Managing Sudden Loss In The Workplace
It was an
intimate office with only five staff members led by Janet.
Ed, the event planner, had served the organization for years. A
family man, Ed decorated his office with photos of his wife Sara and
their two daughters. The company ran efficiently and solved problems
with creativity. But there was one problem no one expected. One
evening Janet received a call from Ed’s neighbor that Sara was
suddenly gone -- killed instantly in an automobile accident. Janet was
she keep herself in tact so she could do what was needed for Ed and
still maintain an efficient office? There hadn’t been any training
to guide the management and co-workers on how to manage personal
emergencies, crises or illness. Forced to use her instincts, Janet
took charge of the situation to prevent additional hardships for Ed
and the rest of the office.
answers were found in the opus of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross and the
five stages of grief. Many go through all the stages or at least some
of them during a loss. Those around the grieving person can also
experience the same emotions.
answers would be found from past experiences. Previously, one employee
had suffered through a divorce. Another experienced a long recovery
after a serious illness. These were losses too. Sudden loss in the
workplace can be handled with the following tips:
There should be
immediate contact from a boss or supervisor to reassure the person
that their job is secure and it is okay to take time off.
The amount of time varies depending on the individual’s
emotional needs and responsibilities at home.
Returning to work too soon can be more costly than time off
since it may be hard to concentrate, which can lead to errors and
misjudgments. A parent caring for a seriously ill child or family
member should have the same consideration. Trained and experienced
employees are valuable assets and replacing them can be costly.
Give all employees an
opportunity to have contact by providing a note of condolence
for everyone to sign. This will help prevent awkwardness when
the person returns to work. Address the note to the entire
family since all family members are grieving. In the case of
absence due to illness or illness of a family member, a
“thinking of you” note is appropriate. Staff members may also be
grieving and they may have the need to express themselves by
sending flowers or giving a contribution to a charity.
Co-workers may also
want to have more direct contact and provide comfort by offering
to do something specific. Ask the person what it is that would be
helpful. Ask if he needs you to do an errand, make a few phone
calls or even help out with the care of family pets. This usually
puts the person at ease so it is easier for him to ask and gets
better results than the overused phrase, “let me know if there
is anything I can do.”
Respect the privacy of
the individual and get his or her approval before sharing
information with staff members. In the case of a family crisis
involving marital difficulties or problems with children, privacy
must be respected and it is your ethical obligation to do so.
Tread softly because everyone has a different level of privacy and
each situation is different.
Work can be divided
into three categories, (a) routine work, (b) time sensitive
matters, and (c) work that can be tabled for a short or extended
period of time. Someone from a “temporary service” can
accomplish routine tasks. This will eliminate pressure if the
workload is extensive, and protect the workplace from possible
resentment from co-workers. Work
that needs immediate attention can be assigned to one or several
employees depending on its depth and volume. Give praise to
employees who are eager to be helpful and have pitched in on
previous occasions. If co-workers do not have the skill to
accomplish time-sensitive matters, it may fall into management’s
domain. Work that is tabled can be a fresh start for the person
returning to work, especially since his routine work has not
become an overwhelming mountain and time- sensitive matters have
been handled. A new project can be exciting and uplifting, which
makes it a good match for the person returning to work after a
loss or illness. You may find he is eager to get started and will
appreciate the opportunity to do something different.
If your office
already has a local resource booklet, now is the time to update it
with listings you might not have even thought about before.
Some phone numbers to include: service for repairs,
transportation, childcare, elder care, counseling, local
utilities, social security, local government, and appropriate
websites. Co-workers may even have recommendations of companies
they have used. If you want to further assist this person, you may
ask if there are some resources he is looking for and then do the
research for him.
Offer to Provide Counseling:
company can afford it, provide counseling. The investment can save
the company many more dollars than the cost. In some cases, a
person may be too overwhelmed to do their job. You already have an
investment in this person and it would cost much more to replace
him. Make sure he understands that this is an offer and that he
will be making the decision whether or not to attend. The privacy
obligation is paramount here.
Keep The Office Normal:
It is a good
idea to invite the person to business and social activities
outside the workplace when he or she returns to work, just as you
do normally. He will decide when he is ready to join in. Keep
activities normal in the office. You do not need to suddenly
become a best buddy to someone you hardly know. Try not to
overcompensate with expressions of sympathy to cover your own
awkwardness. You do not need to treat the person any differently
Show Compassion: We all know how to be
human, but we may need to know how to be compassionate at work. It
can be difficult for the person to return and it may take some
time for him or her to adjust.
Keep the office free of emotional stress by providing a
quiet place and a few minutes of time for the person to collect
his thoughts or communicate with co-workers. This
will help to avoid disruptions during the workday. Then,
this environment could be a resting place away from sorrow and
become a place for healing.
normal for a person to grieve for several months and it is important
to keep in mind that grieving is a process. It will work itself out in
its own time. Losing a loved one is not something you “get over”
or “forget.” It is something you go through and get through with
the understanding of those around you at home and at work. When in
doubt, err on the side of compassion.
Read other articles and learn more
about Jean Becker.
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