By Alexis Paskalides, MSW, LCSW
Loss is an inevitable part of life and grief is a natural part of the healing process. Despite this, grief often feels foreign or out of place. Even when the death of a loved one is expected, people may not be prepared for the intensity and duration of emotions that follow or how swiftly their moods may change.
What should we say to a colleague who is grieving? What do employers need to understand about workers dealing with grief? How does dealing with loss manifest itself in the workplace?
Employers should know that grief comes in all shapes, forms and sizes and each person deals with grief differently. Additionally, there are many different phases of grief, with some phases lasting longer than others and some phases repeated.
It’s also important to note that grief can happen even without loss of life. Grief can occur from losing a relationship such as a friend, family member, pet or romantic partner. Major life changes can also evoke feelings of loss, like moving, changing jobs, losing a job or no longer doing something once considered important.
Whether your company’s bereavement leave is three days or three weeks, know that a grieving employee may take a much longer time to heal and return to their optimum performance. Sometimes, grief does not even manifest completely until weeks or months after the loss occurred.
When dealing with loss, employees may experience a range of symptoms and emotions. An individual suffering a loss may feel denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, yearning, anger, humiliation, despair and guilt. They may also feel completely numb.
Physical symptoms will sometimes accompany grief, including upset stomach, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances and loss of energy or motivation. These symptoms can result in employees coming in late to work, leaving early or missing work altogether.
The best way to help grieving employees is by pointing them towards the emotional support resources available, like their Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It is also appropriate to express care and concern with statements like:
- I’m glad you are back, and we’re here for you.
- I’m sorry for your loss.
- I’m in the lobby if you want to talk.
- I will be here for the next hour whether you come down or not.
- How are you today?
Avoid minimizing their loss with statements like:
- You’re going to be fine.
- You’re still young, so you can still…
- He/She is in a better place.
- Everything happens for a reason
- Time heals everything.
Finally, if you are interested in offering assistance, come up with a specific way to help, like bringing a meal over or offering to watch the kids rather than asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” That way you are not putting the burden on the grieving person to ask for assistance.
Grieving is a painful, but normal part of life. Being sensitive to an employee’s needs and communicating your support can play an important role in the healing process.
Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.