Columnist Caity Weaver answers readers’ workplace questions on how much support grieving employees can get, mistrusting trustees and a “work flow” issue.
Q: About a month and a half ago, one of my mentors passed away unexpectedly. He was my boss and friend. He was one of the few people in my life who supported me 100%.
My current boss knows what I’m going through, but seems uninterested in supporting me through this painful period. He only talks to me about upcoming tasks.
I’ve told him what I’m dealing with, and he hasn’t given me much of a response aside from “I’m sorry, dude”. This is made a thousand times worse because we sit right next to each other. I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible working from home to avoid this insensitive office environment, but he chided me for “abusing work-from-home privileges”.
There’s a big hole in my heart and my boss’s neglect for my feelings is tearing me apart. Every single day in the office feels like a poisonous dagger in my heart. What’s the best way to confront this? Do I need to find a new job or is there some other way to ease all this anguish?
A: Before doing anything else, schedule an appointment with a therapist. Neither your boss nor your newspaper columnist is a viable substitute for a mental health care professional. Exploring your distress with a trained guide could help you recalibrate in the wake of this death.
Few environments are less conducive to grieving than the average office. There are no guidelines for grieving at work.
Today, employees are lucky if they receive three paid days off for the death of an immediate family member, after which they are expected to return to work and not make colleagues uncomfortable for the foreseeable future.
It can be a source of great distress – and stress – to not feel supported by your boss. It sounds like you’re expecting a lot from this man and resenting him for a reasonably professional reaction to the news that an employee’s former boss died several weeks ago.
Of course, while emotional support peaks in the immediate aftermath of an event and dwindles over time, grief is not necessarily linear. Your high-key reaction to his low-key reaction may be making your boss apprehensive to get personal with you, creating a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction for both of you.
The only person you should rely on to support you 100 percent is you. Your boss’s job is not to offer you unconditional comfort and encouragement; it is to make sure that you’re doing your job, which is to perform work tasks the way he expects. If you can’t, that’s on you to attend to, for instance, going to therapy or seeking out a grief support group.
If you truly feel your workplace is cold to the degree that you can no longer handle it, look for a new job. If you don’t want to leave, you should discuss with a therapist how to communicate with your boss before he decides it would be best for you to go.
Q: I work for an NGO. I love my job, my supervisor and the rest of our team, but I hate the very “engaged” board of trustees. They frequently interfere with my work, upset our partners and disregard the staff.
When I was hired two years ago, I made it clear to the board that I was interested in eventually pursuing a graduate degree. It looks like I’ll be doing that next autumn.
I’ve already given my supervisor a heads-up that I’m sending in applications and he has been supportive. I’m nervous that if I let the board members know before I’m accepted, they might end my contract anyway.
If I wait too long to tell them, I’ll put my organisation into a tight spot for hiring my replacement. Either way, they could make my last months with this organisation miserable. What do I owe the board and my team?
A: This is the beauty of supervisors: They run interference with scary people in exchange for better titles and salaries than their subordinates. It’s easy to prioritise an under-resourced workplace’s interests over your own, especially if you admire its purpose.
Work, however, will not reciprocate selflessness. It will become accustomed to it. You owe only your agreed upon terms of notice.
It was considerate to inform your supervisor early. Since you two have a good relationship, keep him updated. He can worry about what, when and how to tell the board.
Q: I’m a 70-year-old man who is happy to be still employed. Almost all my co-workers are much younger than me. We have a great relationship. I enjoy most of their conversations and look forward to work each day.
Just one concern: two women tell us each month when they are on their period or when it is approaching. I don’t know what to say or do when they tell me this. I never worked with women who made their periods public.
What, if anything, should I say when my colleagues announce they’re on their period?
A: Be grateful you are not on your period and say nothing.
This article first appeared in The New York Times.