Grief in the Workplace

Most people will tell you they rarely think about death.  However, on an unconscious level our fear of it, impacts the decisions we make every day. To deny the reality of the finite nature of our human existence, can lead us to being ill-equipped to deal with death.  Organizations tend to be mostly concerned with profitability and growth and can often let being human drop to the bottom of their priorities. Our corporate Human Resources departments seem sometimes, to not be all that human anymore.  The larger a corporation gets, the more policy there seems to be for dealing with what are considered to be health and wellness issues for employees. Grief tends to be neglected in much of the HR resource materials and management is often not trained sufficiently, on how to deal with it.

Mental Health issues on the other hand are getting a lot of attention, a basic google search for Mental Health in the Workplace will get you 40 times more hits than Grief in the Workplace. It would seem that companies are very concerned about workplace health and wellness.  We all know that what happens in the workplace doesn’t stay in the workplace.  It finds its way into our personal lives and impacts our families.  It makes us sick and impacts us back at the office. Well folks, what happens in our personal lives also finds its way into the workplace, and sometimes it is traumatic.  And often we don’t have any better idea, than you, with how to handle it.  However, let’s stop calling grief a mental illness.  While grief can involve elements of depression, in the sense of low mood, it is very different.

Grief can make you acutely aware of what the loss of connection, can do to you.  When given the time to honor that fully, grief can become something that transforms you.  You don’t get over or forget your loss, you find resources to get through it and from this emerges a new person.  Many organizations are missing out on that transformation; where we become stronger and better prepared for the challenges yet to be seen.  Our bounce back gets stronger and we appreciate the world around us in a different way.

Being labeled depressed is insulting and not helpful.  Saying  things like “we just want you to get back to normal” is absurd.  Back, is not somewhere you can go, when someone dies.

I’m not suggesting dealing with grief has a one size fits all approach.  What I am suggesting however is, if you have a department that deals with providing support to a grieving employee, make sure you resource training on responding to trauma and death,  and what helps vs hinders the journey your employee is on.

3 thoughts on “Grief in the Workplace

  1. I love your post, thank you. I took about 4 months off work to grieve the death of my father. It was traumatic and I can’t even begin to express the deep sense of loss and sadness I felt. Grief changes who you are and your beliefs and that can be extremely hard and isolating. When I returned to work, I found lots of people just avoided me as they did not know what to say to me about it. All I wanted was a recognition of what I had gone through, a simple ” sorry”. Many people who have gone through it, know exactly what to say and do (some don’t) but I think you are right – workplaces should recognise that grief isn’t the same as depression. It may manifest that way but more support needs to be given in talking to people who are grieving.

    1. My condolences. Losing a father is something I understand all to well, my dad died 12 years ago and I still cry. The person dies, not the relationship we have with them and that is a hard thing to explain unless you have experienced it. I experienced that same avoidance when my husband died in 2017. People just wanted the old me back at work, taking charge and leading growth in the corporation. What they did not see were the panic attacks at night, and the effort it took to get out of bed in the morning. Just getting in to the office, was a huge accomplishment some days; and don’t get me started on the conflict that arouse in me daily, as we worked for the same company.

      I will not tell you to be strong, or that things happen for a reason. I will not tell you that time heals all things. I will not tell you he is in a better place – what place could be better than here with you. If I were there, I would listen to your stories about what a he meant to you, let you ramble about your good and bad memories. I would let you help me understand make your grief so strong. And if you wanted to just sit in silence and cry, I would sit with you and hold your hand. Grief is simply, a matter of the heart, to be felt. Not sure who said it but ” There is no heart more whole than a broken one”

      1. That’s exactly what you want from somebody when you are grieving, just space to be able to express your grief as it is. It’s the hardest thing I have ever been through but I do agree with you, it makes you stronger and if you allow it to be expressed wholly, grief can really give you insight and understanding about what it is to be human and who you are now. Thank you so much, I am sorry for your loss too but I can see that you too have tried to learn from it. Lots of love x

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