No matter how long you may have been employed in the marketplace, most of us have known an episode of grief there, whether for ourselves or a colleague. The sorrow of loss can happen to any of us, suddenly; and, at various stages in our lives and careers. The anguish of loss can be as personal as being a witness to a tragedy, loss of a cherished family pet, divorce; even the death of a colleague or family member. It can seem agonizing at times, as if it will never end. Grief is an internal process, different for each of us. It does not progress in predictable lines, but can have stages that the grieving one will pass through on the way to the recovery of normal life. Those stages are usually identified as:
• Initially there is denial and isolation. It is normal to want to retreat from everyone and everything familiar and find that ‘cocoon’ to hide in so that loss may not seem to have taken place.
• Next, grieving persons may be angry or resentful at the person who has hurt them or abandoned them through death. Even through this stage, they recognize the consequences could not be stopped.
• Later, the grieving person may make bargains with a spiritual entity. It is not uncommon to hear, “If I do this, will you return everything to the way it was?” Or, “I promise to quit smoking if you will remove this anguish.”
• Depression usually sets in for period of time; and, tears become the body’s way of releasing toxic stress, eventually restoring equilibrium.
• Last, there is acceptance of the actuality that life is going to be different now. You will hear comments such as, “I think I’m going to be ok, unlike my old life, but ok.”
How do you recognize the stages of grief or unresolved grief in the workplace? Look for any of these behaviors over a period of time, especially if you know the person’s circumstances:
• Excessive bouts of anger or sudden emotional outbursts at others.
• Increased absenteeism, often with no advance notice.
• Unwarranted episodes of guilt and lengthy explanations over unfinished projects.
• Evidence of self-medication with alcohol or drugs resulting in compulsive behavior patterns.
• Demonstrations of ‘over-work’, long hours onsite into late night or early morning.
• Loss of the ability to articulate department objectives or timelines when they knew them by heart just weeks ago.
How can you and your colleagues help a grieving person return to a more normal environment? It’s first helpful to understand the bereavement policies the company has in place. With their assistance, any of these ideas may help you find the balance between being compassionate and still achieving the company’s goals with your colleagues:
• Recognize when there will be emotional triggers for the grieving person such as, phrase use, certain strands of music, or even passing the empty office.
• If the griever is still feeling the psychic presence of the lost one, suggest some private time to listen to their feelings, possibly in a more reserved place than the office.
• Respect any confidentiality that may have been given about the tragedy or deceased by your colleague. If the family decides not to have a public service for office staff, allow them their privacy.
• If the loss is a company colleague, then perhaps a donation from the department to their favorite Foundation, in their memory, would be appropriate.