Grief in the work­place and how to man­age it

South Shore Breaker - - AUTO - HI­LARY SCOTT HEAL­ING THE LOSS hscott@heal­ingth­

A col­league has a sud­den death in the fam­ily. As a co-worker, what do you do? What is your role in the short-term? In­ter­me­di­ate? Long-term? How should you treat them when they re­turn to the work­place?

There are many an­swers to th­ese ques­tions be­cause, of course, ev­ery sit­u­a­tion is vastly dif­fer­ent. How well you know the per­son, the kind of work­place en­vi­ron­ment you share and the cir­cum­stances of the pass­ing of your co-worker’s loved one. Was it an el­derly par­ent or grand­par­ent? A spouse? A child?

For the pur­poses of this col­umn, let’s say it was an un­ex­pected sud­den death of a very close fam­ily mem­ber.

The im­me­di­ate re­sponse is the rou­tine of con­do­lence and sym­pa­thy: the ri­tu­als sur­round­ing the fu­neral, if there is one, and the prac­tices of faith that ac­com­pany them.

When it gets tricky is in your in­ter­me­di­ate and long-term re­la­tion­ship. How do you know what to do or how to act around your co-worker?

They have come back to work most likely long be­fore they are ready, as be­reave­ment leave is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate.

The Grief In­dex sur­veyed 35,000 griev­ing em­ploy­ees in the United States. In 2003, the Grief In­dex found that busi­nesses lose, on av­er­age, $37.6 bil­lion an­nu­ally due to mis­takes, ab­sen­teeism and low pro­duc­tiv­ity that re­sult from grief. Rus­sell Fried­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Grief Re­cov­ery In­sti­tute, says that longer poli­cies of leave are needed. “You can’t park your grief at the of­fice door and then pick it up again at five ... when your heart is bro­ken, your head doesn’t work right.”

Face­book COO Sh­eryl Sand­burg, after suf­fer­ing the sud­den loss of her hus­band, has worked to put a spot­light on the in­ad­e­quate be­reave­ment leave poli­cies in the U.S. Face­book now al­lows for 20 days of leave. That is a rare com­pany.

In Nova Sco­tia, un­der the Labour Stan­dards Code, be­reave­ment leave al­lows only up to five con­sec­u­tive un­paid days.

To un­der­stand the enor­mous amount of en­ergy it takes to func­tion after a sud­den loss of a loved one, you must ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence it. No won­der the most preva­lent re­ac­tion is, “I can only imag­ine.” Which truly is not that help­ful or sup­port­ive.

Take your cues from your co-work­ers and ask if they need sup­port with tasks. Give them time, pa­tience and as much com­pas­sion as you can.

Plat­i­tudes like, “ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son,” “time heals all wounds” and say­ing that you un­der­stand or giv­ing time­lines or stages, do not help very much and can ac­tu­ally cause more grief.

The loss of a loved one is likely the great­est pain and up­set a per­son can go through. It takes far longer than our so­ci­ety wants to ac­knowl­edge, to ab­sorb and in­te­grate the changes that the death of a dearly loved one will bring to the lives of those left be­hind.

It can take years, ac­tu­ally — and some­times a life­time. A per­son is never the same after a great loss.

It will be up to your co-worker who suf­fered the loss to gauge whether they need more time off and to work with their em­ployer if they feel the work­load is suf­fer­ing.

What can you do? You can of­fer your con­tin­ued sup­port and un­der­stand­ing. If you are close to your co-worker and knew the per­son they lost, talk to them about their loved one. It is a great gift to know your loved one who died is re­mem­bered and loved.

Hi­lary Scott is a Cer­ti­fied Grief Re­cov­ery Spe­cial­ist® and a Cer­ti­fied Loss and Grief Sup­port®. Con­tact her on­line at Heal­ing the Loss on Face­book or at www.heal­ingth­


Take your cues from your co-work­ers and ask if they need sup­port with tasks. Give them time, pa­tience and as much com­pas­sion as you can.

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