A Holistic Guide to Helping Our Teams Manage Grief at Work
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Grief is a universal human experience, albeit a painful one. If you’re currently going through a recent loss, we see your pain, and would first like to extend our deepest condolences.
Coping with the death of a loved one is never easy. Dips in well-being and performance are bound to happen - which is evident in the collective grief we’re facing throughout the recent pandemics, natural disasters, and wars (1).
That’s why, with the surge in intense bereavement, we urge individuals and organizations to acknowledge and help each other manage grief as it arises. Only then can we help ourselves and our teams cope with loss, find peace, and return to work safely.
Understanding The Stages of Grief
Based on psychiatrist Kübler-Ross observations working with the terminally ill, the grieving process typically runs through these five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.
While these five stages help us conceptualize grief, we all know that it can be a very personal process. It’s normal to cycle between stages, and experience bouts of sadness even years after we think we’ve “moved on”.
Identifying these emotions and concerns is crucial. And here are some other common signs of grief to look out for to better support ourselves, or offer our co-workers support:
Lack of or no energy
Isolation and loneliness
Concerns about finances & other family members
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Guiding Ourselves and Our Teams Through Grief
Whether it's breaking the news or consoling a friend, conversations about death at work isn’t easy. It can sometimes feel awkward. Luckily, we can learn how to handle these instances with more grace. But here’s the catch: everyone needs to be in it together.
We need to work through grief on an individual, team, and organizational level. Only then can we create psychologically safer environments for people to work, while working through the pain.
A. Helping myself
1) Acknowledge your feelings
Forgive yourself for not performing “as you normally would”. Grief shatters our sense of normalcy. And transitioning back to work after a short bereavement leave is indeed overwhelming.
2) Inform your team
It’s tough news. But informing both your supervisor and your team helps them better understand your situation, provide you with support, and to clear any confusion about your work performance. You may accomplish this through your work’s comms channels, or get the help of your manager to inform your colleagues.
3) Find your grieving corner
If possible, find somewhere in the office to have a quiet moment when grief suddenly taps you on the shoulder. This could be an empty meeting room, restrooms, stairwell, or even a nearby park. It’s tough to anticipate what might trigger your grief once you return to work. Hence, it helps to have a space where you allow yourself to feel sad and recollect.
B. Helping a colleague
1) Extend help with work
With your supervisor’s consent, organize and share their work while they’re on leave. Even after they return to work, offer help to meet a deadline, clean up after a shift, or make calls. You can encourage others on the team to do the same.
2) Organize a support team
Gather other colleagues to provide home support and provide help on specific tasks. If appropriate, offer to send meals, provide child care, or make phone calls that are hard for them.
3) Check-in regularly
Send them an email, card, or text letting them know you’re there for them. Checking in regularly is not about “tracking their progress”, but more about letting them know they don’t always have to deal with tough emotions alone.
C. Helping employees
1) Provide sufficient time-off
Generous bereavement leaves help to assure an employee’s wellbeing, long-term commitment and productivity. For instance, Facebook has increased its bereavement leave policy to up to 20 days for the loss of an immediate family member. Companies might also implement leave-sharing schemes that allow other employees to donate vacation time to those in need.
2) Offer financial and emotional aid
Organizations can set up an employee assistance fund, where coworkers make contributions that are matched by the company. This helps workers cover funerals or other expenses. Funding for short-term counseling also helps support them through the early stages of grief.
3) Allow flexible work arrangements
Managers can allow remote working or flexible work hours, along with regular check-ins to discuss how the employee is coping and whether further accommodation is needed.
Between keeping a job and mourning, grief at work can be exhausting. Your employee’s, co-worker’s, or your own return to work doesn’t mean the grieving process is done. So, let us all do our part in reshaping conversations around grief at work. Ultimately, it’s about creating more compassionate environments where people can find solace amidst the pain.
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