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Loss, Grief & Healing in the Workplace

Loss is a normal part of life and when there is loss we grieve. We grieve when our loved ones die. We also grieve other losses: illness, divorce, family discord, financial difficulties and the many disappointments that touch our lives.

In a large organization with many employees, grief is not an exception but the norm. People who are grieving have a reduced ability to concentrate in the days, weeks and months after a death or major loss. Powerful emotions well up repeatedly, overtaking the mind’s capacity to think clearly and logically making it hard to complete tasks.

Consider these wider implications:

  • Employees who can’t concentrate tend to make bad decisions.
  • Mourners in supervisory positions impact everyone they supervise.
  • Unsafe work behaviours may be the most visible and thus measurable result of mourners decreased capacity to concentrate.
  • Of the ten leading causes of workplace injuries resulting in workers missing five or more days of work, seven are the direct result of a reduced ability to concentrate. Fully 50% of blue collar workers affected by a death reported a higher incidence of injury in the days and weeks after the death.

Presenteeism” - employees at work but unable to function to capacity - costs US companies more than $150 billion a year, much more than “absenteeism” at $30 billion a year.

The grieving employee at work is struggling valiantly to do his job as expected, but his body, mind and spirit keep pushing his normal and necessary grief to the surface. So he’s there but he’s not there. The question is how can we help?

The first step in creating a compassionate work environment is to acknowledge that grief is an issue. The next is to put practices in place that will support employees when difficult times arise for them.

A growing body of research shows when organizations put people first, their performance on almost all indicators is better. If employees are cared for when they're vulnerable, it makes it possible for them to move on more quickly and become productive again.

Research has been done to trace the forms of compassion at work and to map its consequences. The most common forms of compassion at work include providing emotional support, allowing for flexibility with work time, and offering material support that is both helpful and symbolic of concern – flowers, cards, and meals, to name a few.

The experience of compassion changes the way people think about themselves and the way they see their coworkers - compassion builds bonds between people. Experiencing compassion at work can also change the way people see the entire organization as a more caring place. It heightens positive emotions, supports employee engagement and inspires organizational commitment.

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