Dec 12, 2022

Author Margo Fowkes Knows That Grief Takes No Holidays

Helping employers help their employees

By Ed Goldman

Margo Fowkes knows that neither death nor grief takes a holiday.

So the founder of her own business (OnTarget Consulting, Inc.) decided to write a relatively brief, totally accessible book to help business owners and managers welcome back into the fold employees who’ve suffered the loss of loved ones.

Edgy Cartoon

Margo Fowkes. Photo by Christina Best.

Leading Through Loss” has a subtitle that pretty much explains it all: “How to Navigate Grief at Work”—and a tagline that pretty much explains it all: Acknowledged Grief, Brave Leaders, Compassionate Culture.” The soft-cover book is available at Amazon, and in select  Barnes & Noble stores.

Fowkes (pronounced “folks”) is no stranger to tragedy herself. Her son, Jimmy died at the age of 21 in 2014 after living for nine years with brain cancer. (Not incidentally, Fowkes’s book was released on Jimmy’s birthday, September 25.) She lives in Loomis with her husband Dan, the chief revenue officer for Nature Trak, which monitors banking compliance for the cannabis industry. Their daughter Molly, 25, works to improve what Fowkes calls “the cancer experience” at the world-famed MD Anderson Cancer Institute in Houston, Texas.

Leading Through Loss” gives employers tips on how to provide “a compassionate culture in your workplace,” Fowkes writes, “which goes well beyond offering bereavement leave.” Among the sobering and somewhat surprising facts she presents is that “(t)he vast majority of U.S. companies provide just three days of paid time off after the death of an employee’s loved one, which isn’t enough time to handle the funeral arrangements, deal with the initial legal and financial issues, and obtain a death certificate, much less grieve.”

In short, a marketplace that demands instant communication (emailing, texts) also requires time-specific mourning and recovery. This is not only inhuman; it’s inhumane.

To write her book, Fowkes says she interviewed 25 people to gauge how different managers handle the return of an employee after that person has experienced a tragic loss. She says some people experience “the odd feeling when returning to their jobs of having received all the condolence cards but then not having anyone say anything about what just happened. I know people aren’t sure what to say but something major has occurred. You can’t pretend your employee’s or co-worker’s life is the same as when they left to deal with the loss or even impending loss.”

There’s a telling quote from Simon Sinek that Fowkes uses to start her book: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” If Sinek’s name is familiar to you, his seminal business books, “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last”  have been Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestsellers.

As Fowkes writes in her own book, “Death undermines everything we value about our work—control, personal growth, accomplishment, friendships with colleagues. When a leader isn’t supportive, grieving employees become isolated at a time when they most need compassion and connection. Their grief can become disenfranchised if their loss isn’t openly acknowledged and socially supported.”

At 61, Fowkes holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard. An upbeat and in-demand speaker and trainer, she has a full schedule. One wonders if she ever takes a holiday.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).