The world lost a beloved celebrity in Kobe Bryant last Sunday, along with his 13-year old daughter Gianna Bryant and 9 fellow passengers, in a fatal helicopter crash in California. Fans around the globe are mourning this tragic loss, from A-list celebrities and media/sportscasters to everyday people.
In all likelihood, many of our employees are coming into work right now with heavy hearts too. How can we best support them?
Certain news events tend to stay etched in our memory: “I remember exactly where I was, the moment I heard the news that ____ had died.” Unfortunately, there are too many notable names that could be inserted into that sentence from recent memory, such as: Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and many more, now including Kobe Bryant.
Even though we don’t personally know these stars, it is actually quite normal to feel grief over their passing.
So, how can we support our employees and fellow co-workers as they mourn the loss of a cherished public figure whom they loved and admired?
We felt like this was an important topic of discussion. So we dove into the advice of some experts online, to learn how we can help our employees navigate these difficult times in the workplace.
Some fans who are grieving Kobe’s loss right now may not feel like they can openly share just how much they’ve been affected by this. But it is so important for them to know they are not alone and that their reaction is human and even expected.
Here are three actions your leadership can take today, to support grieving employees:
- Validating what employees are feeling: mental health professionals Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley share on their website how people often ask themselves, “Am I crazy?” to be feeling the way they are. They say on their site: “Feeling intense emotions around a celebrity death is a common experience.” Consider validating this experience as a leader, talking to employees and letting them know such reactions are completely normal and that it is a collective, shared experience.
- Mourning who the celebrity was to us personally: Michael Brennan, a sociologist from Liverpool Hope University was quoted by Quartz where he described how fans often mourn the loss of their personal moments connected to a celebrity – e.g. “who we were when we discovered them.” Consider setting up some informal times (e.g. over a lunch hour) when small teams can gather and collectively reminisce about their personal memories of their much-loved celebrity. It gives employees a chance to feel like they can share what they are feeling, and that they are not alone.
- Create a workplace ritual that pays tribute to a beloved celebrity: grief counselor and author/educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “grief is what we think and feel inside about a loss. Mourning, on the other hand, is expressing our grief outside of ourselves…Generally, our culture isn’t very good at mourning.” But finding ways to mourn collectively, even in the workplace can be a very good thing according to Dr. Wolfelt. Consider taking inspiration from the values that a celebrity exuded, and then bringing that to life, as a tribute of remembrance and a public thank you.
For example: While Kobe Bryant was a fearsome competitor as a basketball player, children always brought out a totally different side of him. News reports shared recently how Kobe once took part in a child’s goldfish funeral. He was also dedicated to many children’s causes. Kobe once said: “My next dream is to be honoured one day for inspiring the next generation of athletes to have a dream, sacrifice for it, and to never ever rest in the middle.” Imagine the impact then, of bringing your team together to volunteer for a children’s charity for a day, to help young kids build their dreams – all in the name of Kobe Bryant.
In North American culture, dying is not a popular topic of conversation. But the process of grieving and mourning is universal, and often, being open to sharing during such difficult times at work can actually make all of us stronger together.
If you are a Kobe Bryant fan, allow us to leave you with this beautiful tribute from the TODAY Show: Remembering Kobe Bryant in his own words.