Which means we're BIG on transparency.. That is why we offer upfront,
fixed fee will packages.
Hi, I'm Nicky!
Founder of G.Law.
I'm a wills and business nerd. Mum. Gardener. #Radbosslady and protector of legacies.
Which means we're BIG on transparency.. That is why we offer upfront,
fixed fee will packages.
Our Free 15 is just what you need. Ask all the questions and get the answers you're after.
[00:00:01] Voiceover: This is an ABC podcast.
[00:00:05] Leanne: The thought that his last conversation in this living world was about arguing over lamb chops. Like it just, it just seems so sad that, you know, he wasn’t at home with his kids or walking the dog in the park or any of those clichés. That he was just buying dinner and having a snippy conversation. I guess it’s not what you, what you imagine dying to be like.
[00:00:37] Jan Fran: That’s Leanne. The last thing Leanne expected to see while serving cuts of meat was, well someone ordering their last cut of meat. I’m Jan Fran and this is The Pineapple Project and we know that we could probably be a bit better at dealing with death in general, in our personal lives, and in the workplace. Now, we spend quite a lot of our lives at work, you might be there right now, in fact, and if you are sssshh wear the headphones. You probably not planning on being there until your literal dying day, I would hope. But as we’ve heard all this podcast, life-altering events, they just have a way of sneaking up on us. One minute your biggest concern is whether to stock the meeting room with international roast or Moccona instant coffee, the next minute, the customers keeled over and died right in front of you. Or death might come to your workplace in another way. Colleague might die or someone close to you might pass away on a Tuesday in the middle of a presentation. So what leave can you take? What if the person wasn’t your immediate family? And what shouldn’t you say to a grieving colleague? All these questions and more shall be answered. But first, let’s go back to Leanne. So Leanne is standing behind the counter of a suburban butcher shop in Adelaide, when a well-dressed man walks in.
[00:02:06] Leanne: He was in a suit, he was, he seemed very tall and broad. Probably late 50s, early 60s sort of a coif of white hair.
[00:02:18] Jan Fran: It was, as these things go, a normal, absolutely non-remarkable, some might even say boring day and Leanne was almost ready to shut up shop.
[00:02:27] Leanne: Yeah, so he wanders up to the counter. He seemed to be frustrated, be agitated, quite short, snippy questions. I remember that I was snippy in my response because that’s what stuck with me that for what came later. I can’t even remember what it was. But yeah, it wasn’t it wasn’t my friendliest moment. And I think I was just reacting to his attitude and you know in that job quite often you get a bit of attitude from, from people as a pretty young thing behind the meat counter. And then he just stopped speaking and stare directly at me and collapsed like, you know, there’s clanging against the glass of the counter the, the color had kind of just drained out of his face and then he just dropped dead.
[00:03:21] Jan Fran: Now you’d think that the actual event AKA The Dramatic Death, would be what Leanne thinks about the most but what stayed with her is how her boss responded because after the ambulance had come and gone, after someone had put a sheet over the man and he’d been removed Leanne was told that she’d had to do something she really, really didn’t want to do.
[00:03:46] Leanne: The manager came through and he said, “The widow of the gentleman who passed away is here and she’d like to speak with you.” And management thought that was an okay thing to do and I wasn’t really asked. I was directed, I guess, to speak with the widow of this gentleman.
[00:04:17] Jan Fran: And what did you do?
[00:04:18] Leanne: I did it. Like I was, I was young, I was naïve, I was eager to please and, you know, I just, I didn’t even really think about saying no. I just kind of did it.
[00:04:31] Jan Fran: Leanne told his widow that she’d been rude to him. She wasn’t offered any counselling. And she carried the guilt of that for a really long time.
[00:04:41] Leanne: It was tough. I’m, it was really, it was really tough. Like, she just said to me, “I just would like to know the person who spoke to him and you know, hold your hand and, and just talk about his last, last minute, moments in this life.” Yeah, and I sat down with her. I’d been going through some personal stuff myself. My sister passed away a couple of years earlier. So I was in a very strange head space at that time in my life. And I think and I think maybe that’s why I didn’t say no. I just I just kind of went along with it. And so we sat down and you know, I had to try and sort of say that you know, we talked about lamb chops. I didn’t go into the details or what we spoke about. I did say he didn’t seem settled. He seemed quite upset about something. And yeah, and then he collapsed and then I went back to work.
