As much as we hope to never experience tragedy, there will eventually come a time when grief and depression enter the workplace. While most companies have a policy for bereavement leave, the time allowed off may be as brief as three days, which is simply not long enough to work through the grieving process. When tragedy strikes, it is important that management takes steps to ease the transition back into the workplace.
Grief in the workplace can take on many forms. While most people immediately think of the death of a loved one, depression can come about from the loss of pets, the loss of a pregnancy, the ending of a relationship, or other traumatic life events. Regardless of the cause, grief is a powerful and overwhelming emotion that needs to be acknowledged and appropriately handled.
When an employee calls in to request time off to grieve, management should be diligent in respecting their privacy. This includes allowing the employee to decide whether or not their coworkers are informed of the nature of their absence. If the grieving employee desires privacy, management should simply say that they are out sick or taking a personal day. If the employee does want coworkers informed, it is important that managers approach the conversations with respect and sensitivity.
It is of the utmost importance that management address the need to show sensitivity to the grieving process before the grieving employee returns. One critical component is stressing the fact that employees should not view the situation as fodder for gossip. Employees should be encouraged to allow the grieving person to take the lead in establishing boundaries for sharing. The grieving employee should be treated as normally as possible while still being shown that their coworkers are offering support.
It is important for everyone involved to understand that each individual will experience grief differently and on their own timeline. While some may be open to discussing the event, others may prefer silence. While some may experience the deepest grief in the beginning and quickly move towards recovery, other will remain in a state of trauma for longer times. It is vital for management to remain flexible throughout the grieving process and allow the employee to take time to grieve as needed. Some grieving employees may appreciate the opportunity to work remotely to ease the transition back into the workplace.
Another component to consider is the need for sensitivity toward cultural difference in the grieving process. Some cultures approach death as a celebration of the person’s life instead of a time for sadness, while others call for an extended grieving process. It is important that management takes the time to ensure all employees understand the grieving process of the individual’s culture. This can also include the differences in religious views or respecting a lack of religious association.
While the employee works towards reintegrating into normal life, it is important that they feel a sense of camaraderie and support from their peers. By refraining from assigning stressful and time consuming projects and allowing grieving employees to work at their own pace, managers can serve as a life preserver in the ocean of grief.