Connect with us

Opinion Editorials

How to address coworkers (or anyone) after a personal tragedy

(EDITORIAL) When tragedy or hard times strike, anyone’s professional life can be impacted, but how can you get back to normal with the least amount of pain possible?

Published

on

grief personal tragedy at work

When tragedy strikes, it is so hard to navigate your personal life, let alone your professional life.

But the world doesn’t stop, even when your world feels like it ended.

I want to share my story with you, and how I recovered in my professional life after devastation in my personal life – what boundaries I set, how I reacted to others, and what I did poorly that I wish I had done better.

In 2005, a little over a year after marrying my beloved, we found out we were pregnant for the first time, and we were so enthusiastic that we called everyone we knew before leaving the gynecologist’s office. At our next visit, however, we were referred to a perinatal specialist and told we were already in the second trimester, but I wasn’t even showing yet.

We learned right away that Kennedy had so many things wrong with him that there was literally no chance he would survive during birth or after birth, and we were faced with being urged to abort for my personal health, but we felt compelled to keep him safe for as long as we could in the comfort of the womb for his short life.

So for almost two months, we lived with the “is today the day his heart will stop?” fear. When the day came, we delivered our son stillborn. Even though we knew it was coming, it was the most crushing silence you can imagine – a silent sonogram, and then child born through traditional delivery that never cries.

Aaron, my younger brother, my Irish twin, my best friend outside of my marriage, sent a teddy bear and chocolates, not knowing what to say, and experiencing his own fear as he found out after we did that his wife was also expecting. We named the bear K-Bear for Kennedy, and I still sleep with in my arms to this day.

Fast forward almost two years, and we were still not completely put back together – not me, not my husband, not my family.

At the time, my brother has two babies, one just four weeks old, and we relish in how amazing they are, and what a miracle babies really are. He failed to show up to make silly internet videos one Sunday, and we figured he got distracted by his babies and went home, but no, he called and left a message that I missed. In a happy voice, he proclaimed he was on his way and that he would be there in a bit.

A few minutes later, he was gone forever in a single car accident, and no one knows why. His wife and children survived the crash. I’d ignored my phone all day, so it wasn’t until the police knocked on my door that night that we knew what happened.

I found myself comparing the losses, and felt massive guilt over being more devastated by the loss of my brother. When Kennedy passed away, we had time to rationalize and understand through genetic testing and talking with our Priest that sometimes bad stuff just happens.

When Aaron died, it never made sense.

It still doesn’t.

Here’s how people around me reacted…

The first loss was very private, and was before social networks were big, so we silently suffered, and as our siblings all got pregnant at the same time, we had to choose to be happy for them rather than feel slighted.

When Aaron died, the Internet reacted by fundraising for his wife, since they were so so young, and had no savings or insurance.

Letters of condolence rolled in by the hundreds, flowers came, and a friend even sent the local Knights of Columbus to our house and presented a rosary. It was all very moving.

I remember going to the grocery store in the morning after Kennedy died and wondering why everyone was just shopping like nothing had happened.

Didn’t they know?

Why were they all smiling?

When Aaron died, the exact same thing happened. It is so hard to grasp that when my world stopped, everyone else’s went on like normal, and the silent pain ringing in my ears was too high pitched for others to hear.

Regardless, I had to recover at work.

In 2005, I worked at a medium sized commercial developer, and I was honest with my employers about everything. I called them the minute we found out we were pregnant, and again when we found out it wouldn’t work. I also told my boss when everything was totally over.

At that time, when people would come by my office to offer condolences, I let them. I chose to be very open about what happened, how I was feeling, and that we would try again. I found that the open door allowed people to not feel sorry for me (which was my fear), rather to understand the journey.

When I read concern on peoples’ faces, I asked if they had any questions. I asked if they knew anyone who had been through a stillborn, and I realized that most people were so concerned with how I was because they had experienced something similar in their life or through someone close to them.

Allowing people to connect over that tragedy truly helped an office to get back to work rather than tiptoe around me, or wonder and gossip.

In 2007, my work was exclusively online, so I didn’t have an open door on my office, I had an email inbox, a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and so on and so forth. Because we were hosting the wake at our home and dealing with moving my sister in law to her parent’s house, it was tough to work, let alone share what we were going through.

In order to open our doors, we had a handful of friends that were our point people.

