Please visit my new website!

Rachel Kodanaz 30 px tall full imageI’m excited to announce my new integrated website and blog. Please visit rachelkodanaz.com for information about my services as well as my blog. Once there, you can subscribe to the blog so you never miss a post and can subscribe to my newsletter, sent six times a year (safe signup and your email is never shared). If you’re having any trouble finding it, please contact me.

As a motivational speaker, grief consultant, trainer and facilitator, Rachel Blythe Kodanaz provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss. Her experience in management at Fortune 100 companies and the death of her young husband provides insight into challenges and solutions supporting grief in the workplace. Rachel is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide for being preparedLiving with Loss, One Day at a Time; and has appeared on Good Morning America.

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Embracing challenging people in the workplace

ChallengingWhat is it about the workplace that creates behavioral expectation different than those in our personal life?  Can we truly ignore our emotional reaction to the perceived way a co-worker or manager treats us?   Would we want to remove an emotional response or incorporate it for improving communication and teamwork?  What is the balance between being challenging versus being disruptive?

Last month I had the opportunity to present a lunch and learn program to a company on the subject of “Dealing with Challenging People.”  I learned that with everything in life we often forget there are two sides to each story.  Most importantly managing by facts will determine if the person is actually “challenging” or if their behavior is caused by an external stressor or lack of guidance within the workplace.

Of course there will always be people who need to have the last word, who are continually trying to pick a fight, who have a constant chip on their shoulder or whose time it is to move on from the company.  Let’s look at people who in our heart of hearts are not described above, but rather are people who are experiencing a personal setback, who are trying to fit into company culture or who, with a bit of coaching, could assimilate to different personalities.

During my lunch and learn, one of the attendees shared with the group that she was proud of being a co-worker known to be challenging — she embraced the personality trait as a great attribute because her definition of challenging was being aggressive and goal oriented (she managed the sales department).  As I facilitated the session, I asked the co-workers to provide input as to whether they thought she was challenging in a negative or positive way — the majority felt negative.  This was truly a wake-up call that had never been addressed — management style vs. the  emotional reaction to the way one is treated (the co-workers felt belittled and put down). Two sides to each story!

Let’s assume most challenging circumstances occur when we are not patient with others, not fulfilling their needs, not understanding that they may be experiencing a personal setback or most importantly not having assimilated to the stresses of their job responsibilities.  In most of those cases, the challenge occurs because of lack of communication of needs.   Again, during my session, one co-worker shared with the group he was bothered by people coming late to meetings, showing disrespect.  While I thought he made a reasonable point, others suggested he should get over it or should deal with it.  They thought he was being challenging over something that did not have merit while he thought his co-workers were being challenging by not respecting his time.  Again, two sides to the story!

These examples may be considered to be straight forward, and that their resolution achievable through compromise.  However, what is often overlooked in the workplace are those situations when an employee is challenging due to personal setbacks.  While the workplace is often not the place to discuss personal challenges, it is only natural that the lines will be blurred between personal and professional obligations.  For instance, when I suddenly lost my husband, I cannot imagine how difficult it was for my co-workers to work side by side with me — they didn’t know how to interact with me and I did not know what I needed.

The best way to embrace challenging co-workers is to understand what is creating the challenge, manage by facts and set a plan in motion to improve the situation.  Eliminate gossiping by comparing how you would react given the same situation, and show compassion.  In addition, the person who is being challenging needs to be aware they are being disruptive and needs to communicate they need help or be given a “hall pass.”

As a motivational speaker, grief consultant, trainer and facilitator, Rachel Blythe Kodanaz provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss. Her experience in management at Fortune 100 companies and the death of her young husband provides insight into challenges and solutions supporting grief in the workplace. Rachel is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide for being prepared; Living with Loss, One Day at a Time; and has appeared on Good Morning America.

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Climbing out of the ruts

RutsA new year, a chance to close the chapters of 2015 – both the good and difficult times that occurred, some in our control and others that fell our way.  For most of us, the challenges of health, aging, personal direction and the feeling of loneliness force us into ruts, losing the ability to maneuver our way in the most direct and passionate way.

In my book, Living with Loss, One Day at a Time I make reference to our struggle to climb out of the ruts of pain as we heal from any type of loss.  On Day 123, I suggest avoiding the daily ruts that cause feelings of suffocation or of being trapped in our own emotions.

