Family helps us both grieve and shine throughout our most challenging seasons

The last several months have left many of us raw with grief. With all that has unfolded, the weight of this time is heavy. Countless coping mechanisms have been ripped from our hands in order to protect our health, only exacerbating our inescapable dolor. Whether closely connected by quarantine, or separated by miles and social distancing, the power of family, in whatever ways we may define it, to help navigate the many seasons we face, has never been clearer.

As with so many journeys in life, my path to motherhood was circuitous. Until my early 30’s, my husband Scott and I spent most of our time thinking about other aspects of our lives. We saw live concerts, enjoyed growing our careers, grew rose gardens, and relished dining out. While I am a planner, in the months before our marriage, we did not have precise conversations about having children or the timing of growing our family. While I always imagined myself as a mother, I just thought it would happen one day.

I could not say what day it was exactly but, almost as suddenly as a light being turned on, all I could think about was having a baby. It was visceral. Unfortunately, wanting something and making it so are not always the same thing. As time passed and it became clearer that getting pregnant was going to be more challenging than we had imagined, Scott and I went to see a fertility doctor who planned a series of tests. After a few weeks, they had identified our challenge and we created a plan.

My already regimented daily routine became even more so with blood draws, shots in the belly, and daily visits to the doctor before work. The great news: We became pregnant in the first month. Our bright orange balloon of elation was popped when less than two months later, we miscarried. The nurse who had become one of my closest confidantes, with daily conversations and procedures that laid bare my hopes, dreams, and medical challenges, called to tell me the news. I can still picture where I was on the highway interchange headed towards our rented condo in Connecticut. She kindly yet firmly reminded me that this happened to many people and that we could try again.

I called my mother. She could understand very little that I was saying through my sobs but, as she does, she listened long enough until my words started to clear through my tears. She consoled me and offered to get on the first flight from Michigan to Hartford.

My mom and I have a bond that sustains. We share passions like reading, writing, music, and the theater. The cadence of the pace of our lives fits well together. We laugh a lot and never work to find something to talk about. I can count the times we’ve had fights of any kind on one hand. She is within the first one to two calls for me when things go well or when they fall apart. She has seen me at my best and my worst.

On that late fall day when she arrived, she saw me at my very worst. What I most remember was lying in a heap on the couch, binge-watching “Sons of Anarchy.” Nearly everything made me cry. I was also being quite nasty, both to Scott and to my mom. In a desperate effort to find an endorphin-driven lift, she and I went to the local gym. On the way back, after I barked at her for the tenth time and started welling up with tears, she got firm and said, “You need to snap out of this. I know how much loss you feel. I know how devastated you are. You will carry this loss for the rest of your life. And now, it’s time to slowly start finding your feet. You can’t keep treating the people you love this way.”

My mom’s kind and generous manner rarely gives way to stern tones. It stopped me and spun me as though I had pulled a parking brake while going 80 miles per hour. I needed her comfort, and she also knew I needed someone to help me start recovering. That’s what family does. They celebrate and dance joyfully through your brightest times. They also walk with you through those darkest places. They know when to cry with you and when it’s time to pull you up by the scruff of your neck to march forward.

At Canvas Credit Union, we call one another family members. Many organizations have since followed a trend towards using such language to describe their own employees. I’ve even read some backlash against it as it has become more popular. We call one another “family” and that’s not just words. As we’ve set up listening posts to hear from our family members about the experience of the Canvas culture, we hear the same repeated chorus that their favorite things about Canvas are “the people” and that it “feels like family.”

Canvas was recently honored as a “Great Place to Work” for the second year in a row. That humbling designation led me to reflect on our vision to be “Known for Our People.” In that contemplation, I considered how being a family, through both the joyful and stark moments, helps support the success of each individual family member and ultimately the overall success of our culture. Here are a few of those ideas:

Families celebrate together and mourn together. One of the many tragedies of the coronavirus pandemic has been the loss of the ability to enjoy the best and most painful moments in our lives with those that we love. In a time of social distancing, our loved ones are having to find new and creative ways to celebrate graduations and birthdays. People are unable to grieve those they’ve lost with memorials and funerals. As humans, we crave the ability to share our joys and sorrows.

As I experienced my loss so many years ago, my instinct was to call my mom. Having someone to share that grief helped me recover. We are a very positive family at Canvas, but we have all had moments of grief in the past several months. Some of us are feeling anger and frustration. Some of us are simply yearning for a time when we can be together again in person. Some of us are longing for a time without fear. Some of us are exhausted with a new dual career as an at-home teacher and full-time Canvas family member. Some of us are overwhelmed with just how much we are facing as human beings. We’ve encouraged one another to honor these losses and the moments that are hard. As great as we are at throwing a terrific party to celebrate our wins, we have also stood firmly together through our grief and pain. How can your organization honor the realities of the toughest times?

Our “family table” grants us the comfort to be who we are. In this year’s Great Place to Work survey, Canvas scored 92% on the “hospitality” measure. This demonstrates the extent to which people feel that the work environment is friendly and welcoming, and they can have fun while enjoying each other’s company. That was a 12% increase from our prior year’s results. One of our family members shared through the survey, “I had heard what a great place this is to work and was so excited when I was hired. Now that I have been here, my expectations were exceeded. I have worked for both large and small companies and have not experienced such a positive culture before.”

