Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grief in the Workplace

Returning to work after the death of a child can be difficult for both the employee and the employer. It is estimated that $37.5 billion in lost productivity can be attributed to the death of a loved one. No matter where the grieving individual is located on the organizational chart, any business will suffer from the loss of productive work time, mistakes on the job, and the disillusionment of other employees who witness the struggle. Staff turnover means costly recruitment and training.

The grief following the death of a child is intense, long-lasting and complex. This poses unique challenges for the one grieving and for the employer.


Besides the obvious that work is the last thing on your mind during this time, you are probably dreading facing your co-workers. You may have difficulty making work decisions, be frustrated, depressed, irritable, and disinterested in work related details. You are probably worried about starting to cry in front of the work force. The sensitivity of people within the work environment has a profound effect on the recovery process.

There are some steps you can take to ease the transition back to work. The office should be called and told what happened. Funeral arrangements can also be relayed for those close to you who may want to attend. Don’t feel you must tell every detail about the circumstances of the death.

Ask for some time off or perhaps you might ask to return for only part days at the beginning of your grief journey. You may also need help with certain projects at work; don’t forget to show your appreciation for that help. Make sure you know the policies on bereavement leave and ask for whatever time you think you need

You may also want to request a grief counselor to meet with the other employees and answer any questions they may have about how they can help or what to expect. That specialist can also teach other employees a little about the grief process so they are familiar with what to do when you are having a bad day.

More than anything, bereaved parents want to talk about their child, whether it be at home, at a meeting or in their workplace. You may want to talk about your child at work, but don’t overdo it. Other employees should be aware that you probably need to talk in order to heal. Mention the child’s name so others will know it is okay for them to talk about the child also.

Above all else, keep the lines of communication open so your employer will know how to deal with the situation also.


Many responsible employers are asking what they can do. Employers should relate funeral arrangements to everyone and even try to attend if possible to show support. It is also important to know the different cultural customs that some employees may practice.

They need to be interested and listen to their employee so that communication is not a problem. Work with the employee, give more time if needed to complete a task or adjust work hours for him. Be aware there is no precise time table for recovery. By showing support and caring, the employer is making the bereaved parent feel more at ease when it is time to come back to the workplace. Showing compassion is key here.

The best response when an employee comes back to work is just to say, “I’m so sorry.” Bereaved parents don’t want to hear any platitudes such as “God only takes the good ones” or “You can have more children.”

Don’t be afraid to mention support groups that may help the bereaved. There are many out there and it depends on the way the child died as to which one they might want to attend. Don’t assume the bereaved parent knows all about them. Check them out yourself by going to the Compassionate Friends site or Hospice site. They would be more than happy to direct you to the right source.

Finally, the employer should make sure that all employees get some type of grief awareness counseling so they know what they are up against when a bereaved parent returns to work.

If you are a bereaved parent and you believe your workplace could use some assistance, don’t be afraid to offer your own advice or see to it that someone else does. There are organizations and professionals out there that can create an environment where the workplace is part of the healing grief process.

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