Loss is a part of life.
Eventually, we all experience the death of a loved one and the time of grieving that follows. Managing grief is particularly challenging in these pandemic times. As Americans mourn the loss of more than 500,000 lives to the coronavirus in just one year, another pandemic wave is cresting — one of national grief.
In a time of loss, personal and collective, returning to work can be particularly challenging. We struggle to navigate our emotions yet strive to still be our best on the job.
“Our response to managing grief is often to suppress, rather than express, our emotional pain,” says Stephen Chee, director of employee wellness at Lifetime Wellness, a leading provider of whole-person wellness programs. “We treat grieving as our personal burden to bear, putting pressure on ourselves to ‘get over’ our losses, mostly in private.
“Social isolation during the pandemic has made mourning even more a solitary experience. The need is acute to reach out to others who can help us. We also need to be gentle with ourselves, understanding that grief is a process that affects every part of us — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Healing takes time.”
Guideposts for employers in offering support to grieving employees
Grief-stricken employees need acknowledgment and understanding when they’re back on the job, as they will likely be preoccupied and may not be as productive.
Employers can support grieving employees, Chee says, through three key steps:
- Be present. Ask bereaved employees what they want and need. How can the company help them? How would they like their colleagues to respond? What would be the optimum time-off schedule so the return to work is not too overwhelming? How can their work be redistributed while they’re away?
- Honor the process. Acknowledge that grieving takes energy, and even the most minimal of effort can exhaust. Recognize that few people grieve in the same way, in the same timeframe. Give permission for employees to express grief beyond the first weeks after a loss. Encourage them to start back slowly by setting up smaller tasks for completion and ramping back up gradually.
- Create a compassionate environment. Make compassion your creed. Reinforce that your workplace is a place to be heard and to feel safe emotionally. Consider creating an employee support group to offer a comfortable forum for connection and outward expression of the pain grieving employees may feel within.
Guideposts for employees in coping with and managing grief
If you’ve lost a loved one, take it slowly when you’re back on the job. Grieving employees can be “kind to their minds,” Chee says, by following these steps:
- Give yourself the gift of time. When we lose a loved one, we tend to overestimate our readiness to return to our day-to-day lives after the memorial service has ended. Consider taking more time off than you think you’ll need to grieve with family and friends.
- Practice self-care. Make room for comforting self-care activities, such as going for a walk, getting a massage, or taking a soothing bath when the day’s work is done. Be mindful of eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Explore your feelings through writing, scrapbooking memories, or contributing to a project or cause that was near and dear to the one you lost.
- Cultivate your support network. Think of at least three people in whom you can confide, in and out of the workplace. Ask them to be part of your support team — and reach out regularly for their advice. Grieving is a process that can take a long time. But with a solid support system, you don’t have to go it alone.
‘It’s human nature to try to ward off sadness, but it doesn’t work that way with managing grief,” Chee says. “Grief is something we need to move through in our own time, in our own way, and with those who care about us. Validating and supporting grieving employees is not only the compassionate choice. It’s an investment in creating an exceptional organization – one that deeply cares for, and brings out the best in, its people.”
Lifetime Wellness offers a continuum of solutions and employee wellness programs that help organizations become, or strengthen their status as, an employer of choice. These solutions holistically address employee needs and help employers to create a great place to work. Click Here to Learn More.