Grief in the workplace, is more than a personal tragedy, it’s an Occupational Health and Safety issue.
One thing we often forget, is that we will probably all experience the death of someone close to us at some point in our lifetime. This may very likely happen while we are employed. With the current National Employment Standards allowing only 2 days bereavement leave for bereaved employees, the chances are we will bring our grief into the workplace. While it is true many people access other leave such as carer or personal leave to top up their bereavement leave, it is at the discretion of the employer. Casual employees do not have extra entitlements, such as bereavement leave. Currently, 25% of the workforce are employed casually and the number is growing, with women making up 58% of the casual workforce.
More recent models of the grief process acknowledge that time and space is needed for doing the grief work – meaning the time spent processing the loss. We can’t just go through less stages of grief. There are shifts in reality to be experienced, sometimes multiple times, what if’s, anger, sadness. All recent models acknowledge the importance of being present to the initial shock and pain of the loss. It’s important to feel and understand the full impact of the loss so that one can eventually rebuild our changed world. This time and space is not possible in the 2 official paid days leave to grieve from the workplace.
Grief in the workplace is an Occupational Health and Safety issue, as well as a financial and productivity issue for workplace consideration.
Workers are expected to park their personal issues outside the business door, for it to not effect their work. How is this possible? How can someone who has buried their partner of 1, 5, 10, 25 years not bring their grief into the workplace? How can we expect this of them? It is this expectation that leads to stifled grief, the suppression of the grieving process. Don’t be fooled, just because it isn’t being talked about doesn’t mean its gone away. Its gone underground, making itself known in some subtle and some not so subtle ways. Lack of concentration, poor judgement, snappy mood swings, feelings of isolation and stigma, just to name a few.
The Grief Index:The Hidden Annual Costs of Grief in America’s Workplace (2003).
In 2003, the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation commissioned a survey of 25,000 bereaved people. They subsequently published a paper and the findings are something we should take serious note of when debating the need to extend bereavement leave. They found that:
Among management level personnel:
- 85 % indicated that their decision-making ranked from very poor to fair in the weeks or months following the grief incident that affected them.
- 60 % of those responding fair, poor, or very poor indicated that some of their decisions definitely had direct negative financial impact on their company.
- 30 % of those responding fair, poor, or very poor indicated that some of their decisions may have had direct negative financial impact on their company.
Among supervisory level personnel:
- 80 % indicate that their interactions with those under their supervision was very poor to fair (compared to their interactions prior to the major loss).
- 25 % of those reporting that their interactions with those under their supervision was very poor to fair indicated that their interactions with those under their supervision may have had negative financial impact on their company.
Among blue collar and other jobs requiring physical labor:
- 90 % indicated higher incidences of physical injuries due to reduced concentration in the weeks or months following the grief incident (compared to their ability to concentrate prior to major loss).
- 50 % reported a higher incidence of physical injuries due to reduced concentration in the months following the grief incident; this may have led directly to accidents or injuries resulting in additional lost work time.
- 91 % indicated that the accident or injury could have been avoided if they had been better able to concentrate.
- These studies document that not only absenteeism, but also presenteeism – a reduction in the quality of work while on the job – is a major cost of grief.
- “I put in my full eight-hour day, but for six months, I didn’t do more than four hours of work each day.—Grieving Manager as quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
In light of this study, the argument for extending bereavement leave is obviously an Occupational Health and Safety issue. I do not want my pilot returning to work after 2 days leave to grieve. I don’t want my brother working on a construction site with a bereaved colleague returning after 2 days leave to grieve. I don’t want my partner undergoing surgery with a bereaved surgeon. How we respond to the bereaved amongst us, impacts us economically, physically and mentally.
I really hope that my loved ones have understanding bosses when my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil. Extending bereavement leave is one step in standing for a more connected and compassionate society, as well as making perfect economic sense.