Navigating Grief In The Workplace – Compassion, Support And Empowerment
Posted on 7th November 2023 at 16:45
Read below my new article published in Brainz Magazine.
Let’s talk about grief, about how to help a grieving person, about grief in the workplace and how grief educators can help people navigate the often-unacknowledged terrain of grief.
In simplest terms, grief is a reaction to loss. The loss of a loved one through death, but also the end of a marriage or relationship, the end of a career that meant the world to you…
Grief is a natural human response to a loss. It can show itself in many ways. Grief moves in and out of different stages from disbelief and denial to anger and guilt, to finding a source of comfort, to eventually adjusting to the loss as well as possible.
For survivors, the grieving process can take a long time, often many years. The challenge of accepting death and dying as the end stage of life is what the grieving process is all about.
If you love, you will grieve, and nothing is more mysteriously central to becoming fully human.
We do not talk enough about the effect that grief will have on us. Our culture often makes the bereaved feel alone, isolated, broken, and like they should just ‘get over it’. In my own personal and professional lives, I have heard these words far too often. “Life goes on and you will just have to get over it”. If only it was that easy…
Grief can manifest itself in many different ways.
It can be so powerful that all your usual coping mechanisms are useless.
You find yourself physically and emotionally unable to function with any semblance of normality.
Grief is a profound and complex emotion that can manifest in various ways when someone experiences death or loss. It is a universal human experience, but it is also profoundly unique to each individual. Grief does not adhere to a set timeline or follow a prescribed path, making it challenging for both those who are grieving and those who aim to support them, especially in the workplace. In this article, we will explore the delicate journey of grief, understand its multifaceted nature, and provide empowering insights on how to help people who are grieving, especially in a professional setting.
"The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to."
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (pioneer in the field of palliative care, grief, and loss), and David Kessler (international grief specialist)
Grief: A Unique Journey
Grief is an intricate tapestry of emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations. It often entails feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, and even relief. People who have experienced the death or loss of a loved one may find themselves navigating this tumultuous terrain for an extended period. It is crucial to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with grief. Each person's journey is as unique as their fingerprint. For some, the pain may ease with time, while for others, it may remain a constant companion. This uniqueness is what makes the grieving process so intricate.
The six needs of the grieving:
To Have Your Pain Witnessed
To Express Your Feelings
To Release the Burden of Guilt
To Be Free of Old Wounds
To Integrate the Pain and the Love
To Find Meaning in Life After Loss
People grieving need their pain witnessed and they need to be able to express how they feel. They need a safe space where their pain can be acknowledged.
I understand that sometimes we feel awkward around people who have experienced a loss, and we just do not know what to say.
Here is a basic grief relationship survival kit
Start by asking the person in grief – ‘who did you lose? Tell me more about your loved one. What was he/she like?’ Don’t worry if this makes them emotional. This is a very helpful question to start with.
Then ask them – ‘how did it happen? Tell me more about the circumstances around your loved one’s death?’
They often need to talk about what happened again and again and all they need is a safe and non-judgmental space to do so.
Finally, ask them – ‘how do you feel? How you really feel? emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially and materially?’ Grief will impact all those areas in their life and by asking the questions, they will feel that they matter and that their loss and grief matter.
We often assume that people grieving do not want to speak about the one they lost, but they most often do!
Of course, they will most probably cry, but this process will really help them. And if at some point, you are really stuck, well you can also stay quiet and just give them a hug. This will also be of tremendous help as you create that safe space for them to just be.
Remember that a person in grief is not broken and that they do not need to be fixed. They want to be heard, to be able to express their feelings and to matter.
Just being there for them is a first important step. Refrain from giving advice on how to grieve as grief is unique to each and every one of us and there is no timeline in grief.
Things TO SAY to a grieving person
I cannot imagine what you are going through
I am so sorry for your loss
I do not know what to say, I wish I had the right words to comfort you
You, your family and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers
She was so nice to me; one of my favourite memories of her was… (share a happy memory of the person who passed)
Whenever you want to talk, just know I am a phone call away
She was so wonderful; she will be missed by so many people
I am your friend—I am here for you
If you cannot think of anything to say, a hug may be appropriate
Sometimes just be with the person, you do not have to say anything
Things NOT TO SAY to a grieving person
Sentences starting with ‘at least…’
You will get through it, be strong
He brought this on himself, it was his fault
She is in a better place
It has been a while, are you not over her yet?
