Losing a family member, coworker, or close friend is not something we plan or look forward to. The event simply places itself on our calendar and we can’t change it, postpone it, or delete it. We are forced to acknowledge and accept it. But then what?
Although we are told that the emotions of loss are natural and normal, we can’t seem to grasp or comprehend the feelings of shock, denial, anger, numbness, guilt, regret… just to name a few. We go through the “task” motions of planning and attending funeral/memorial services while still in the state of disbelief. Others, although meaning well and trying to help, say all the wrong things, such as “I understand how you feel.” No, you can’t possibly really understand how another person feels as death and response to loss is different for each person.
Then, usually a few days later when family and friends have returned to their “normal” lives, the reality of the death sets in. The telephone rings cease, the doorbell stops ringing, the house is quiet, and the bed is empty. To make matters worse, it is time to return to work.
Most employers offer a bereavement policy that affords employees paid time off for the death of immediate family members. What happens after that time and you must return to work? How do others respond to you? What is the correct protocol to masking your feelings as you pretend to “get back into the swing of things” or conquer the pile on your desk that was left while you were away? What feels better – the coworkers who stop by to offer sympathy or the ones who avoid you because they don’t know what to say and fear upsetting you?
Everyone in the workplace is affected, directly or indirectly, when a death occurs. The problem arises when we don’t know what to do or how to respond to this interruption in our daily workflow routine. What is the price paid for loss of focus, concentration, and productivity during a loss? How do you handle the depression, fear, crying, despair, and sadness while at the same time acknowledging that the business at hand must continue? Clients must be satisfied, sales must be kept at or above quota, budgets must be met, services must be maintained, appointments must be kept, a safe and productive environment for employees must be maintained… yes, life in the workplace cannot stop.
During this period, your staff must continue to feel supported and valued. Here are a few suggestions to show your concern and support:
• Provide a listing of community grief support groups.
• Check with local funeral homes and/or cemeteries for grief support information.
• Schedule a lunch-time grief support seminar for interested employees.
• Recommend employer-sponsored programs such as Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for counseling/therapy services.
• Offer training workshops for management staff on understanding grief in the workplace.
Remember, there is no standard for the grieving process and no set timetable for one to grieve. Don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance.