What is Grief?
Alfred Lord Tennyson in Canto 27 In Memoriam (1850) penned a poem in the requiem for his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1833. His famous quote;
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
The poem as a literal piece has been quoted severally in many aspects when grief becomes part of a season of our lives. What is grief? Is it merely the loss of a loved one? Could it be a narrow view of how as humans we try to understand death or loss? Is grief only the act of being downcast in spirit and full of sorrow, tears or pain? While all these might be true, I would define grief simply as mourning of any event in our past, present and future that has been cut short by a trauma inflicting action or situation.
Is Grief Really part of the Workplace?
The workplace is made up of people with dreams, aspirations and persons who come from communities and different social setups. In these, are opportunities, relationships, and networks all that can change from any traumatic experience or change of events and cause grief. Grief is always one event away! When an opportunity in the form of a promotion by-passes an eagerly awaiting staff or job loss is neigh through redundancy or even the change in contractual arrangements resulting to pay cuts as has been witnessed in the recent past brought on by an economic crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic then grief will strike and mourning of opportunities of growth that could have been should the events have remained static or changed for the better sets in.
Alternatively, in one’s personal life, a break-up, divorce or separation, loss of pregnancy or a sudden death of a spouse or colleague can cause grief. Many life happenings that simply cause disappointments can be emotionally and psychologically overwhelming. One’s wellbeing will definitely be affected when stress, fear and worry becomes part of life propelled by grief.
How does grief show up in the workplace?
The fear of job loss and worry of perpetual inability to sustain oneself and a family or the disappointment that comes with lack of recognition in form of a promotion despite all academic investment are some of the ways wellbeing is affected. Grief just like an accident cannot really be avoided at all times but there is need to prepare one self internally to know how to handle it when it sets upon one’s life.
Many are the times at the workplace we have witnessed poor performance, a disintegrating work culture with values of individualism mainly being upheld , suspicion and fear characterized in redundancies, drug abuse such as alcoholism and addictions, financial irresponsibility resulting in debt cycles, harassment and bullying often associated with misuse of power, lateness to work and inability to meet deadlines, absenteeism mainly in the form of sickness and depression exhibiting behavior, lack of a team spirit just to mention but a few scenarios that though common have not been recognized as signs and symptoms of a grieving workforce.
HR management in itself gives guidance on how to address such issues protected under the law and internal policies in many organizations. The issue with these approaches is that they are mainly targeted to handle effect or facts without dealing much with the cause. For example, poor performance can be managed through the performance management process which includes performance improvement plans. For drug abuse rehabilitation and summary dismissal in the worst-case scenario might apply.
How then should we Handle Grief at the workplace?
When talking of a disease such as grief it is important to acknowledge that prevention is better than cure. HR Practioners need to empower staff and team leaders to identify causes of grief and to deal with the effects. Prevention from a wellbeing aspect is then referred to as self-care. Self-care must start with the individual. A commitment to take on simple but effective practices and cultivating habits that promote wellness emotionally, psychologically and physically.
Dealing with grief at the workplace has to embody communication and decision-making aspects for change to happen. Examples of better communication includes peer to peer counselling and other Employee Assistance Programs. Decision making aspects are mainly separated by management and team leads. For example, communication of changes by management with transparency on any changes anticipated to reduce anxiety to staff, creating policies that uphold wellbeing such as compassionate and bereavement leave, encouraging staff to take breaks and make use of annual leave to seek rest. Basically, the above are only but nuggets to help address grief at the workplace however, one has to soul search and find what works in helping them arrive at a place of acceptance and hope as the final stage of overcoming grief.
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