He lived a long time, at least he did not die young
God must have wanted her there because she was such a good person
You are young. You can always have another child
I know exactly how you feel
I guess it was his time to go
Everything happens for a reason, life goes on
Understanding grief in the workplace
Grief does not end when an employee walks through the office doors. In fact, the workplace can be an environment where grief is particularly challenging to manage. Employees may struggle to concentrate, interact with colleagues, or meet their work responsibilities. To ensure that employees experiencing grief feel valued and supported, employers and colleagues must be proactive in offering assistance. Here are some key strategies to help people who are grieving in the workplace:
Open and honest communication
Encourage employees to share their feelings and concerns with their supervisors and colleagues. Create a culture of openness that allows people to express their grief without fear of judgment.
Flexibility in work schedules
Recognize that people who are grieving may need some flexibility in their work hours or responsibilities. Be accommodating and understanding of their needs.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
Offer access to Employee Assistance Programs, which can provide confidential counselling and support services to help employees cope with grief. Do not be limited to the EAPs and prepare a list of any resources available to help employees with their grieving process. It is all about going above and beyond and showing that we care.
Create a supportive work environment
Foster a workplace culture that acknowledges the importance of emotional well-being. This includes having designated spaces for relaxation and reflection.
Training for managers
Train managers and supervisors in recognizing signs of grief and providing empathetic support to grieving employees. Encourage them to offer flexibility and understanding.
Encourage time off
Allow employees to take paid or unpaid leave as needed. Grief can be a long and ongoing process, and it is important to provide time for individuals to heal.
Memorial and remembrance
Organize events or initiatives that allow colleagues to come together to remember the person who has passed away. This can help in the healing process.
Empowering your colleagues
One of the most significant ways to help people who are grieving is to empower them. By offering support, understanding, and compassion, you can make a profound difference in their lives. Grief can be isolating, but with the right kind of assistance, it can be a transformative journey towards healing. As colleagues, friends, and family members, we must be the pillars of strength for those going through the grieving process.
What is a grief educator?
I am a certified Grief Educator by David Kessler, the international grief specialist.
David Kessler defines a grief educator as per below:
A Certified Grief Educator is committed to providing the highest level of grief support through education, experience, and insights into the often-unacknowledged rocky terrain of grief.
Certified Grief Educators completed a certificate program designed by world-renowned grief expert, David Kessler. They bring his unique methodology, tools, and decades of experience to help people navigate the challenges of grief.
A grief educator UNDERSTANDS...
Grief can be traumatic and transformative. People in grief are not broken, and grief educators do not need to fix them. Grief educators offer people in grief their utmost respect and serve them based on their needs and their unique experience and expression.
Grief educators offer an individualized approach to grief. They know there is no timeline in grief, and they know there is not a cure. But they also realize that as grief educators, they can reflect and guide people towards creating a life that honours their loved ones.
True expertise in grief lies with the griever.
Grief educators are committed to providing a safe space for those in grief.
Grief educators offer a holistic approach to grieving.
Grief educators understand that the responsibility for change lies with the griever. They can inform, reflect, and support others. But their journey is ultimately their own.
How can grief educators help in the workplace?
In the workplace, grief educators can make a huge difference as they can work with Human Resources departments, managers, supervisors and staff members, educating them on the topic of grief and helping them build a toolbox to use when they have team members affected by grief. Grief is an important and sensitive topic and grief educators are here to assist through education, experience, and insights. Grief educators can hold workshops, webinars as well as offer a more individual approach and they will work around the organization’s needs.
Remember, grieving the loss of a loved one is the worst pain someone can endure. Be respectful and polite. Do not discount anyone’s feelings. Even if someone puts on a brave face and looks like he or she is handling it well, do not assume that person is. Show that you care. Actions often speak louder than words. Offer to take them to the grocery store, watch the children for an afternoon, and help around the house. These gestures mean a lot to a person whose world has just been turned upside down.
Grief in the workplace is a challenging but essential issue to address with empathy and compassion. By understanding the unique nature of grief and implementing supportive strategies, we can help our colleagues through one of life's most difficult journeys. Grief knows no timeline, but with the right support and understanding, those who are grieving can find solace and empowerment. Let us be the change agents within our workplaces, offering a compassionate hand to those who need it, and creating environments that value the human experience, even in the face of loss. In doing so, we not only honour the memory of those we have lost but also strengthen the bonds that make our workplaces truly compassionate communities.
And remember that people in grief do not suffer from a broken head and they do not need to be fixed. People in grief suffer from a broken heart and need to be met where they are on their grief journey.
Over the years, I came to the realization that the only way to work on our grief process is to be with it and to move through it. Grief needs dedicated time!
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