Living and Working Well After Loss

Key takeaways from a dinner with Los Angeles culture builders co-hosted by The Dinner Party and Omaze

We were too in the zone to take photos — so only snapped a shot of the conference room all cleaned up!

Last week, we hosted our second in a series of dinners, “Living and Working Well After Loss,” dedicated to the conversation around creating workplaces that are more supportive for people who’ve experienced loss, and developing the tools and experiences to transform some of our toughest workplace conversations into our biggest culture builders. More on why we’re up to this, and a recap of our dinner in San Francisco with leaders from Airbnb, Wisdom Labs, Constellation, Salesforce and more here.

For Dinner #2, we set up shop in Los Angeles with Anna Silverman, Head of Talent and Culture at Omaze. Omaze is a platform for nonprofits to raise funds through once-in a-lifetime-experiences with celebrities. You’ve likely seen their Phenomenal Woman campaign on the Internet or in your favorite actresses’ selfie — check it out here.

We started the day with a workshop with the Omaze team around the idea of Being There, discussing ways to show up for friends and coworkers who’ve experienced loss. We also sparked a micro Dinner Party experience for employees, inviting them to share a moment when they felt supported by their community — or a time when they didn’t — and what they learned from it. We’re learning that even when we replace potluck spreads for brown bag lunches, and kitchen tables for board rooms, really powerful conversations can still take place. The lighting might not be as moody, the room not as cozy — but there’s still a real hunger for people to go there, even in workplace settings — and a real benefit to creating the space for people to do so.

“None of us knew quite what to expect, but it turned into an eye-opening discussion. Loss isn’t an easy thing to explore under any circumstances, but it was powerful to see how everyone around the table came together. I left feeling so inspired.”

Anna Silverman, Head of Talent and Culture at Omaze

We later turned the conference room into a proper salon dinner pop up, and over homemade vegetarian chili, corn bread, green salads, and bottles of Zinfandel, rolled up our sleeves to talk about workplace culture around loss and life after.

Our attendees came from a variety of perspectives and organizations. We were joined by accomplished operations, human resources, and talent leaders from start-ups rocketing into orbit (DogVacay), iconic labor unions (SAG AFTRA) and organizations prioritizing a healthy lifestyle for both their customers and their team (Pressed Juicery, Movember Foundation, The Honest Company). All in all, the common thread was a commitment to create environments where people can make incredible work and can thrive while doing it, even during some of life’s tougher moments.

We’ve summarized a few of our key takeaways from the conversation below, but the one headline for the night is this: loss is all around us, and yet, few of us are prepared for the moment when it impacts the people on our team. We’re thrilled to be building a set of tools and experiences to support the people-people within organization — and in turn, support the wellbeing of their organizations.

Post from dinner participant and The Dinner Party friend Donny Killian IV

Here are our takeaways:

Planning ahead for loss

If loss is an inevitability — albeit an unpredictable one — how can organizations plan ahead for those moments before that heart-sinking email hits your inbox? One attendee discussed adding a line in her 2018 budget for supporting employees going through tough times, anticipating the need to bring in extra freelance support, offering to cover someone’s plane ticket home, or giving a thank you to someone else who steps up to fill in the gap. Having a plan in place also means that when it happens, you have a clear directive for how teammates can offer concrete support. Whether it’s donating PTO to the person to extend their leave, having a set budget for a condolence gift from the team, or starting a Google Doc where people can sign up for meal delivery are small things to have in your back pocket when members of your team look to you for what to do. Managers also should think about how they can plan for easing employees back to work after bereavement leave.

Standardizing an approach to show personalized care

One of our participants described the recent experience of losing her mother-in-law, and how finding a case of wine on her porch delivered from her employer sent a big message. As a wine lover, it showed that her team didn’t just default to the bouquet of flowers with a Sorry For Your Loss balloon— but took the extra time to get something they knew she’d really enjoy.

Her simple anecdote brought up an important thread in the conversation — how do we develop systems for support that are personalized, approaching an employee’s moment of difficulty not just as a box to check but as a moment to show they’re seen and cared about on a human level? We’re hearing that moments like loss can be a real make or break for someone’s commitment to a place, so taking the extra time to make a personal statement isn’t just about short term band-aiding, but about longer term employee engagement and talent retention.

Caring for the caretakers

There’s an active and much needed conversation happening in the wellness space about taking care of the people who are in the trenches of healing and wellness — whether in a professional capacity such as a nurse or hospice worker, or within the family, like a partner, sibling or friend helping their loved ones jump through medical hoops. One of the themes that emerged at the dinner was how do people within companies who have a similar role of being a pillar of strength, empathy and decision making take time — and access the resources they need — to take care of themselves, so that they can fully show up for others?

For one participant, navigating the week after an employee suddenly passed away required her to be there for their team, the culture, and the bottom line — but who was there to take care of her? Another participant who experienced a loss while running HR for a start-up found it really helpful when the founders of her company rolled up their sleeves to support her role while she took the time she needed. We’re excited to be building community between culture-keepers, to share what’s working, but to also create a nexus of people who get it, and can be there for one another throughout the hard conversations and the wins no matter how small.

Training managers

One trend we heard in conversations is that two employees in the same department can have drastically different experiences after loss depending on who they report into. How strictly is a manager going to enforce a three day bereavement leave, or make the executive decision to grant that person more time off knowing that coming back to work so soon wouldn’t be healthy for that person, or the job that needs to get done? We heard how managers who’ve experienced loss might be more equipped and empathetic to what their teammate is going through — and thus, better able to anticipate their needs. Part of what The Dinner Party team is now developing includes training and resources so that all managers, whether they’ve been through it or not, and whether they work in a company that’s developed an official bereavement policy or one that’s not there yet, are able to provide the best support possible.

Telling your story of support

While developing the mechanics of a program is key, how we communicate about that program is also core to creating a culture of support. We heard a story of one participant who worked hard to put a response in place after the death of a colleague — but when a communication didn’t go out to the broader team, grieving employees from across the organization felt disregarded and unsupported. Following feedback from the team, she worked to create multiple memorial sites in the office where people could leave messages and mementos, and also approached the organization’s foundation to cover funeral costs for the family. We’re now in the process of crowdsourcing and evaluating what’s worked — and what hasn’t — when responding to a loss within a team that we’ll be sharing with partners.

For more information or to bring The Dinner Party into your organization, contact dara@thedinnerparty.org. Also, if you have examples of how workplaces have supported employees in times of loss, drop us a line.

Thank you to our participants:

Amanda Baker, Pressed Juicery
Shannon Bevers, DogVacay
Mike Braun, The Honest Company
Catherine Brower, Omaze
Alix Carlson, Lunya
Lark Clement SAG — AFTRA
Carla Fernandez, The Dinner Party
Brandon Gruzen, 8i
Donny Killian IV, Muirfield Road Associates
Dara Kosberg, The Dinner Party
Melanie Levine, 8i
Mallory Maske, Thrive HR
Anna Silverman, Omaze
Ashley White, enso