The New Year provides the opportunity to start fresh with newfound personal, emotional and spiritual goals.  Of course, this is not a novel idea as every December 31st we create New Year’s resolutions, professing to honor these pledges that are set into motion on January 1st.  Most of the goals that are set for a New Year are measurable – losing weight, spending more time with family and friends, selling more products, eating healthier, saving more money or establishing more “me time.”  Most of these are achievable since creating new goals with measurable outcomes provide an opportunity to evaluate our individual progress.

What if this year, your goals were set based on your personal need of getting out of the ruts caused by internal or external circumstances?  Of course this is not easy, as it requires self-introspection to determine what was causing us to be wedged in our personal circumstances and seek clarification or resolution.   Just as I share on Day 123, the ruts are often out of our control; but how we embrace the rut and what we do to climb out of it is in our power.

As the New Year comes into full swing, the opportunity to look ahead is right in front of us.  Embrace the circumstance that is causing you to feel trapped and set goals with specific, measurable outcomes to help reduce the anxiety of your situation and increase your happiness and contentment each day.  Embrace each challenge – some might have a clear resolution while others will require you as an individual to change the way you look at the situation emotionally, physically and spiritually.

  • If you are a family caregiver at your wits’ end because of the emotional and physical strain of care giving — resulting in watching your loved one’s health decline and not taking care of yourself — it is time to look at the situation differently to get out of the daily rut. Perhaps you can hire or ask for volunteers to help you with the physical care of your beloved; allowing  someone else to handle the mundane tasks while you to spend more quality and loving time with your loved one.
  • If you are grieving the loss of a loved one and are struggling to move on without them, imagine ways to stay connected to your beloved. As a survivor, establishing an emotional connection to your loved one is merely one way to climb out of the ruts caused by their passing.  What if you created a living memorial – either establishing a place to go to remain connected or creating a legacy to pass on for generations?  By creating a plan, engaging others and taking action each day will provide further, ongoing strength.
  • If you or a family member has recently been diagnosed with an illness – whether terminal or impacting your daily quality of life, learning to live with the circumstance is truly the only way to climb out of the “daily rut.” Set a goal of learning more about the disease, join a support group to learn how others are embracing the challenge and try to focus on what’s ahead rather on what was in the past.

These three examples illustrate that although you may not have control of a specific challenge, you do have control over embracing the situation, setting goals and establishing a plan to get out of the ruts of stress and sadness.  As I have shared over the years while facilitating support groups – you cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens, mastering it rather than allowing it to master you.

Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time, available at www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.

EAP: Help when you need it.

EAPLast month I had the opportunity to present at the Employee Assistance Program Association (EAPA) International Symposium in San Diego. My presentation titled Grief in the Workplace: What really happens in the 21st Century brought to light the challenges of the real world today when an employee has experienced a significant loss, family setback due to illness, accident or personal struggle, or when a workgroup experiences a loss of a co-worker.

Often times, the reality of the situation does not align with a company’s policies and procedures. While an EAP has the ability to offer well-trained individuals to support employees based on individual needs, frequently there is a breakdown in communication, timing of services and the need for a company to maintain “business as usual.” Having worked with hundreds of individuals and companies, I often heard, after the fact, from both employees and management– “if only I knew …” or “if only they had ….”

In a perfect world, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all managers and Human Resources personnel were trained in best practices to assist an employee who is struggling from a personal situation? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if an employee felt comfortable reaching out to an EAP or was aware of the programs offered by their company’s EAP?

What I learned from the symposium, my personal experience and employee perspectives was that the expectations from an EAP are not always aligned with the needs or expectations of an employee. While most EAPs provide a robust menu of benefits, many employees still consider an EAP a place to go when dealing with a dependency such as drugs or alcohol, which was evident based on the sheer number of such exhibitors at the symposium. In reality, an EAP offers a full array of products and services that most of us don’t realize are available to employees. In addition to not knowing what programs are available to employees, many employees question the confidentiality of an EAP. Privacy is a legitimate concern since an employee may fear that their management may learn about personal challenges they are experiencing.

My take-away is straightforward: companies need to improve their communication to both management and individual employees regarding the benefits available to employees through EAP services. In addition, employees themselves need to ask what services are available to them as part of their company-sponsored EAP.