They were the ones who blogged about what happened and what was going on. They were the ones with our address and phone number for those that wanted to reach out to us, and during the peak of the business of burial, they were our gatekeepers so to speak, and they were there to serve as a means of keeping the gates open instead of closed.

When the dust settled, we shared our experience publicly, and asked people to share their stories of loss.

In a digital world, people are desperately seeking to connect, be it professionally or personally, and giving them a way to do just that was a tremendous help, and I found that people never expected an immediate response, they just wanted us to know we were being cared for, and I answered every single email, even though it took a long, long time.

The takeaways – my mistake and what helped the healing

Any loss is terrible, be it a son or an Irish twin, a neighbor, a spouse, a parent, a house to fire, a job, or any loss. Pain can’t be measured on a scale, I promise.

If I could do it all over again, the mistake I made was not in keeping my doors open to co-workers so that we could all focus on work, but in closing them to family because I assumed they knew what I was going through, since they were also going through it.

The truth is, we all experienced these losses differently, and it hurt some of our family relationships that we grieved differently.

Don’t be afraid to cry, don’t sugar coat things to make people around you comfortable, don’t make people tiptoe, and for goodness’ sake, don’t tell your story as a means of getting attention. Be healthy about your recovery and life will go back to normal at a better pace than if you don’t experience the stages of loss. Do what’s comfortable to you and don’t feel like you have to pretend like everything is normal.

When you go back to work for the first time after a tragedy in your life, keep your doors open, invite questions, and ask your own questions.

There’s an elegant power in redirecting people to talk about their own tragedies.

The pain of loss is deep, but most people mistake telling their story for picking a wound, when really, being open to talking about it is tremendously helpful toward healing and one of the best ways to get your professional life back on track.

This editorial originally ran in 2013.

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    June 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Lani, I barely remember when Aaron was in his accident, not sure we were friends yet, I think I read a post from Jay Thompson on it, but I could be mistaken.

    In saying that even “if” I had known you and Benn, I can tell your right now I would not have known how to handle it or what to say. I do now because I have been through it but it took my own pain to be able to understand and be able to comfort others.

    Personally my family and I have had a tremendous amount of support online and IRL. Actually after the initial, raw, numbing, walking in a fog grief… more support from online friends.

    You are absolutely correct in that we all grieve and deal with any loss in different ways. Yes my business took a tumble but you know what I’m ok with that. I had no energy to deal with real estate.

    • Lani Rosales

      June 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      For me, and what I failed to mention in this editorial, is that faith plays a tremendous part, no matter your beliefs, AND that remembering that your cross is never heavier than you can carry, despite the pain.

      Missy, thank you for a thoughtful comment – recovery is tough, and we all choose a different path… knowing that you’re not alone is a HUGE part of it.

  2. Pingback: When someone else gets the thing you want most - AGBeat

  3. Michael Schmidlen

    March 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    First & foremost, DIDN’T know about Benn (BEST wishes for a speedy recovery!) and secondly, you truly are an “IRON LADY” as I’d never heard either story before reading it now.

    This helps me to understand you better, thanks for the peek behind the curtain! We ALL have our “shit”, and most of us choose not to wear these experiences as our cape or armor. We can learn from these tragedies and experiences and move forward with living our lives, or we can allow them to define us, I can easily see which path you chose!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Oh hey, thanks Michael! The note about Benn was a year and a half ago (old post), but the recovery took a long time and is a major part of our life story.

      Thanks for reading! 😀 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion Editorials

Dispelling the myth that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask

(EDITORIAL) It has been accepted as fact that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask as often as men, but new studies indicate that’s not true at all.

Published

on

women female negotiations

Many of the seemingly universal “truths” of business often come down to assumptions made about workers based on their gender.

Among the most oft-repeated of these “truths” is that women and other femme-identifying people are bad at self-advocating, particularly in matters involving compensation.

These include: Women don’t negotiate their salaries. Women don’t get promotions or leadership positions because they don’t “lean in.” Women don’t ask for raises.

This last truth is finally being discussed as the myth it is.

Over at The Cut, Otegha Uwagba discusses her own experience successfully and not-so-successfully negotiating a raise, but more interestingly how increasingly research has shown that there is no “gap” in between the genders when it comes to asking. Rather, the disparity really arises when it comes to which ask is heard.