[00:05:53] Jan Fran: Michelle Knox thinks that we’ve got a big problem when it comes to dealing with death in the workplace. In that generally, we don’t deal with it. Now, she wants to try and change things. Michelle, apart from being a corporate high-flyer, calls herself a mortal realist, which frankly, I suggested she should put on her business card, but she won’t listen to me, will she? Now, what is a mortal realist?
[00:06:19] Michelle Knox: That means I understand that we are all going to die one day and we should all acknowledge it.
[00:06:24] Jan Fran: This all started for Michelle after her own father died. Her Ted Talk, “Talk About Your Death While You’re Still Healthy,” has been viewed over 1.3 million times. I’ll tell you, you do one banging Ted Talk and suddenly everyone wants to talk to you about death.
[00:06:19] Michelle Knox: At that time, my father passed away two years ago, two and a half years ago. There were five of us in my team. So I’m leader of a small team and five of us lost parents. We lost six parents in a 12-month period so one of my team members lost both his parents eight weeks apart. And we, we would come to work and talk about away from our families the support we were giving before, before. Like some of the family members were sick, so we knew this was coming. The challenges we’re having with our different various cultural backgrounds and family members and extended family members sort of getting a bit involved. Some of the absolute kerfuffle that can happen around planning. So one headstone came back wrong, so we actually had really at times light-hearted conversations there. And also we also cried together about things we were dealing with and–
[00:07:38] Jan Fran: And this is you and your colleague?
[00:07:39] Michelle Knox: Yeah, this is this is me and my team and sometimes in my team meetings with them, I’d go and how we’d be there to talk about a work matter but, “How are you going today?” And we might all have a little cry for 5 minutes then get back to work.
[00:07:50] Jan Fran: Crying with your colleagues, eh? I can see how that might not be for everyone. I mean, some people just aren’t that close to their colleagues. Also some colleagues are trash but Michelle’s point is that if you’re going to get through these things, and do things like ask for leave, work places can’t just be these weird professional robot spaces.
[00:08:15] Michelle Knox: Work places are made up of people and in my experience, we’re not all equipped to deal with death. So from that perspective, because we’re not discussing it at home, we’re not discussing it in our own personal lives, we’re certainly not discussing it necessarily at work. We have another team member who’s located abroad and his dad died very tragically in a vehicle accident, and very suddenly. And another one whose mother was terminally ill but it would seem to be all okay for a period of time and then went downhill rather rapidly.
[00:08:47] Jan Fran: So what should be a workplace’s response to that?
[00:08:50] Michelle Knox: Firstly it’s like you would with mental health, just, “Are you okay? What do you need? How can I support you?” So upfront you want to make sure that you have an environment where your team feel they can come and tell you what’s going on in their lives. A lot of people might be very private, but this is something where both sides should feel a little bit of gift to say I feel comfortable being able to say, “Look, I’m going through some stuff at home.” So it’s about, firstly, just having the conversation. “What do you need? How can I support you?” Another really good thing to understand is we’re all from incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds. So one of the things we tend to do in the workplace, if a former team member loses a loved one is we might send flowers and it’s not appropriate in all cultures to send flowers. So it is okay to ask the question. It is okay to say, “We would like to show our condolences to you. And this is the way we’d like to do it, but I need to understand is that appropriate for you?” So finding out what’s appropriate. I had several members of my team attend my dad’s funeral and they were there for me. They didn’t know my dad and I will say that it’s very, it gives you a lot of strength in that moment. When you look up and you see people that you know are there to support you in that moment. It gives you a lot of strength. It really does. And we’ve attended each other’s parents’ funerals where we can and I think we’ve given each other strength through that and actually built much more stronger working relationships with that as well.
[00:10:22] Jan Fran: What are some of the appropriate language that one should use in the workplace particularly when talking about death? Or at colleague that has experienced a death?
[00:10:32] Michelle Knox: It’s very appropriate to say “I’m very sorry to hear. You know, I’m thinking of you.” If you’re a particularly religious person, it’s okay to say that, “I’m sending some prayers for you,” that’s okay. If it’s, if you know the person quite well, you might want to say, “Look if you want to have a cha, did you want to go for a coffee? I’m here if you want to have a talk about anything. Is there anything I can do to support you?” As a people leader, someone who’s managing a team, I always check where the workloads are. You know, what are the, what’s the work stresses as well? The reality is a lot of this will all come back to the work place saying, “I need to be here because I want to focus on something other than that sort of my life for a moment.” But the reality is your brain’s not there. So it’s good to sort of inform people that you know, okay coming back in the workplace and I’m going to support you on that. But we’re just going to keep an eye on the level of stressful work that we’re giving you in timelines and so forth. And if you feel you’re not coping with it, let us know.
