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Grief In The Workplace

Grief in the workplace is something many people don’t think about until it happens. At that time, people are often confused as to how to handle it. It is thus beneficial to be well prepared for this occurrence.

You may be reading this from many perspectives; as the manager of a group of people, as a co-worker of a grieving colleague, as the human resources department of a large company developing initiatives for grief support or someone who has just lost a loved one. No matter from which perspective you have arrived here for information, it is important to understand how you, your colleague or your employee is feeling and may respond.

The feeling of grief can manifest in many ways depending on the person experiencing it, their relationship to the deceased and their personality. The outward appearance of many people may make them seem like they are ‘handling it well’. This could be the case but do not take it for granted that they feel the same inside as they look on the outside. A bereavement is a loss like many other types of loss such as the loss of a job, a divorce/separation, even not getting a promotion. However, the loss of a loved one is a much stronger feeling and hence, emotional response can be more severe. Amplified emotion can result in a shorter temper, spontaneous crying, confusion, forgetfulness and lack of focus. 

Flowers at a grave

Effects of Grief on the Employee

In the workplace, it is common to see reduced productivity from a bereaved employee. Additionally, the employee may show lack of interest, lack of motivation, impaired decision making, anxiety and social withdrawal. Employees showing these signs will tend to become somewhat mildly dysfunctional with a higher rate of absenteeism through sickness and exhaustion. 

Effects of Grief in The Workplace

From a managerial perspective, it is important to realise that a bereaved employee can have knock-on effects on others in the workplace. This can be changes in the work environment in addition to overall productivity. There is the well known saying: “a happy employee is a productive employee”. Although this is probably true, the opposite is also true and this may also extend to those around them. People may not want to ‘bother’ them with work related matters and thus overall productivity slows down at least temporarily. It is for this reason, it is beneficial for managers to be aware when someone is going through a loss. 

What can be done to help a grieving coworker?

Naturally, people want to help and as mentioned above, colleagues may try to reduce their workload to ensure they are not under pressure at work. During times of grief, work is usually one of the first things viewed as less important in life. The support of good coworkers is something that has gotten many people through grief and helped them appreciate their workplace and coworkers.

As a manager, you are in charge of supporting employees’ emotions at work. Expressing your understanding and condolences is an important way of showing them that you care.

Grief Resources in Place

Large companies with many employees often have resources available for this, and other emotional situations. It is important that if these resources exist, they are made known and available to the employee. Once again, this is why it is important to be aware of employees going through stressful times.

Even smaller companies that have not got their own resources available, can still be very supportive to the employee by referring them to grief resources that are available publicly such as grief support groups and counselling services. This can be part of an employee assistance program that many businesses incorporate. You can start with some of our grief support resources under our resources link. Beyond that, you can reach out to funeral homes or community and religious groups that have a grief support network in place and refer the grieving employee to them. 

Location of scattered ashes

Time To Grieve

Companies and employers often have no idea how much time is optimal for an employee experiencing a loss to take off work. This varies greatly among companies. Large companies often have a standard time off (if any) depending on the relationship to the deceased. However, the reality is that there is no short amount of time that will have an employee returning to work having gotten over their grieving period. Grieving takes a long time and often the full impact of grief is not felt until well after the funeral. However, the first few days after the initial loss can be highly beneficial to be excused from work in order to make funeral arrangements and deal with the initial feeling of loss.

Death of an employee

Every company/manager/employer will eventually encounter a death in the workplace of an employee. When this occurs, it is important to consider your employees’ emotional health, especially if the death occurred in the workplace. Here are some important points to consider:

  • Employees who were close to the deceased may be feeling severe loss.
  • As an employer, you have many things to consider such as if your employees wish to attend the funeral and if the funeral will be held during business hours.
  • Is there an emotional support system in place and resources for grief counselling. If you know your employees well, you may be able to identify those most affected by the loss and make arrangements to have their work covered or postponed if possible.
  • As an employer, how will you send your condolences to the family and will you or a representative attend the funeral service.

In Summary

Managing death is a difficult task as it involves highly emotional states and getting it right is most likely with good planning. Awareness of the death and of the mental health of the employees is key to dealing with the effects of grief in a workplace. 

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