Employers grossly underestimate the impact of grief in the workplace. Even this is an understatement. You rarely hear the word grief used when describing loss of productivity or being a cost to a company. The type of words you do hear to describe loss of productivity could be depression, stress, injuries or some kind of substance abuse.
The fact that grief remains a hidden issue only compounds the problem and prevents possible solutions. Solutions could help employees, foster increased employee loyalty and reduce the potential loss of productivity for employers. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!!
As with the rest of our culture, we expect people to “get on with life”, get “closure”, “buck up” and many more clichés we regularly hear. The lack of understanding in our culture, which includes the workplace makes this a serious issue to employers.
The Grief Recovery Institute in 2003 estimated the lost productivity in the USA due to the death of a loved one would be $37.5 billion dollars. The other losses such as divorce, family crisis, pet loss, financial loss to name a few totaled a yearly total of $75 billion dollars. Employers – wake up!!!
Companies do not have to spend a lot of money to increase awareness and understanding of grief in their workplaces. Just doing this would start the process of improving a corporate culture for those returning to the workplace after a death of a loved one.
There are many ways that can cost businesses money. These include absenteeism, mistakes being made, lack of concentration, employees leaving employment, workplace injuries, missed deadlines and irritability – to name a few. These are not surprising as the effects of grief are felt physically, emotionally, spiritually and cognitively.
What is obvious about the different ways productivity is affected is that it affects everyone – no one is immune to these reactions. The effects of grief can equally affect a CEO making decisions concerning thousands of dollars to a construction worker on a site. Both situations can have a negative effect to the bottom line of a business.
Organizations need to start to address this issue. It should start with Human Resources Managers. Many in this position also find addressing grief a difficult thing to do. The need for information on grief is required for all levels of staff from the front line to the CEO. There is a need for a formal process to disseminate information to other staff when an employee experiences a death in their family. This would ensure all staff receives the same information at the same time.
There are many types of activities that will provide comfort to those grieving. Allowing some staff to attend the funeral is one gesture that will mean a lot to the bereaved. If there is an Employee Assistance Program available to staff, the use of this should be encouraged. Supervisors need to have regular contact with staff for many weeks and months after the death. The inclusion of staff the bereaved staff member works with is essential to allow a productive and positive re-entry into the workplace after a death.
People who are grieving need to talk and hopefully some extra “chatting” will be overlooked when they come back to the workplace. It is positive when people return to work for many reasons. There is a much more positive affect achieved when people return to a workplace that understands this difficult time.
A mistake both supervisors and staff make is to think that these accommodations may have to continue for quite some time at some level. The death of a significant person in your life affects you for a long time. An employee not performing well six months after the death could absolutely still be feeling the effects of the death. Supervisors often do not connect these dots and assume there has been a change in work performance. A sad employee can often be interpreted as a bad employee.
For many reasons stated in this article and the millions of Baby Boomers that will soon (if not already) feel the effect of their parents’ death, companies need to make changes to their corporate culture that will help their employees and minimize the loss of productivity they most definitely will feel.
Jane Galbraith, BScN, R.N., is the author of “Baby Boomers Face Grief – Survival andRecovery”.
She is available for presentations to organizations to manage employee grief and work with companies to improve their processes.
Her book is available through the author directly atjane.galbraith.me.com and her website www.boomergrief.com or www.amazon.ca.
The book is also available in ebook format at most of the major ebook stores such as Kobo, iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles.
© 2008 Jane Galbraith