[00:11:34] Jan Fran: What about inappropriate things to say or do?
[00:11:39] Michelle Knox: If you start a sentence with “At least..” or “At least, they’re not suffering..” when you’re trying to justify something, it’s not helpful, stop. Stop, just stop talking.
[00:11:48] Jan Fran: That’s a hot tip.
[00:11:49] Michelle Knox: Yup.
[00:11:49] Jan Fran: I like that. I think I’ve done that sometimes as well. I’m definitely going to check myself when doing that.
[00:11:52] Michelle Knox: [crosstalk] We’ve all done it.
[00:11:56] Grimmy: Did I just hear you put your foot in it?
[00:11:59] Jan Fran: Oh Grimmy, we all do it, it’s no big deal.
[00:12:02] Grimmy: I know. I know. I see everything. So I’m just here to offer you a little bit work place feedback about what not to say at work or generally when someone has died.
[00:12:13] Jan Fran: You are a creepy eavesdropper and you should not be using your powers for this. Having said that, go on.
[00:12:21] Grimmy: As a general rule, avoid saying things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’ll get easier,” “Well, they lived a long life,” “You’ll meet somebody else,” “God has a plan for all of us, you know that,” “Was he a smoker? They’re not suffering anymore,” “It must be a comfort to know that you have other children,” “Stay strong and focus on the positives in your life,” in short, don’t try and fix the situation. Don’t try and make it about you and don’t try and find the bright side.
[00:12:55] Jan Fran: Okay. Well then what should I be saying?
[00:12:58] Grimmy: Easy. If in doubt, a simple, “I’m so sorry” will do. Be direct. Look at the person in the eyes. On a side note, on a daily basis, I wish I did have a face with eyes. But say something. Acknowledge their grief. Solace can be incredibly isolating. God you humans can be so dumb. Now, obviously, if you’re closer to a work mate or knew the person who died, offer more. “I don’t know how you feel, but I’m here to help with whatever you want,” but you’ve got to mean it. You can also share a memory of the person maybe a card or a text and if you say, “Let me know if there’s anything I could do,” actually do it. Like what are their death plans? It’s basic human interaction. Like how we operate. Jan? I mean, we’re workmates now, right? Are we? Yeah?
[00:13:44] Jan Fran: Well, I, I mean, you kind of came out of nowhere one day and just continued to appear in my life and work. So I think it might be illegal, but sure.
[00:13:54] Grimmy: Okay. Well, I’ve been clocking in everyday.
[00:13:59] Jan Fran: Alright. Good old Grimmy. Ironically, very in touch with the people. Grief’s a funny thing, isn’t it? It doesn’t really follow a schedule. Back to Michelle. What happens in the workplace six months later or a year later? When the grief heats or reheats at the first anniversary of a loved one’s death. Are workplaces equipped to deal with that?
[00:14:22] Michelle Knox: No and again keep taking consideration some cultural sensitive. There’s a lot of various cultures in Australia where they have specific memorials happening at a, like a one-month anniversary or six-month anniversary, to 12 month anniversary. I know that in my team very much in the Greek culture, in the Sri Lankan culture and then things like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Birthdays, anniversaries all these other personal dates that are coming up that resonate with an individual. So it is important that we acknowledge that the grief isn’t over at after a funeral. The grief can come out later and it’s about keeping an eye on your colleagues and checking in with them at regular intervals saying, “Hey, how are you going, you okay?,” and build a little bit of rapport. It’s usually with your close team members that you would, you would do this with, you can obviously go out and speak to a wider organization. I’m fortunate that I work in a large organization and I think if you’re in a small company, it’s a lot more important that you operate more as a small family unit and support each other.
