Grief in the Workplace

“I have been trying to make the best of grief and am just beginning to learn to allow it to make the best of me.”                                                                   ~Barbara Lazear Ascher

Grief can make the best of an individual and grief can make the best of a business if it is allowed.  Fortunately, some employers know this, and many more can learn.

I recently spoke to a couple whose first baby died in utero.  As expected, this couple was distraught.  On top of the pain of their daughter’s death and the subsequent medical procedures, the husband also experienced a lack of support from his employer when he asked for time off.  He decided in that moment, he would never return to that job.  This man knew he needed to grieve and knew he needed support to do so.    

Grief is a process, a normal reaction to loss - loss of a loved one, a marriage, a job, etc.   Although a universal experience, grief is as unique as a fingerprint.  No timetable for grief exists and it isn’t a linear process.   Grief models abound but the stages aren’t orderly or predictable.  It is an individual experience that occurs in a social context.  Some of the common feelings of grief include shock and denial, disorganization, fear, anger, guilt and regret, sadness and depression.

Grief affects all aspects of a person’s life - emotional, mental, physical and spiritual.  A grieving individual means a grieving worker.  In addition to bringing grief to work, grief can be caused by death or loss as a part of work and when significant organizational changes occur.   According to the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation Inc., grief costs employers more than $75 billion per year.  This same study also found that 75% of grievers experienced decreased concentration past the allowed leave and 90% of grieving employees in physical jobs reported a higher incidence of injuries due to decreased concentration.  Grief can affect morale, productivity and absenteeism. 

Fortunately, businesses have an opportunity to allow grief within their organizations and positively contribute to their workplace well-being.  This is done by supporting grieving workers and creating a positive atmosphere for the bereaved as well as the rest of the workforce.    

According to Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., grievers can heal when the six needs of mourning are met:

  • Accept the reality of the death
  • Let yourself feel the pain of the loss.
  • Remember the person who died.
  • Develop a new self-identity.
  • Search for meaning.
  • Let others help you –now and always.

The workplace can be one of the places where employees can meet these needs by offering three basic types of support. 

One, be present.  Individuals dealing with loss need others to simply be present for them.  The employer can send the message: we care about you as a person grieving a loss. This means not avoiding the griever.  Unfortunately, in our culture, our first reaction is often to avoid the painful situation for fear of not being capable of dealing with the emotions involved and/or for fear of not knowing what to say or do. 

At the other end of the continuum, being present means not trivializing the situation.  Platitudes such as “everything will be okay” are not helpful when the griever feels like nothing is okay. 

Two, listen.  Grievers need to tell their stories, over and over again.  Listen in a non-judgmental way.  Don’t try to take away the pain and don’t try to hurry the process.  Grief shared is grief reduced.  Employees who feel they have to suppress their emotions during the work day may find taking a sick day easier to do.    

And three, be compassionate.  Understand that grieving takes time and energy, so help the griever with their work.  Share the workload, offer work that will not cause frustration, enable the griever to accomplish a new task each day and most importantly, be patient and understanding. 

It is important for employers to train their staff about grief, about ways to help affected employees and about where to find additional help.  A new website,, provides information about grief resources in the Centre Region.

Grief can be very painful, but allowing it can make the best of an individual and an organization.  Individuals who’ve journeyed through their grief will often find reconciliation and positive transformation.  Businesses that address grief, will often find appreciative and loyal employees and as a result a decrease in the workplace costs of grief.

Remember the father who lost his daughter?  He allowed his grief, attended a support group and found a new employer who allowed him to speak of his loss.  He appreciates life more now than before.           

~ Jackie Naginey Hook, Spiritual Director,Celebrant and End-of-Life Doula

To learn more about  Grieving through our Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program, contact Jackie Naginey Hook for a phone consultation and please join our Facebook page to learn more about the grief process.

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