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Working while grievingThe workplace is like your second family to many people. Let’s face it, some people spend more time at work than with their immediate families!!!

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After my mother died I don’t think that I was a very good employee. Of course, I couldn’t show it. You have to try to act like your old "normal" self. That in itself is exhausting.

People in the workplace are sympathetic for a short time and then like the rest of society "moves on" and don’t mention anything about it again. In the meantime you feel like the walking wounded getting through your daily work responsibilities. How could there not be mistakes made with people in this state.

The Baby boomer generation will be experiencing significant losses for the next several decades. They will spend countless hours on eldercare and then deal with the death of their parents. These losses and grief will his this generation like a tidal wave.

Employers need to prepare for this event by changing how grief is handled in the workplace. It’s actually good business to manage these life events in their workforce. The health of a business depends on the health and well being of its most important asset- namely their employees.

If employers make the workplace more "grief friendly" the employees will be more productive (therefore more profitable) and will also demonstrate more loyalty to their company.

There is no argument that the productivity of a newly bereaved employee will not be the same for a period of time. Grief does not follow a straight or predictable path and it will be different for everyone. The Grief Recovery Institute estimated in 2003, the loss of a loved one would result in a loss of productivity in the United States of 37.5 billion dollars.

Employers cost increase due to absenteeism, lower productivity, increase in workplace accidents, decreased motivation and poor employee attitudes. Employers that do not see the need for a more supportive environment and do something about it, will suffer the consequences of this decision. Perhaps they will be swayed by concrete evidence of lower productivity and higher employee turnover.

There are many ways the employer can help their employees going through this life event. Education is a key element in this process for both management as well as staff. Supervisors need to find the right balance between being compassionate and accomplishing their work objectives. Fellow employees also have to be educated in how to deal with a peer when they are returning to work after experiencing a loss.

Most would agree that bereavement policies of most companies are not adequate and certainly don’t reflect the amount of time required for grief. Despite this obstacle there are ways to help the person come back to a more empathetic environment. There should be contact made with the person as soon as the supervisor receives the news. They then need to relay the information to other staff and allow some staff to participate if possible in the funeral arrangements if feasible. They can initiate a group acknowledgement from the staff of the company.

Frequent contact is important with the bereaved employee to determine the type of support and changes in workload that need to occur to make the re-entry back to work manageable.

Supervisors should try to be as flexible as feasibly possible when negotiating what is best for their returning employee. There might be a need for additional coverage planned when the person first returns to work. Of course it is important to also know the different cultural customs that some employees may practise.

Grief causes physical and emotional pain. Baby Boomers have come to expect instant pain relief in this fast paced society. Unfortunately Baby Boomers will be facing this chapter in their lives in a culture that does not give grief the respect or validation it deserves. Grief is an emotion that our society does not want to discuss. It has become an "off limits" subject in our culture so employers have an opportunity to make a change in our society.

Finding someone to listen to you again and again and again is a key element in getting through this difficult time. This can be a friend or a counsellor- it really doesn’t matter. Talking about our feelings is key to coming to terms with our grief. Employers should encourage the use of EAP programs and if they don’t have this benefit, consider instituting in their company.

An enlightened employer will devote some time to educating their employees to assist both the bereaved person and their co-workers during this challenging time. Hopefully this practise will become commonplace very soon.

Jane Galbraith ©2008

Jane Galbraith, BScN, R.N., is the author of "Baby Boomers Face Grief – Survival and Recovery." Her work in the community health field included dealing with palliative clients and their bereaved families and has also assisted facilitating grief support groups. She speaks to many organizations including the Bereavement Ontario Network annual meeting and the Canadian Palliative Care and Hospice Conference in the fall of 2007 and conducts workshops.

Her book is available through the author directly at or or More information about the book can be found at or

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