As a motivational speaker, grief consultant, trainer and facilitator, Rachel Blythe Kodanaz provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss. Her experience in management at Fortune 100 companies and the death of her young husband provides insight into challenges and solutions supporting grief in the workplace.. Rachel is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide for being prepared; Living with Loss, One Day at a Time; and has appeared on Good Morning America.

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Embracing the Holidays

HolidaysYikes! The holiday season is upon us – how did that happen and where did the year go? Just when you began to enjoy the cooler nights and beauty of the leaves changing colors, the reality of the pending season kicks in. Your hair gets grayer with the anticipation of the stress associated with the season, your calendar begins to burst with obligations and you are literally walking in circles in the kitchen trying to figure out what to tackle next on your never-ending “to do” list.

At this moment, how decadent would it be to put all of that behind you and climb into a warm bath with beautiful fragrances, soothing bubbles and truly have the ability to turn off your brain from thinking and your heart from hurting? Or better yet, erase the emotional strain of the past year associated with losing a loved one, learning of yet another friend or family member diagnosed with an illness or the financial constraints causing greater anxiety of the pending season.

What if you vow for this year’s holiday season to be different? What if you welcome the holiday season on your terms and embrace the season for you? Whether you are in the tub or sitting on a chair, close your eyes, sit back and envision the holidays ahead – how would you define the next few months? Who would you spend time with? What is best for you and your family?

To embrace the holidays means to look at the season in an atypical fashion. For every stressor that keeps you awake at night, think of how the situation can be recalculated or rearranged to eliminate the anxiety:

  • If traveling to family members is stressful because of the time commitment, large crowds and added expense of the season, travel at a different time of the year.
  • If you are known for bringing homemade cookies to an event and you just can’t find time to bake them this year, purchase cookies from your favorite store and arrange them with love on your special serving tray.
  • If holiday gift exchange is out of your comfort zone for whatever reason, you can still attend the event yet opt out of the gift giving.
  • If attending a party alone makes you feel uncomfortable, skip the party and suggest a time when you can spend quieter, one-on-one time with the host.
  • If decorating your house with holiday adornments is taxing on your time or you are just not in the mood, omit them for this year and attend a tree lighting ceremony in your community.
  • If you feel the void of a loved one who has passed or is ill, create a new tradition with friends and family to help avoid the emptiness.
  • If you don’t want to send holiday cards to friends and family, opt out this year – its okay.

Changing your outlook on the season is the best way to embrace the joys that are often overlooked. Gather those around you who know you the best and create new, exciting and memorable moments together. Savor the break from a normal routine – sleep in, cook a new and exciting meal, spend quality time with those who matter most, play a board game, assemble a puzzle and embrace the holidays on your own terms.

Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time, available at www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.

Please don’t try to fix me

urlSeveral months after the sudden death of my 32-year-old husband, the subtle hints from my friends, family and co-workers appeared – suggesting the time had come for me to get out more socially, begin sorting through his personal belongings and find the smile I once had.  The more they pressed the more I distanced myself from them and the message they were sending to me – “the time has come for me to move on.”

Move on from what – the dissolving of my family, the loss of my true love, the death of the father of my daughter?  What were they thinking?  In retrospect, I know they wanted to see me happy, they wanted to remove the pain, but mostly they wanted to have the old Rachel back.  Really?  Would I ever “be back?”

Clearly I was not ready and those closest to me just didn’t know what to do.  I was not capable of communicating to them that I needed more time, that I was briefly seeing through the fog as I was driving again, that I was holding down my food, that I was changing my daughter’s diaper and that I was out of bed.  They wanted even more; however, I was giving the situation all I had.  Family and friends wanted to fix a broken soul but there really wasn’t anything to fix.  What they did not understand was that I wanted to be with Rod as long as I could.  Being with him was my refuge from pain (see “Day 88 – Grief Is a Refuge or a Battlefield” in Living with Loss, One Day at a Time).  I needed to re-enter life on my terms, which I had not defined.  But how could I?

