During our lifetime, nearly all of us will experience the emotional stress that comes with loss of any type. However, the death of a child, sibling or grandchild is considered to be the most devastating loss a family member may experience. This poses unique challenges for employers who are concerned about helping newly bereaved parents, siblings or grandparents as they adjust to the demands of the workplace after returning to their job. This brochure is designed to help you (the employer) and your colleagues understand how to provide the best support for an employee coping with grief, especially after the loss of a child, sibling or grandchild.
First, it is important to understand that grief is a normal and natural reaction to a loss of any kind. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response to a devastating event. Grief is shaped by our experience, religious beliefs, culture, physical health, along with the cause of the loss. Love, anger, fear, frustration, loneliness and guilt are all part of the grieving process.
Those who are actively grieving are caught in a web of pain, confusion and isolation. Those surrounding the survivors often express frustration and a sense of helplessness, which may, in time turn to impatience if the grieving process “takes too long.” Yet grief, with its many ups and downs, lasts far longer than most people expect or realize.
Research shows that there may be a loss of productivity and a rise in accident rates among employees suffering from emotional stress. An employee whose child has died may experience any or all of the following:
Each person’s grief is individual and unique and will vary according to the person and their circumstances. There is no timetable for the grief process. During the weeks, months and even years after a child dies, the employee may have varying levels of productivity. Some employees immediately return to work, believing that “keeping themselves busy” will help them cope with their loss. No matter when a person returns to work, those who are allowed to be open and honest about their grief experience and who receive support and understanding, will generally have a more productive work experience.
The odds are, when you are initially contacted by your employee, you will be one of the first to learn of the child’s death. How you respond will make a difference in the grief experience of your employee and his or her relationship with the work family.
Assure your employee that all job responsibilities will be handled by others until the time is right to return to work. Make certain all coworkers are made aware of the situation and are given the opportunity to provide real support. Allow other employees time off to attend the funeral, even if that may require closing departments or even the company for a few hours or even for the day.
Even if the employee does not work directly under you, visiting the funeral home and attending the funeral personally will show that you care and will be greatly appreciated. Within the financial capabilities of your company, offer as much time off as possible with pay – a bereaved parent, sibling or grandparent should be there for the family without having to worry about job duties and financial responsibilities.
Depending on the financial situation of your company, a donation to aid in paying expenses could be of great help and your company may want to contribute to and start a collection effort to help your employee’s family.
You can do a great deal to help your employee deal with their grief. First and foremost take an interested and caring attitude. Nothing makes a bigger difference in the work setting than knowing you and your colleagues truly do care and want to help. You may want to consider scheduling a meeting of management and coworkers before the newly bereaved employee returns to the job. During this meeting you can discuss how best to help the employee through the initial period of adjustment and how to handle the outward symptoms of grief, such as frustration and irritability.
Be certain to work with the employee to determine work assignments and to be sensitive in assigning new tasks or responsibilities. Do not “over task” but do take note if the employee indicates a readiness for additional responsibilities. You may need to be flexible in work hours and assignments as the employee moves through the initial period of adjustment. If the employee is involved in hazardous work, you may want to consider a temporary adjustment in duties.
If your organization has an employee assistance program, have a member personally contact the bereaved employee. Brochures about self-help groups and organizations such as The Compassionate Friends should always be available and offered as a means of support.
As difficult as it may be for you as an employer to help the grieving parent, sibling or grandparent, it will be worth your effort. Company morale may be enhanced as other employees observe the way you handle this situation. In addition, your support can create a special bond that may result in more loyal, dedicated employees.
Your outreach and sensitivity through this most difficult process will be genuinely appreciated by a bereaved employee and will set a positive tone for everyone in your workplace.
A child has died. There are no words to make that all right. But there are many ways you can help by being supportive. You have taken the first step in showing that you care by reading this brochure.
It is important to know that grief is a normal, healthy response to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological reaction to a mind-numbing and life-changing event. Anger, fear, frustration, sadness, loneliness, guilt, and despair are all part of the grief process.
Understand that grief is neither a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith. Actively grieving people experience pain, confusion, lack of concentration, and isolation. Those surrounding them often express frustration and a sense of helplessness, which may, in time, turn to annoyance if the grieving “takes too long.” Yet, the disorientation of grief lasts far longer than our society recognizes.
All the parents involved in The Compassionate Friends would like to thank you for caring enough to want to help your coworker. Your concern makes YOU a “compassionate friend.”
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