Grief in the workplace can put a strain on the person who has suffered the loss and that person’s coworkers and managers. Here are some coping tips.
Losing a loved one is never easy. And it generates feelings that can’t be easily bottled up for the workday. Yet, business must continue, so dealing with grief in the workplace is an important issue. Many employees—and their coworkers, managers, and HR departments—deal with it on a regular basis.
Depending on their employer, grieving employees might have the option to take bereavement leave. But many workers must continue their daily jobs through the ever present grief and loss. In addition, coworkers might feel the need to support grieving employees. It’s a difficult situation for everyone. Follow along as we give tips for dealing with grief in the workplace. First, we’ll look at suggestions for managers to work with employees who have suffered a loss. Then we will offer ideas for grieving employees and their coworkers.
Managing a grieving employee
It’s hard enough to find the right words to support employees dealing with the significant loss of a loved one. But when extenuating events affect your employees, it takes more than words to be a good manager.
Work isn’t their main focus right now
When someone loses a friend or family member, work takes a back seat. Offer support to a grieving employee to the best of your abilities. As a leader, you might be focused on profit margins, KPIs, and deadlines. But for workers experiencing grief, employee engagement goes out the window. Thinking of the big picture and long-term, managers should focus on understanding grief and adapting the workday to it. If a task needs additional time, give a bereaved person an extra day or 2 to complete it. If deadlines can’t be missed, assign coworkers to help out. Let grieving individuals know you understand, and that you’re trying to lighten the load. They’ll remember your helpful support — or lack of it — later. And the rest of your workforce is taking note of how you treat this situation.
Engage in open communication
Talk about it. Ask employees what you can do to help and how the company can best support them. They may be fearing job loss if grief is impacting their work performance. They may just need someone to talk to. If your company has (or refers people to) a grief specialist, provide that information. If you’ve personally lost someone close, share your own loss and empathize in your own way. If they don’t respond, or seem distant, don’t push it. Give them time to heal.
Offer bereavement leave
If your company supports paid time off for those experiencing grief, offer it to employees. Many workers may be reluctant to ask for leave during the grieving process. Offering this support gives employees some emotional space and time for mental health improvement.
Speak with your other employees
Ask them to support the one who’s grieving. Instruct employees to bring any task or performance problems to you, and not confront grieving coworkers directly. It’s a difficult time. Complaints from coworkers might be misconstrued as personal attacks — so, handle them yourself, discreetly and gently.
If you’re working while grieving
Any emotions you’re feeling are part of the grieving experience. Grief has many facets, and manifests itself in many ways. Some or all of these tips may help you:
- Speak with employers or managers about your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for bereavement leave, extra help or extra time to complete tasks. Acknowledge that your manager may not be comfortable discussing your grief. It doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of compassion. They may merely feel awkward discussing deeply personal matters, as many people are.
- If a coworker has passed, recognize that others at work may not have been as close as you were. Or there may be some even more emotionally wounded than you’ve been. Respect everyone’s grieving experience as you’d have them respect yours.
- Grief is a personal thing—but it’s not limited to only you or a specific coworker. Everyone deals with grief-related losses differently. For some, the subject might be too painful for work discussions. Others may long to speak about it. Be flexible and understanding when talking with others—whether about their grief or yours.
- If a coworker is suffering and runs short on leave, could you donate vacation time to them? Many companies allow it. If a group of coworkers each donate some leave, even a few hours or one day each, it adds up. The extra time off may be a welcome distraction and just what’s needed. If it’s you needing time off, and you’re short on leave, let it be known you’d appreciate any donated time. Some businesses will send out a company-wide request on your behalf.
- When working during grieving, take more breaks. Squeeze in a few minutes for a walk, stand outside in the sunshine, grab a snack in the break room. Or you might need some time alone to collect your thoughts—find a less populated spot for quiet reflection. If you have 10 or 15 minutes, sit in your car and work in a power nap. Listen to some relaxing music.
- Grief recovery is cyclic. After a week or 2, you (or others) may feel fine and seem to be back to normal. But it’s not uncommon for grief to creep back in. Don’t let it get you down, just recognize it’s part of the process. Be patient. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat well. Many find a good workout session takes their mind off stressful things and leaves them feeling better. Staying healthy helps you heal faster—both physically and mentally.
There’s no federally mandated law when it comes to bereavement leave, so companies are left to determine their own policies about who qualifies as a “close relative” and how much time away from work is appropriate for grieving employees. Grief is a highly personal thing, but an organization can benefit from having policies in place to deal with these difficult situations.
For more helpful articles on HR and business management, visit the Workest page at https://www.zenefits.com/workest/.