Fast forward 13 years, when my mother passed away suddenly; and once again I felt the people closest to me push me to smile again, engaging in family activities with enthusiasm.  While this was a different type of loss, I needed time to replay the tapes of the last 45 years of my life.  I had to reimagine “what if” and “I should have told her” thoughts.  I had to look into the future to visualize Thanksgiving with our large family, upcoming life milestones and the loss of daily contact with her.  I suspect that people around me might of thought I was an expert by now on grief and that I had the emotional tools to work through my loss, and that “Rachel would be back in no time at all.”  Each loss is different, necessitating the appropriate time and support for a griever to emotionally embrace life without their loved one.

As a griever our natural reaction to those “trying to fix us” is putting up a wall and becoming defensive towards those closest to us, which often leads to self-doubt, greater stress, and most importantly withdrawal from those who can actually be the greatest support.  We all grieve differently and we all have the right to work through our loss using our own timeline.  So here is what I suggest: create an elevator speech for those around you who are trying to fix you – a simple message that the situation is emotionally all encompassing but you are doing better than yesterday and truly appreciate their support.  The true message is “Please let me be for now, I am trying the best I can!”  Without a canned response, they will push harder and you will push back more.  Stay in your refuge for as long as you need and enter the battlefield when you are ready and able.

Bottom line – there is really nothing to fix.

Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides support to workplaces when there has been a death of an employee or when an employee has experienced a personal loss. She is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared and Living with Loss, One Day at a Time. Both are available on www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.

Our CEO died, now what?

CEO-ChairOne of the most dreaded impacts on a company is to experience the death of its leader.  The loss creates a complex situation, has tremendous bearing on the employees, clients and stakeholders and will ultimately alter the rhythm of the company.

While leaders come and go in companies due to performance or illness – untimely deaths send shock waves throughout the ranks.  Unlike a prolonged illness where succession planning can take place, a CEO’s sudden death undoubtedly leads to uncertainty in the short- and medium-term.  And given today’s 24-hour news cycles,  a sudden passing away will be in the public airwaves before the company can reach out to both employees and stakeholders directly.

The shocking news generates an array of emotions that require immediate attention from an interim leader.  In some cases, choosing the appropriate interim leader is complicated, yet crucial.  Once leadership is re-established, a statement of the situation should be presented in a timely manner confirming the death and whom employees, stakeholders and media can speak to for questions and leadership in the immediate future.

The best approach in supporting the workplace after the significant loss is to “stop the rumor mill” before it has a chance to grow and fester.  Speculation and judgment are detrimental; hence, timely and relevant information is needed for employees and stakeholders to forge ahead.  People respond differently to significant losses and so it’s imperative to provide guidance, compassion and order in a timely matter.

The interim leader, executives and human resources should rely on support provided by outside professional resources to address how to respond to the difficulties and uncertainty caused by the death.  A crisis management team should be assembled to assess the current needs of the company and the well-being of the employees.  For some individuals it may take up to 48 hours to comprehend the impact of the loss; therefore they may need more time to adjust and be responsive to support. Often companies spend too much time to find just the right words to share with the community causing a delay in the announcement of an official statement.  While the death is tragic and untimely, the response time must be immediate, accurate and compassionate.

Here is a checklist that provides a response framework:

  • Establish immediate leadership and communications team.
  • Prepare and deliver an official statement via media, social media, email, and telephone.
  • Provide easy access, two-way communication with employees and stakeholders.
  • Provide communication often in order to stifle the rumor mill.
  • Encourage employees to ask questions.
  • Provide professional support to employees past the first week of loss.
  • Create as normal a work environment as possible.
  • Address the elephant in the room by not avoiding the uncomfortable conversations and helping employees move forward.

Be prepared for the potential fall-out down the road as the shock wears off and the expectations for “business as usual” from clients and investors are not in sync with the emotions and uncertainty the company is facing.  Employees’ future, their jobs and their livelihood and how they interact with each other have been disrupted by the trauma of the death — healing is vital in order for the company to get back on track.  And in most cases, companies do become stronger after a crisis when the organization can heal properly.


GIW cover linedAs a motivational speaker, grief consultant, trainer and facilitator, Rachel Blythe Kodanaz provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss.  Her experience in management at Fortune 100 companies and the death of her young husband provides insight into challenges and solutions supporting grief in the workplace.. Rachel is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide for being prepared, Living with Loss, One Day at a Time, and has appeared on Good Morning America.