As Uwagba explains, “While men and women ask for pay raises at broadly similar rates, women are more likely to be refused or suffer blowback for daring to broach the topic.”

This blowback comes from the inability of some people in leadership positions to think critically about the ways in which business still actively dismisses women’s leadership qualities while simultaneously praising less-competent men who demonstrate these very characteristics.

The HBR article acts as good reminder that the cumulative effect of all of these misguided “facts” about women and business often perpetuate the toxic culture that creates and circulates them.

The implication of all of these myths creates a sense that women are the ones responsible for the unequal treatment they often receive. When the message that women receive is that the reason they don’t get a raise is that they didn’t ask—even when they DO—that tells them that their lived experience isn’t as valid as the pervasive “truth.”

This is, simply put, gaslighting.

Even more, telling women that women face challenges because they didn’t do something or know something, rather than the addressing the very real fact that professional women face sexism at almost every step of their career does not help them.

It only helps those already in positions of power blame women for their own archaic beliefs and actions.

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!

Continue Reading

Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

Published

on

funny females promoted less often

Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!

Continue Reading

Opinion Editorials

Two common business myths that could get you sued

(EDITORIAL) Two misconceptions in the business world can either make or break a small business.

Published

on

trademark lawsuit cartridges initiative

When you’re an entrepreneur with a small staff, you may be in the habit of running your team casually.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a casual environment for your team (most people function better in a relaxed environment), it’s wise to pay close attention to certain legal details to make sure you’re covered.

It’s easy to misinterpret certain aspects of labor law since there is a lot of misinformation about what you can and cannot do inside of an employee-employer relationship. And since labor laws vary from state to state, it can be even more confusing.

As an entrepreneur, it might be strange to think of yourself as an employer. But when you’re the boss, there’s no way around it.

Here are two employment myths you might face as an entrepreneur along with the information you need to discern what’s actually true. Because these myths carry a lot of risk to your business, it’s important that you contact an attorney for advice.

1. Employees can waive their meal breaks without compensation

It’s a common assumption that any agreement in writing is an enforceable, legally binding contract, no matter what it contains. And for the most part, that’s true.

However, there are certain rights that cannot be signed away so easily.

For example, many states in the US have strict regulations around when and how employees can forfeit their unpaid meal breaks.

While meal breaks aren’t required at the Federal level, they are mandated at the state level and each state has different requirements that must be followed by employers. While some states allow employees to waive their meal breaks, on the other end of that the employer is usually required to compensate the employee.

For example, in California an employee can waive their 30-minute unpaid meal break only if they do so in writing and their scheduled shift is no more than 6 hours. In other words, when a shift is more than 6 hours, the meal break cannot be waived.

Additionally, when an employee waives their unpaid meal break, they must be paid for an on duty meal break and be compensated with an extra hour of pay for the day.

Vermont, on the other hand, provides no specific provisions for meal breaks and according to the Department of Labor, “Employees are to be given ’reasonable opportunities’ during work periods to eat and use toilet facilities in order to protect the health and hygiene of the employee.”

As you can see, some states have specific regulations while others have general rules that can be interpreted differently by each employer. It’s best not to make any assumptions and contact a labor law attorney to help you determine exactly what laws apply to you.

2. You own the copyright to all employee works

So you’ve hired both an employee and an independent contractor to design some graphics for your website. You might assume you automatically own the copyright to those graphics. After all, if you paid money, shouldn’t you own it?

While you may have paid a small fortune for your graphics, you may not be the legal copyright holder.

Employees vs. independent contractors:

When your employee creates a work (like graphic design) as part of their job, it’s automatically considered a “work made for hire,” which means you own the copyright. An independent contractor, however, is different.

While any legitimate work made for hire will give you the copyright, just because you created a work for hire agreement with your independent contractor doesn’t mean the work actually falls under the category of a work made for hire.

According to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101) a work made for hire is defined as “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.”

This means that unless your graphic design work (or other work you paid for) meets these requirements, it’s not a work made for hire.

In order to obtain the copyright, you need to obtain a copyright transfer directly from the creator, even though you’ve already paid for the work.

The boundaries of intellectual property rights can be confusing. You can protect your business by playing it safe and not making any assumptions before consulting an attorney to help you discern the specific laws in your state.

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Our Great Partners

The
American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!