[00:15:29] Jan Fran: So someone close to you has died or they’re basically on the brink of dying, now, I know what you’re thinking, “Jan Fran, I’m going to be going through a lot and I can’t do that and deal with the person who steals my milk from the communal fridge. Now give me my rights here.” So if you need to take time off, you’ll likely be asking for bereavement or compassionate leave. And no matter where you work, Australian law says that employees are entitled to take two days off that’s paid leave for full-time and part-time workers and unpaid leave for casual staff. This leave applies to members of your immediate family or what the legislation helpfully calls “members of your household.” Friends don’t count. Same with other relatives like cousins, aunts, uncles unless you live with them or unless your workplace agrees to the leave. Speaking of, two days leave is the minimum but some workplaces have their own policies when it comes to this death-pisode which might include extra days, so best to check. Families, friends, relationships, deaths these things are tricky and so is navigating them in the workplace. Imagine being Lebanese like me, you go to a funeral one day and then a week after that and then 40 days after that and then six months after that and then a year after that. Imagine explaining to a boss that you need to go to a funeral anniversary. My mother does a head count of funerals. She knows exactly who’s there! Steven Oliver knows what it’s like to have his personal life and work life collide. He’s a writer, performer, poet, dancer.
[00:17:14] Steven Oliver: What do I do?
[00:17:15] Jan Fran: Yeah. His work looks at themes of death and loss and as an indigenous Australian, when a death occurs, Steven finds himself often having to explain his culture.
[00:17:27] Steven Oliver: Yeah. Notice, I mean, there’s you know, there’s a thing about, you know, when will we have our grieving process? I mean, I guess that’s why I think about it a lot when I go to funerals because we’re trying to do our grieving process in a system that doesn’t really allow it. The thing with that ritual, people, is that we see death a lot because of lower life expectancies and suicide and you know, just the whole heap of things, chronic illness, you know, like with my family we had, we had five funerals in a space of six months once.
[00:18:06] Jan Fran: Oh my God.
[00:18:07] Steven Oliver: Another time within my circle of friends there was like seven deaths in a couple of months, you know what I mean? So we see, we see a lot of it.
[00:18:17] Jan Fran: Now, when this happened, Steven was working for an indigenous radio station in Queensland, and he said that not having to explain why he needed the time off to attend this many funerals actually made coping so much easier.
[00:18:32] Steven Oliver: For there wasn’t even really a conversation. I just kind of go in and go “I just lost another family member,” and they were just be like, “Oh god, really?” Like, like it, you know, there’s no sense of this thing, of like I’m going in there and because people know it’s not something I would bullshit about.
[00:18:45] Jan Fran: Yeah.
[00:18:46] Steven Oliver: That we just know, you wouldn’t do that. And so, you know, I think there’s a tendency to look out with aboriginal people because we don’t have the same structures. It’s obvious viewed as odds bullshit. So people insert the way they do things into our lives. So say for example, like when I, whenever I say, “I’m a grandfather,” and people got or said, “You’re a really a great uncle.” “No, I’m really a grandfather,” do you know what I mean? So–
[00:19:12] Jan Fran: Yeah.
[00:19:13] Steven Oliver: It’s that kind of, It’s that people tend to view you as like your bullshitting about something and it’s like you’re not close to your second, third, fourth cousin or whatever. That doesn’t mean I’m not close to mine who is just my cousin. So they’ll be yeah, they got, “Oh well, I don’t really know them, I hadn’t even think of that person. So why would you think about them?” And so well because I have a different kinship system to you..
[00:19:35] Jan Fran: Yeah exactly. I’m not you.
[00:19:37] Steven Oliver: And I’m always have to validate mine. I guess the way yours works.
[00:19:42] Jan Fran: Yeah. So there was that element of not having to deal with all of that when you are working with an indigenous organization, right?
[00:19:47] Steven Oliver: Yeah, exactly.
[00:19:49] Jan Fran: You didn’t feel like you were either not gonna be taken seriously or someone’s going to call your bullshit. It didn’t feel like a thing like you weren’t walking into an office going, “Okay, how am I going to play this?”
[00:19:57] Steven Oliver: Yeah, no, exactly, exactly. Yeah. It’s like a, you know, it’s think of the story of a friend of mine who worked at the radio station. She’s from the [MTM] with like with her mob, when they have their grieving process, you know, they paint their faces white and with, with the work there, when they would run in they would have this [oracle] on them that they going through this mourning period they were told, you know, you can’t come to work like that. So they’re having to choose between their cultural obligations or food on the table.
[00:20:34] Jan Fran: Right.
[00:20:35] Steven Oliver: And usually, yeah, they quit their cultural obligations because that’s, that, that’s the thing that’s more important. And I think people just need to realize that people do things differently and difference is a beautiful thing.
