Dealing with Grief in the Workplace

By James F Weinsier

Sooner, or later, everyone loses loved ones - that’s life. Although the circumstances can be vastly different, it’s expected to be in the natural course of events; a chronological progression from oldest family members on down. Even when the passing of a loved one is on the horizon - whether naturally from old age, or a critical illness - there’s disbelief when the event finally takes place. An unexpected death makes matters even worse. Emotions jump right off the scale when the occurrence combines the both an unnatural as well as an atypical event, such as the loss of a child or grandchild.

In today’s business world, it’s hard enough to sort out problems in the best of times. Just imagine how difficult it is to continue working with the additional emotional stress of a loss. You’re trying to hold the all pieces together at the office, and your last bit of contact with reality is hanging on by the fingertips.

Here are some tried and proven self-help antidotes to accelerate the recovery process:

Move yourself up on the priority list. First, do whatever it takes to settle yourself down before returning to work. There’s nothing wrong with stepping out of the picture for a moment to take an escape break. If you’re a wreck, you aren’t any good to your boss or co-workers who need you.

Consider getting help, professional or personal. Even if your company has an Employee Assistance Plan, extended therapy can be extremely expensive. It’s most likely out of the question for those without health insurance coverage. Other options are the Internet, library or a bookstore. Though the anonymity feature of this route may appeal to some, muddling through an endless sea of information is the last thing you need to be doing.

In times of loss you need a support group. It’s important to seek out a hand-chosen group of good listeners (some of which can act as a sounding board) comprised of co-workers, strong family members and the closest of friends, all of whom genuinely care for your well-being.

Approach office mates. They may not offer help because they believe you have enough. The act of asking puts the matter in a whole different light. It lets them know their help is wanted. It takes awkward out of the equation, and gives the friend a feeling of importance, while offering an opportunity for gratification. Asking for help can range from assistance with practical tasks such as rescheduling appointments to something more personal like hanging out after hours to blow off some steam. Anything you are willing to delegate, including venting, is letting someone else carry a piece of your burden, and will ensure your plate doesn’t get too full too fast. On the other hand, if you don’t speak up, no one will know what you need.

Reflect on the memories. Leave the photos on your desk and share them with others, or just look at the pictures alone. In spite of the loss, the time spent together and fond memories will always be there.

Write down the things never said. Sometimes writing is easier than talking about your inner feelings with others. You can simply jot down little notes and put them into a keepsake journal. Or, write a long letter. In either case, you can take the opportunity as a do-over (of sorts), thoughtfully writing down the things you regret not having said when the time was right.

Avoid setting a timeline on recovery. No matter what kind of deadlines you have, you shouldn’t put undue pressure on yourself to get back on track and into a normal routine; nor, should you be pressured or influenced by the opinions of others. “All in due time” is the operative phrase. However, be sure to keep your employer informed if projects begin to back-up and deadlines draw near. Your proactive communication will aid in their understanding.

Think positive. Apply the old saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining” to the situation. Feeling sad and sorry for yourself has its appropriate time and place in the grieving process … but after you’ve forged through these feelings, it’s important to let them go and start living again. While letting go of the coattails of sad, hurt and sorrow, grab onto some that will lift you up. Volunteer or donate to a charity that’s linked in some way to the loss; help fellow employees by sharing your healing experience, or simply resume your career the way your loved one would have wanted.

These are a few examples. The list goes on and on … It’s really a matter of what you believe will work for you as an individual.

While some remedies for grief may have proven to be more effective than others, and supposedly “time heals all wounds,” rest assured there’s no panacea.

Read other articles and learn more about James F Weinsier.

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