Dealing with grief and loss in the workplace starts with you.
This blog will help work managers and work colleagues to support people who are returning to work after the OVID 19 lockdown.
Understanding the impact of COVID 19 and grief is particularly important as many people who are returning to work will be suffering from traumatic grief. This is because the loss was often unexpected, there was an inability to visit the dying person, to say goodbye or attend a funeral.
Added to this, some people will be suffering from secondary trauma as they may have been nursing people or supporting someone who is very traumatised.
A safe and supportive work environment matters to the people who are grieving and to those who are supporting others who might be grieving. It’s about valuing people whoever they are.
Many employees will be eager to get back to work to get on with their lives or distract themselves away fro the pain of grief.
The first step to helping them is to understand grief and loss.
What is grief?
Grief is a normal reaction to loss. Grief is the psychological part of loss. So its about emotions and how people feel after a loss.
Common reactions to grief
Common reactions relate to emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural responses.
People who are grieving can have many emotions, most are negative but sometimes a more positive emotion, like relief can be expressed.
The most common emotions often start with denial but can go on to anger, feeling depressed, confused, sadness, pain and a yearning feeling. Lots of people feel stressed or anxious and that can increase with returning to work. See 5 Reasons why you feel anxious about going back to work. They might also worry about things more and struggle to make the best decisions about things.
There are many more feelings that someone may feel. As we are in an unusual situation with the pandemic there might be feelings of blame, can’t cope, hopelessness and fear. Occasionally some people feel that they don’t want to continue in life without the person that they have lost. If anyone expresses suicidal thoughts they need professional help from a doctor or counsellor.
Everyone is different so the length of time that someone grieves and the intensity of these feelings can change.
Oscillation of feelings is common. So one day you might feel that the bereaved person is okay then the next day they seem upset again. As time goes on the days of grief should get less but there is no timetable. Everyone grieves in their own way. However, it can take, weeks, months or years for some people to go through the bereavement process. When people continue to grieve a long time its called complicated grief.
Physical impact of grief and loss
The emotions can also trigger negative thoughts and impact physical health and wellbeing. For example, some people struggle to sleep well, some people have no appetite and others develop digestive problems.
What is bereavement?
Bereavement is the process of loss. Sometimes it can be described as waves of emotions. Bereavement sometimes gets described in stages. Although there are clear stages this process is not linear and some people don’t go through every stage. It’s not a process of forgetting the lost person either. The modern way of looking at bereavement is to see it as a continuing bond because we will always have memories of the person who died.
What is mourning?
Mourning is a word to describe the rituals that someone demonstrates. Mourning is different in different cultures, countries and different religions. Examples of mourning rituals can be wearing black, visiting a grave, or having a Wake. At work staff and colleagues should respect the different mourning practices.
When someone dies the bereaved person will experience the loss of a relationship. That seems obvious but what isn’t so obvious is that there can also be a loss of position in the family, a loss of power, a loss of ability to do certain things, a loss of control, and a loss of hope.
Some people also lose that sense of security, safety and personal wellbeing. Others might lose a feeling of purpose in life. Due to struggling to understand the death some people might struggle with their religion or spirituality.
Challenges in the workplace
We all want to help but it can be difficult. On one hand, the employer needs to run the business, and make money. On the other hand, there is a responsibility and often a sense of duty to care for and support staff as staff are often the most valuable asset in a business.
What also needs to be taken into consideration is that after COVID 19 and the lockdown, the employer has additional expenses and concerns.
As colleagues, we also want to support the bereaved person. But what do you say? How can a colleague be best supported by peers?
Important considerations by the employer to help bereavement in the workplace
- Take grief and loss seriously
- Adhere to Health and Safety at work. Use risk assessment.
- Have policies and procedures for dealing with bereavement at work
- Offer training for staff on ways to manage grief in the workplace
- Develop a supportive culture
- Consider providing health and wellbeing at work to encourage staff to practice self-care
- Respect differences including other cultures and religious practices
- Signpost to other support E.g. Samaritans
What are the costs of not doing anything
- Increased staff sickness
- Negative impact on quality and quantity of work
- Health and safety issues
- Staff loss and the cost of re-employing someone
What can the employer and colleagues say and do to help?
- Acknowledge that the person is grieving.
- Check-in regularly. Ask the bereaved person how they are.
- Observe if they are struggling with anything and offer help
- Understand if they behave in a way that is not normal for them
- Consider different working patterns or time off
- Offer professional help. E.g. Counselling
- Listen and communicate more
Helping people who are bereaved in the workplace is an ethical and social responsibility so if this blog has raised any questions find out more so you can understand and help a bereaved person better.