Grief in the workplace
For more information or to schedule a workshop on "Grief in the Workplace" at your place of employment, call our bereavement staff at 317-621-4800.
Managing grief in the workplace
“For six months, I put in my eight hours every day, but I didn’t do more than four hours of work.”
“We were so worried about our coworker that no one in the office could concentrate.”
Grief is in your workplace, whether the result of death, divorce, illness, or other traumatic or life changing event. Your support can make a critical difference in the ability of your employee and his peers to deal with grief and maintain both a humanistic and productive environment.
Grief is the normal and expected response to a loss. It affects individuals differently, usually depending on whether the loss was expected, the relationship of the bereaved to the loss, and how the bereaved has handled previous losses. A response may seem out of proportion to a current loss, but may have triggered unresolved prior grief, compounding the reaction.
Grief can affect the emotional, spiritual, and physical health of the bereaved, and those responses may carry into the workplace as absenteeism, tardiness, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, inability to get along, alcohol or drug abuse and many other manifestations, up to and including suicide.
People are not generally prepared for the overwhelming feeling which may accompany grief, and often experience unanticipated crying and other atypical and seemingly impulsive or uncontrolled behavior.
These expressions of grief in a bereaved employee may cause uncertainty and distraction in other employees, resulting in a loss of productivity and stress throughout the workplace. Grief does not follow a linear pattern, and is not like a cold, which resolves in seven days, whether you ignore it or treat it. Although resolution often takes longer than society “expects,” supported grief usually resolves more quickly and, when supported in the workplace, aids productivity and increases morale in all workers.
Supporting your employee
Through immediate recognition of the loss
- Send a condolence note
- Where appropriate, send flowers or other culturally appropriate sentiments
- Attend memorial services
- Have clear funeral or leave policies for the employee and coworkers
- Flex time
- Time off (PTO and unpaid)
- FMLA where appropriate
- Work sharing
- Ongoing thoughtfulness
- Do not avoid the bereaved
- Take extra time
- Avoid clichés
- Understand that presence is more important than “proper” words
By expecting erratic behavior and planning for it
By recognizing potential triggers and avoiding, if possible
By helping with the paperwork and resources
- Where appropriate, help with life, health or FMLA forms
- Remind the bereaved employee and peers of availability of counseling services; arrange when appropriate
- Have a list of community support resources available
- Be sure HR has printed resources available to give to employees
As your employee returns
- Schedule a pre-return meeting to talk
- Ask how the employee is doing and listen
- Balance employee needs and your business needs
- Discuss expectations
- Have available listings of community resources including support groups
- Set up a regular check-in schedule
Supporting your employee’s peers
- Talk to your employee’s peers, ask for their support, encourage their thoughtfulness, reassure them, ask for ideas on supporting both the bereaved and peers, and talk about workload and safety.
- Allow peers reasonable work time and breaks to talk to and support the bereaved employee.
- Remember that what your employees see you do for their employee will reassure them and increase overall morale in your workplace.
- Listen; it supports the coemployees as well as the bereaved.
Always listen, listen, listen. It is the single most important support you can provide.
Resources are available to support you and your employees throughout the community, through workshops, private counselors, and church outreach programs. Community Home Health provides grief support groups facilitated by professional staff to any bereaved individual throughout our community without charge. In addition, partnership with Community Health Network Health Promotions offers contractual employee assistance programs, including bereavement support and bereavement planning to the community.
Noncontractual bereavement services are not reimbursed through any public or private program. Donations in recognition of these no-charge services are gratefully accepted to support and extend this program throughout our community.