[00:20:48] Jan Fran: Gosh. I love that, Steven Oliver. Now, if you don’t feel like your workplace is taking your grief seriously, maybe there’s no offer of flexibility or time off, you can contact your HR representative or your union or even the Fair Work Commission. As for all the other stuff, the less tangible stuff like a reduced workload or just the feeling of a lack of compassion, well, that’s a little ditty called workplace culture. And if you have a good one of those, it can be a great way for businesses to retain staff. So Michelle what can bosses do to improve how we do the death dance at work?
[00:21:28] Michelle Knox: For companies, firstly acknowledging that we’re going to have employees that are going to lose someone. And we need to be able to support that. We are also going to lose employees, more importantly, you do. There are people who die in the workplace. So providing grief counselling for staff, providing a way to ensure your staff can have honest conversations with their managers or their people-leaders around what they need to do in that and encouraging our teams to talk about it. So we have monthly reviews of well-being as well and that covers off how do we have conversations about loved one, with loved ones as well around things. So we could do that in the workplace as well. So it might be once every six months just having a meeting with your team saying like we want to cover off our well-being and, and mental health and well-being and grief and so forth and making sure that we provide guidance again a reminder to our team. This is, this is the way you can get grief counselling talk to your colleagues come and speak to me if you have a problem.
[00:22:35] Jan Fran: Thanks, Michelle. And look, this stuff is far from perfect. Like under the Fair Work Act, workers who’ve gone through a miscarriage or stillbirth aren’t entitled to bereavement leave. Personal leave is generally taken. What’s that about? And again some workplaces have their own policies on this. So check your policy. All righty. What have we learned when it comes to death in the workplace? One, all employees are entitled to two days compassionate or bereavement leave. You can find out more at fairwork.gov.au. Two, you’re going to have to tell your boss about what’s going on. It could be in person or via email. If you’re the boss, think, does your business have a bereavement policy? And three, if you’re not exactly in a traditional workplace, say you’re a freelancer or a contractor, it’s not a bad idea to communicate with your clients about what’s going on. This could be a brief email or an out-of-office message to explain that you’ll be a bit hard to reach. If it feels like too much ask a colleague or a friend for help. The nature of most workplaces is that they do keep on tracking while death happens in the background, but hopefully we can make it way less awkward to tell Dave from HR or accounts or wherever the hell he works, what’s going on. Yeah? Yes. I’m Jan Fran. This is The Pineapple Project and we’re doing death better or as good as it can be done. Next on The Pineapple Project: You’ve decided on your ideal funeral, you’re getting your will sorted. But when you try and talk about this with the people that you love, all you get is [cricket sounds]. How to talk about death without it being deathly awkward.
[00:24:32] Jan Fran: Yeah, but also, I think she thinks that like if you do talk about death, like you will it. You know or –
[00:24:39] Mira (from next episode): Ah yeah.
[00:24:40] Jan Fran: It’s like you bring it on or something.
[00:24:42] Mira (from next episode): Yeah, totally.
[00:24:43] Jan Fran: I think I want to try and bring these topics up with the fam. I think they’re just gonna, you know, change the subject or leave the room or like cross themselves 1000 times and it’s like say a prayer to the Virgin Mary. Like I think that’s what will actually happen if I.. If I’m..
[00:25:04] Mira (from next episode): Yeah or like anytime dad wants to exit himself from the conversation, he just goes to sleep.
[00:25:08] Jan Fran: Yeah, he’ll just fall asleep, immediately.
It’s the final episode of Season 4 next on The Pineapple Project. The Pineapple Project is mixed by sound engineers Angie Grant and Krissy Miltiadou. It’s produced by Karla Arnall and Clare O’Halloran. The role of Grimmy, the Grim Reaper is played by Rhys Nicholson. The host is your girl JF, that’s me. The podcast’s executive is Rachel Fountain. Kellie Riordan is the manager of ABC Audio Studios. I’ll tell you, I am getting looser and looser reading these as each episode wears on and I love it. Oy, so speaking about work, we do spend a huge chunk of our lives working to earn dollar dollar bills and here at The Pineapple Project, we did a whole season on how to make work great again. You can binge it good or pour yourself a cup of ambition and savour each precious episode. You’ll find the work season in the same place that you’re listening to this episode, incidentally. Just scroll back through the feed till you reach season 2. Yes, enjoy.
End of transcription. Total audio minute: [26 min 21 sec]
Copyright ABC 2020.
This is an obligation free (and when we say “obligation free”, we mean it) appointment for you to get your bearings, ask us anything (yes ANYTHING), find out what is involved and understand your costs - no mystery.