Imagine yourself at your dining room table in your home sitting with those that you love. That place welcomes you every evening to come together. Some meals might be gleeful and celebratory. Some meals might be awkwardly silent after difficult days. Some meals might include tough conversations as your family works together to better understand challenges related to recent events. There might be tears of grief or even raised voices expressing passionate frustration. The continuity of the people and the commitment to come back together lead to comfort. That comfort allows family members to share their joys and their pains and relish those for one another.

At Canvas, we love to eat and celebrate together. In fact, last year, we hosted two Great Place to Work parties to toast to the team that makes Canvas so incredible. This year, due to COVID-19, our typical in-person festivities simply were not possible. After a moment of mourning, our team looked one another in the eye, just like my mom did with me during my grief-filled days and rallied. The team came up with a virtual event that had exciting activities peppered throughout the day. It included videos every hour on the hour from our executive team. We had a magician at noon. We had prizes. We even had contests and together raised nearly $7,000 for Larimer County Food Bank and Food Bank of the Rockies. The cohesion that has been cultivated over time ensures that our organization comes together even when times are challenging. How might you create a welcome space and joyful opportunities for connection with your team?

Differences bring our family portraits to life. We’ve all giggled at the many funny photos of our families over time. While similarities often exist, what frequently jumps out from a family picture are the distinctions that make each of us uniquely who we are. Many of us have worked in organizations where we felt compelled to shape shift and behave as others desired.

At Canvas, we invite our family to be their delightfully offbeat selves. We all think, process, and engage in different ways. We value our different backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints, and approaches. Our ability to be uniquely who we are is imperative and a cornerstone of our culture. In fact, through the Great Place to Work survey, one of our Canvas family members shared, “People are encouraged to be who they are, more than any other place I’ve worked. We can dress how we’re most comfortable, and the “delightfully offbeat” saying is a great way of making people feel welcomed.” What steps might you take to invite even more diverse viewpoints and distinct perspectives that together can bring even more value?

The armor starts to fall away when we are wholeheartedly ourselves and we are wholeheartedly accepted. I was able to grieve fully in front of my mom because I knew she loved me no matter how deeply I was feeling the loss of our miscarriage. The same is true at work. When we invite individuals with diverse perspectives to be a part of the organization, and people feel they can be themselves, it creates confidence and comfort. The comfort of acceptance allows our creativity and energy to thrive. Because we invite people to bring their whole selves to work and celebrate their distinct viewpoints, Canvas is a safe place for our family members. The differences between people also spark stronger ideas and a broader depth of experiences to inform decision-making. We combine that with our commitment to listening to one another and seeking to understand those inimitable outlooks to create even stronger outcomes for our Canvas family, and ultimately the communities we serve. How are you signaling to your team that they can let down their guard fully and be heard?  

Trust is a safety net that must be nurtured. In our Great Place to Work survey, one area where we scored 90% was in a bundle of questions labeled as “intimacy.” This measures people’s enjoyment of their colleagues, the extent to which they can be themselves, and the extent to which they can count on each other. It took extreme trust for me to fully grieve in front of my mom. I was able to let down my guard and feel the depths of my pain fully with her because over the years she’d developed that safety net of trust.

Trust builds in the workplace over time too. For example, in organizations that are growing a competency of innovation, leaders may tell employees that failure is a necessary part of the creative and exploratory process. When that is first said, there may be skepticism about the validity of those statements. It’s not until someone fails within appropriate bounds and is not punished that trust in that acceptance of failure starts to grow. How are your actions building trust amongst your team?

Frank and tough feedback grow from love. My mom was firm with me as she saw me becoming overwhelmed with grief. The words and tone she used came from pure love. She was not angry, she was concerned. Often, we fear sharing feedback or having tough conversations knowing that it could cause conflict or might harm the relationship. Helping our team to see the moments where they can grow and sharing that from a place of care is a gift, not a punishment.

That feedback is also two-way. While we are proud to be a Great Place to Work, the true value of the survey is to gather the input from our family members and hear their honest perspectives. This sharing of feedback allows us to celebrate what is going well and focus together on how we can get better. We developed two “squads” (working groups) from feedback we received last year. The first is our Simple Squad, focused on making processes simpler both internally and for our members. The second, our Synergy Squad, is focused on building and growing collaboration cross-functionally. In the last few weeks, we have continued to build our listening posts so that we can better understand one another and our diverse experiences and views. How does your organization encourage feedback and create listening posts to hear feedback regularly?

Canvas learned that we were honored with our second Great Place to Work recognition just a few short days before the coronavirus pandemic truly began to have strong impacts across Colorado. In the days that followed, our Canvas family came together. Teams were formed and people raised their hands to help. The health and safety of our family members and members were top priorities. Programs to support health along with programs to support those who were financially impacted were created with deep thought and speed. In recent days, we have continued to actively listen to one another so that we can better understand who we are as a diverse and delightfully offbeat family. Just as my mother took action quickly when she knew I was in trouble and stood with me through one of my darkest moments, Canvas stands together in the best of times and the most challenging. We are a family always. We are a Great Place to Work.

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns is the president & ceo at Community Financial Credit Union. “No” is not a word in Tansley’s vocabulary. If there is an opportunity to bolster Community Financial Credit ... Web: Details