Midlife Executives Must Acknowledge Loss in the Workplace

Embracing Grief: Why Midlife Executives Must Acknowledge Loss in the Workplace

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I was fired from my second official job role after five years and was told to go to a different church with a different theological belief framework. Even last year, I was let go because I was simply “not a good fit” —no other reason given. These experiences were not just professional setbacks; they were deeply personal losses that required a period of grieving and reflection. As I navigated through these challenging times, I realized the profound impact unacknowledged grief can have on both individuals and organizations.

As executives and professionals hit their 40s, they often encounter various forms of grief that are rarely addressed in the corporate world. Beyond the personal, physical loss of loved ones, there is the grief associated with career transitions—being let go, witnessing colleagues depart for new opportunities, or nearing retirement. These experiences can evoke profound emotional responses that impact both individual well-being and team dynamics.

I have heard it said that every man after the age of 40 must learn how to grow their capacity to grieve at a deeper soul level to transition from season to season. 

Earlier this year I read the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser,

“We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given.

A Grace Disguised

Grieving isn’t just about mourning a death; it’s about acknowledging and processing any significant loss. In the corporate environment, failing to recognize this can lead to unresolved tensions, decreased productivity, and a lack of cohesion within teams. Grief took on new meaning in the workplace four years ago and became a familiar language in our workplace environment and HBR articles on it and it’s effect in the workplace. 

Why Grief Matters in the Workplace:

  1. Acknowledging Emotional Reality: Grief, in any form, affects performance. By naming and addressing it, organizations can foster a supportive environment that validates employees’ feelings, leading to healthier, more resilient teams.
  2. Fostering a Culture of Support: Creating a culture that understands and supports grief can enhance loyalty and reduce turnover. Employees who feel understood and supported are more likely to stay committed and engaged.
  3. Enhancing Leadership: Executives who model vulnerability and openness about their grief set a powerful example. This can inspire a more empathetic and connected organizational culture.

Three Ways to Address Grief in the Workplace:

  1. Open Communication: Encourage discussions about loss, whether it’s through regular check-ins, support groups, or dedicated forums. Normalize the conversation around grief to reduce stigma and promote understanding.
  2. Professional Support: Provide access to mental health resources, such as counseling or coaching. Professional support can help individuals navigate their grief more effectively.
  3. Rituals and Acknowledgment: Implement rituals or events to acknowledge losses, such as farewell parties for departing team members or recognition ceremonies for retiring employees. These acts of acknowledgment help in collective healing.

Understanding and addressing grief in the workplace isn’t just compassionate—it’s essential for sustaining a healthy, productive, and loyal workforce. By recognizing the multifaceted nature of grief and taking proactive steps to address it, organizations can support their executives and teams through all of life’s transitions.

Acknowledging and allowing our soul and body to name and experience grief is about reshaping our identity and learning to live fully alive as God intended or said another way by Jerry Sittser,

“But in coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God. Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening.”

A Grace Disguised

May you take time to process any unresolved grief and create a culture that honors, names, and experiences the natural transitional seasons of life known as grief.